Tom Spratt no longer resides inside Fort Mill town limits and according to the town attorney, Spratt can continue serving on Fort Mill Town Council.
Barry Mack, town attorney, said the issue of whether or not a council member – or other elected officials – who moves outside his or her political boundaries can still serve comes down to intent. Mack said his interpretation of eligibility is an elected official who moves outside town limits, but attempts to move back “within some reasonable amount of time.”
There is a phrase in state election code determining eligibility, stating a representative who moves outside his or her boundaries “with intention to return” is allowed.
“There’s no (specific) time frame,” Mack said.
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Spratt was elected in 2012 and has two years remaining on an at-large term. His address at election was 115 Kanawha St., inside town limits. Spratt said he moved from that location in July. According to county records, the house went into foreclosure and was acquired by a company called Powerhouse Properties, LLC in a tax sale.
“Temporarily we’re living in our cabin out off Fort Mill Parkway,” he said.
The 401 Fort Mill Parkway address is owned by relative John Spratt, the former longtime Democratic U.S. Congressman who lost his District 5 seat to Republican Mick Mulvaney (R-Indian Land) in 2010. That property on Fort Mill Parkway sits outside town limits.
Tom Spratt said he was forthright with Town Manager Dennis Pieper and other officials about the situation, and spoke with Mack, who rendered a decision that Spratt could continue serving with the intent of moving back into town limits.
“I informed him before we even talked about it,” Spratt said.
Spratt said he is looking for a condo or some other residence inside town limits and that the current arrangement is temporary. Spratt didn’t receive any deadline from the town for when he’d need to relocate.
“There was no time frame given,” he said.
Wanda Hemphill, director of the county Voter Registration and Elections office, said her office doesn’t have the power to remove an official due to residency issues.
“The town basically handles issues like that,” Hemphill said. “Basically that’s a town matter.”
The only way Hemphill’s office would become involved is if a resident in town challenged Spratt’s voter registration, which could lead to a hearing. Even if her board found in favor of the protesting resident, a final decision would reside with Town Council.
“We’re working with a lot of hypotheticals at this point,” Hemphill said.
Fort Mill officials faced a similar residency issue several years ago.
Former Councilman Ken Starnes lived in Tega Cay for several months while serving and in 2008 and Council voted 3-2 not to ask him to step down while he was working to secure an apartment in town. Starnes himself cast the deciding vote in the decision.
Also in 2008, Councilwoman Guynn Savage left her Ward 1 seat when she moved to another part of town. Savage later returned as an at-large representative and still serves on Council. Savage won a vote for the Ward 1 seat in 2005 when then Councilman Jim Kinard left his seat following a move.
Other York County areas have wrestled with this. In 2008, several residents in the Lake Wylie area argued that then Clover School Board member Bob Magee shouldn’t be allowed serve since he’d moved the Clemson area. Magee said he still maintained property in the Clover district and lived there when home from his job that required extensive travel.
In early 2009 the county voter registration board voted 6-1 that Magee could continue serving based on tax forms, vehicle registrations and other documents pointing to a Clover home as his primary residence.