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.
The city charter also states a vacancy occurs upon a board member’s “removal from the city,” with removal in this context meaning to “change the location, position, station or residence of,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
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.”
Staff Attorney Jim Epps and Erick Herrin, a counsel to the city, wrote the opinion that noted it is “factually important” that Torbett has moved from a home located within city boundaries and has leased the former home to a third party.
Epps and Herrin also cite a state statute for determining whether a person is a resident for the purpose of being allowed to vote in a particular locale.
The criteria for making that determination includes: “whether the person has a definite intention to return to a particular place of habitation; a presumption that where a married person’s spouse and family members reside is also the person’s residence; and the physical location used in determining a voting precinct.”
In May, Torbett moved from a house near The Ridges community to a house between the Boones Creek and the Gray communities, just outside the city limits.
Torbett, whose term is set to expire in December 2020, said she believes someone contacted the city about her school board eligibility after she issued invitations and hosted an event at her new house.
Torbett was on vacation Friday and unavailable for comment.
However, fellow school board member John Hunter issued a statement in support of Torbett keeping her seat.
“While I believe all our board members provide value, my thought is that it’s imperative to have board members that actually have children in the system, which have first-hand knowledge and perspective from not only a taxpayer’s perspective but a parent’s,” Hunter said about Torbett.
“It personally will be concerning to me if she isn’t on the board. When I come off this fall, she would be the only member that has children actively in the system, which means a lot more to me than her address.”
If Torbett chooses to resign before Aug. 16, the city attorneys said her position could be filled during the Nov. 6 general election, where voters will have the opportunity to fill five seats instead of four.
If Torbett does not resign, the attorneys urge the school board at its Aug. 6 meeting to conduct a “show cause” hearing and make a determination about her eligibility.
“If a ‘show cause’ hearing is conducted, Ms. Torbett should be provided notice of the hearing and an opportunity to be heard, be represented by counsel if she chooses and requested to answer questions, under oath, as presented to her,” the opinion stated.
If the board ultimately decides to vacate Torbett’s seat, the school board can appoint a city resident to serve her term until the Nov. 6 election.
If Torbett keeps her seat, she will remain a school board member unless removed by a judicial decision challenging the board’s decision.