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Dunedin says man can't run for office

The address on Bill Henson's driver's license and voter registration card is 1249 New York Ave., a small, old-Florida house inside the city limits.

But his toothbrush is next door at his other house, 1247 New York Ave., one of a handful of houses on the street in the unincorporated part of the county.

Henson gets a homestead exemption at 1249 in Dunedin, but he sleeps, almost always, at 1247.

Just where Henson physically lives is at the core of a dispute about whether Henson can run for the Dunedin City Commission. He announced weeks ago his intention to run for one of two open commission seats in the Feb. 9 election.

But city officials say they have proof that he has not been living in his Dunedin house, therefore, he can't run. Qualifying for that election ends today.

Henson, a 43-year-old hearing specialist and commercial diver, says the city is wrong. He suspects someone is trying to block his candidacy, although he can't explain who or why someone would do that.

"We live in two houses, everybody in the neighborhood knows that," Henson said. "We use rooms in both houses. It seems like they just don't want me to run."

"That's ridiculous," said Tom Trask, a lawyer with the firm that represents the city. "The city has made a factual determination he's not a resident, and that's where it ends. There's no conspiracy."

According to the city's ordinance, a person must have "physically resided" in the city limits for at least one year prior to qualifying for the commission. Henson said he has lived in the city for seven years, no matter how officials want to interpret the ordinance.

City officials say it isn't possible that Henson has lived in his Dunedin home for the past year. They point to one undisputed fact to support their argument: Since June, the water and sewer at his Dunedin house has been shut off.

"I don't think you can live in a house without water and sewer," City Clerk Sandra Woodall said. "How do you flush the toilet and other things?"

Henson said his water was shut off because he has an unresolved dispute with the city about the bill. That's not proof he hasn't lived there, Henson said.

"If the city disconnects your water for non-payment of bill, does that mean you're not a resident?" Henson said. "What they're saying is, it's not possible you live there."

The two adjacent houses share a common back yard where his two children run back and forth without any distinction of boundaries. The houses are encircled in front with one line of hedges and linked with a common fence.

Inside, the Dunedin house is sparsely furnished. A sewing machine is set up in the kitchen , and the living area is filled with band equipment. One bedroom has a bed and the other is a playroom for the Henson's two children. Henson said he and his wife use the house to practice their instruments, and the children play there.

There is food on the counter and, last week, a Christmas tree was in the living room at the Henson's county home. The refrigerator is decorated with their children's class work, and the coffeepot was full one recent afternoon.

"You can view this a lot of different ways," Henson said when a reporter said that it looks like he lives in his county house. "What do you consider to be living? We live in both houses every day."

One of Henson's neighbors vouches for him.

"He lives here, right here," said Sherman Lawson pointing to the Dunedin house. "He does live in the city. He's a resident of Dunedin. He supports the residents of Dunedin. He's not a downtown company man, and I don't think they like that."

_ Deborah O'Neil covers Dunedin for the Times. She can be reached at 445-4159 or deborahsptimes.com.

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