City Attorney Tom Carpenter has issued his opinion on Brett Morgan’s eligibility to serve on the Little Rock Civil Service Commission.
In short: He’s eligible.
Carpenter said the fact that Morgan claims a homestead exemption on a house at Scott and that his wife lives at that residence does not defeat his eligibility to serve on the commission.
To the question of whether Morgan meets statutory requirements, Carpenter gave this summary response:
Yes. He is a resident of the city because he has a presence in the city, is registered to vote here and is a qualified elector of the city. The fact that he owns other homes, and even takes a constitutional homestead exemption for property in Scott, Arkansas, does not make him ineligible to serve.
In the legal analysis, Carpenter relies on Supreme Court cases. He noted that the General Assembly, in defining residency, could have required a domicile, but it did not. The court has interpreted residence to mean a “presence” at a place, which Morgan claims. (He told Carpenter he kept clothes at his father’s house in Chenal Valley and often spent the night there.) His registration as a voter there also demonstrates an “intent” to live there, a standard the Supreme Court has followed in determining residency in some challenges of political candidates.
City Manager Bruce Moore, who’d requested the opinion, said it resolves the question about residency.
Morgan has resisted challenges to his eligibility, but abided by the city’s request that he not participate in Civil Service Commission matters until the issue was resolved. As a result, a hearing on an appeal by Josh Hastings of his firing as a patrol office was postponed. Hastings was fired in part for what superiors believed were untruthful statements about events that led to his killing of a suspected car burglar on an apartment parking lot. A jury twice failed to reach a verdict in a manslaughter case against Hastings and the charge was dropped. His record has included other problems in his service.
Morgan’s residency became an issue after we reported that neighbors in Scott considered him a Scott resident by virtue of his frequent appearance at his home there. He told the Times in a series of e-mails that he was an owner of several homes, including his father’s residence in Chenal Valley that he lists as his voting address. Morgan listed his address for city purposes a car dealership at which he no longer works. The issue was raised by a neighbor who’d noted Morgan’s vote with a commission majority that overturned a Police Department 30-day suspension and the chief’s recommended firing of Lt. David Hudson, who beat a restaurant customer while working private security at Ferneau. The customer objected to Hudson’s order that he leave. Witnesses said he beat the customer long after he’d ended any alleged resistance. Hudson’s attorney said the beating was part of a “continuum” of force necessary for an arrest. The misdemeanor charge Hudson filed was dismissed.
New on the Hudson case: The city has decided to appeal the Civil Service Commission’s overturning of discipline of Hudson. The appeal will be in Circuit Court. It has successfully appealed favorable decisions in behalf of cops before.
I’ve asked Morgan if he there’s been any change in his plans to continue to serve.
Interesting opinion and it gives rise to other questions.
1) Can a person who is a legal resident of Little Rock claim a $350 homestead exemption in Scott, an exemption given under state law for a taxpayer’s “principal residence”?
2) Should Strong Mayor Mark Stodola, who appointed Morgan, countenance such dual citizenship for members of important city commissions? Or should he demand that they be “all-in” as Little Rock residents if they are to serve on a vital commisson overseeing the police force and other employees?
3) Should the statute that requires city residence for Civil Service Commission membership be clarified to prevent service by people who’s principal residence is in another place?