Johnson City school board member could lose seat after moving outside city limits

Zach Vance • Updated Jun 11, 2018 at 8:35 PM

Instead of four seats up for grabs this November, it’s quite possible Johnson City voters will decide who five of the seven Board of Education members will be during the upcoming general election. 

Former educator Stacie Torbett’s eligibility on the Johnson City Board of Education has been called into question after she moved in May from a house near The Ridges community to a house between the Boones Creek and Gray communities, which happens to be just outside city limits. 

Torbett believes someone contacted the city after she issued invitations and hosted an event at her new house. 

“This all just came to light like in the last week or so, and like I said, we moved in the middle of May. It’s not like we’ve been out here very long,” Torbett, first elected in 2016, said.

“I’m still waiting on an opinion to confirm what my school board status is. Based on my understanding, I could complete my term, but not run for another term because we still own our house in the city. We haven’t sold that house yet, so anyway. ...That’s why I’m waiting on an opinion because I’d like some confirmation first.”

Oddly enough, Torbett said her former house located within city limits had a Jonesborough address, while her new house located outside of city limits has a Johnson City address.

Johnson City’s charter explicitly states that Board of Education members must be citizens of the city and reside within the corporate limits of the city of Johnson City. 

More specifically, T.C.A § 49-2-202(a)(5) states: “If any member ceases to reside in the county, the office of the member shall become vacant.

In 2012, according to an article posted to the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service’s website, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office opined that the law pertaining to county school boards “applies equally to municipal and county boards of education, despite the failure of the General Assembly to use more inclusive language in T.C.A. § 49-2-202.”

In the event of a vacancy, the Johnson City Board of Education has the power to provide an incumbent until the next regular city election, when voters of Johnson City shall fill that said for the unexpired term.

Johnson City attorney Erick Herrin said he just started looking into Torbett’s situation, while waiting for Johnson City Staff Attorney Jim Epps IV to return from a trip. 

“I’ve got to find out what the facts are before I can offer up an opinion about that. I’ve got to do some digging and that will probably result in Jim Epps being back from vacation. I’m not going to toss the ball to him, but he and I will reach a consensus together on this issue,” Herrin said. 

“What I’m going to be looking at is ... residency has an element of intent to it. I mean someone could have a lake house where they stay for the summer. That doesn’t mean they changed their residency. I need to explore a bit what her actual situation is.

“I can assure you one thing: That this will be a very civil process with her. She’s a valued member of the school board, for sure, and we want to give her enough time to evaluate what her situation is.” 

With two children still attending Johnson City schools and two children who are graduates of the Johnson City schools, Torbett admitted the prospect of losing her seat is a little frustrating.

“It is frustrating because my kids still go to city schools, and like I said, we still own our home (in the city limits). So I would like to get some resolution so I could finish my term. I enjoy being on the school board,” Torbett said. 

“The spirit of the law is to keep people who have the city’s interest at heart instead of having someone who wants to run for office that doesn’t have anything to do with the city. I feel like I still meet the spirit of that law because I still own property in the city, and my children still attend the city schools so I have a vested interest in what goes on in the city,” Torbett said. 

Torbett has two years left on her term. 

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