I am writing in regard to the article published “Questions arise after Spring Hill alderman discovered to have been temporarily residing outside of ward," which covers an issue of residency of Spring Hill Alderman Hazel Nieves.
At the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Sept. 21, the question was raised whether Alderman Nieves, who has been temporarily staying with family outside of her ward while her new home located in that ward is being built, had vacated her seat on the board. I would submit that the answer to that question is clearly no.
State Law is clear that residency, for purposes of elections, is established where "The person has a definite intention to return," that "There must be appropriate action consistent with the intention," and "A person does not lose residence if, with the definite intention of returning, the person leaves home and goes to another country, state or place within this state for temporary purposes, even if of one or more years duration." (T.C.A. § 2-2-122).
Spring Hill elections are unlike any other under the Board of Mayor and Alderman Public Charter of the State of Tennessee. Why? Because unlike every other city that adopted that Charter prior to 1991 (as Spring Hill did in 1987), every citizen in Spring Hill has a right to vote for a candidate in each of the City's four wards. In Spring Hill, citizens elect a candidate from each ward, regardless of where you live. In all other cities under that Charter, aldermen are elected by residents that live in the Ward the candidates reside in.
Aldermen in Spring Hill know they are accountable to all citizens of Spring Hill. That’s why, when a new fire station, park or civic project comes about, you have never heard the comment from Spring Hill’s Board that “This project needs to be placed in my Ward," as is often the case in cities where council seats are elected strictly by district boundary.
But, don't take just my word for it. The U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding the constitutionality of an election system similar to Spring Hill's, where a Board's position is elected by voters outside of the district the candidate resides in, opined "The statute uses districts... merely as the basis of residence for candidates, not for voting or representation. Each district’s senator... must be vigilant to serve the interests of all the people in the county, and not merely those of people in his home district; thus in fact he is the county’s and not merely the district’s senator." (Fortson v. Dorsey 379 U.S. 433, 1965)
In Spring Hill, once a candidate is elected, they become the city's aldermen, not merely the ward's alderman.
Some may ask why I have chosen to voice my opinion on this issue. My reason is simple. In June of 2006, over a year after I had been elected alderman in Spring Hill, I, along with three other aldermen, were subjected to a lawsuit that sought to end our terms and force us to run in a new election. Some in the city did not like the fact that we were asking questions, challenging the status quo, and pushing the city toward reforms that were desperately needed.
Having worked so hard to be entrusted with a position of service such as this, then to have it placed in the hands of the court, I know the personal toll a case like this places on an individual.
In Spring Hill's Nieves, I see an alderman who is asking questions, challenging the status quo, and pushing the city toward reforms she believe are needed. I see an Alderman, my Alderman (even though I reside in Ward 2), dutifully representing all citizens of Spring Hill that elected her to that position.
I ask the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to oppose any action that would cause the position of Alderman held by Alderman Nieves to be vacated.
I urge citizens to contact the Board to make their voices heard on this matter. You can email the board at [email protected].
Your voice does make a difference.
Spring Hill Resident, Ward 2