Sunday, February 18, 2018
Politics

St. Petersburg City Council candidates don't live where they claim

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council candidates Darden Rice and David McKalip both said they would move in order to seek office after their homes were not included in the newly drawn District 4.

Even as they criticized the redistricting process, both declared they would make the sacrifice because they wanted to help improve the city.

The problem: The Tampa Bay Times found that neither candidate actually moved as promised.

On Thursday morning, Rice told a Times reporter that she rented a home "a couple of months ago" on 24th Avenue N. Her explanation then changed several times in the next few hours.

"My legal residency is at a rental in District 4," said Rice, who lists a post office box as her address on election records. "I made a decision to sign a lease on 24th Avenue."

The Times visited the property and found signs for "Stop the Lens" and "Kathleen Ford for Mayor" in the front lawn.

No one was home, but a neighbor said the homeowners are still moving items from the vacant property.

"Nobody lives there," said Tom Calahan. "It's been vacant for two or three weeks. We heard Darden Rice is moving in."

When asked about the yard signs, Rice said they belonged to the owners. She urged the reporter to call the landlord to verify that she lived there.

The homeowner said Rice signed an "open-ended lease" on May 7 and pays $400 a month.

"I don't know exactly when she moved in after we turned over the keys," said Cathy Wilson. "We signed a lease. We don't monitor it."

A short time later, Rice sent the Times an outline detailing her residences since March.

She stressed that she owns three homes that were in the old District 4.

Rice had planned to finalize a home purchase on April 18, but the seller died April 14. The deal is now in probate court.

From March 11-15, Rice said, she lived on 11th Avenue NE. From May 1-21, she lived on 24th Avenue N, she said. On May 21 she signed a one-year lease for a home on 23rd Avenue N.

Although she hasn't been staying in the rental on 24th Avenue, Rice stressed that is her legal residence.

After being pressed in a telephone conversation to say where she brushes her teeth in the morning, Rice said: "I stay with my girlfriend (in District 3) as we have been together to finalize the purchase."

In explaining the multiple residences, Rice said her intent was to buy a home in District 4, not hopscotch between properties. She later apologized for not being truthful.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I misspoke. … It's not ideal. I trust the voters to understand."

The city charter requires candidates to live in a district for 12 months before an election. The primary is Aug. 27.

In most elections, the residency issue doesn't come up. The Redistricting Commission, however, changed district boundaries this year as a result of population declines from the 2010 census.

By then, McKalip and Rice already planned to seek office and switched their addresses to remain in the new District 4. The new boundaries put their old homes in another district.

The City Council approved the new districts on March 21.

In March, Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn issued a memo directed at questions from both candidates.

Winn said that all candidates must meet the 12-month residency requirement and that it must be continuous. They could not live outside the district for any period of time, he wrote.

Candidates also have to "sign an affidavit swearing that they have been a resident of the declared district for at least the past 12 months," the memo said.

The city doesn't "verify the accuracy of that affidavit" but relies on candidates to be truthful, Winn wrote, adding: "This would not prevent a third party with standing from challenging the accuracy of the affidavit."

Carolyn Fries is also seeking the District 4 seat currently held by Leslie Curran, who can't run again because of term limits.

Election records show McKalip living in an apartment on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N near 18th Avenue.

No one answered the apartment door Wednesday evening. A neighbor said she has lived in the complex for three months.

"I've never seen anybody come and go," said Charlotte Wasserlein. "I've never heard a noise in there."

The Times then visited McKalip's nearly 4,000-square-foot house about a mile away. His wife said her husband wasn't home about 6 p.m.

About 90 minutes later, McKalip called the reporter to say he was working with Eileen Bedinghaus, a Realtor at ReMax/Metro, to sell his home.

When asked about the apartment, the neurosurgeon acknowledged that he lives in his house, which is now in District 3.

"I do not live every day in the apartment," McKalip said. "I have a residence there."

He explained that he is making repairs to his pool and landscaping so Bedinghaus can list the property.

"As soon as I can find a house for my family, I will move into a house that fits my family needs," McKalip said.

He stressed that he never said he would "move." Instead, he supplied a press release from March saying he "established" a residence in the new District 4.

McKalip then blasted the Redistricting Commission for drawing boundaries that kept incumbent council members in their own districts, adding: "I meet the requirements of the law."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

   
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