An anonymous letter has raised questions about the residency of one of Mansfield’s City Council members.
The letter, which was delivered to City Manager Clayton Chandler on Nov. 7, provided documents that question the home address of Wendy Burgess, who was re-elected for her second three-year term in Place 6 in May. According to the city charter, the mayor and city council members are required to be residents of the city.
The anonymous letter contained a deed signed March 20 by Burgess and her husband, Clint, for a property near Rendon that is outside the Mansfield city limits. The packet of papers also had the Tarrant Appraisal District tax information on the property. Burgess filed for re-election in early February.
“What the charter says is we have to put it on the agenda for the next regular meeting,” said Mayor David Cook. “The council is the sole determiner of qualifications. There is not a definitive answer in the charter. We have to look at case law and precedents. We’ll definitely ask for legal assistance.”
In an email to the News-Mirror, Burgess referred all questions about her residency to City Attorney Allen Taylor.
When questioned about her residency, Burgess said that she maintains a residence in Mansfield, Taylor said. However, some neighbors said that it had been years since the Burgesses have lived at the home.
“I think they still own the house, but they don’t live there,” said neighbor Noelle Rewoldt.
All information the two homes the couple owns has been removed from Tarrant Appraisal District website.
Up for discussion
The council will address the issue at Monday’s meeting at City Hall, Cook said.
The City Council has several options about what to do and how to proceed, Taylor said, including letting Burgess speak.
“If they feel something more significant is required, they could say, ‘Does anybody on the council want to address it or have the city attorney hire an outside expert to investigate,’” Taylor said. “I would guess (the mayor) is going to order some sort of investigation to decide the facts.”
The council would then vote on how to proceed, he said.
The question is what exactly is meant by residency, Taylor said.
“No one actually knows what it means,” he said. “The standard statement is they have to establish a domicile within residence to which you intend to return after a temporary absence.”
If there were an investigation that determined a council member does not live within the city limits, the council would have to order a special election to fill the seat within 120 days, Taylor said.
The reason council members are required to live within the city is easier to explain, said Allan Saxe, political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“To know what is going on in the city,” he said. “That’s why it’s called local government. If you live in the community, constituents can get a hold of you. I could own a home in New York City, but would I be a good council member there? Probably not.”
Mansfield isn’t the only community that has dealt with this issue, Saxe said.
“These questions have come up in other cities,” he said. “I think the Legislature ought to define it or the attorney general or secretary of state ought to define it.”