By Patrick Sebastian
As a result of the residence requirements for public office in Illinois, it seems to be the case that a person could hold elected office in Illinois while living in another state. According to the Chicago Tribune, this came as a surprise to parents of Illinois’ Crete-Monee school district when concerned resident, Tammy Burnham, began asking questions about one of the school board members, Edward J. Anderson, Jr., and found out that his absence at recent school board meetings was due to the fact that he lived in Jacksonville, Florida. Records indicated that Anderson had filed for incorporation, listing himself as the corporation’s registered agent and listing his address as a Jacksonville apartment. Further, his house in Crete has been in foreclosure for months, and Burnham claims Anderson’s neighbors told her that Anderson indicated he did not plan to return. It appears based on the facts that Anderson has moved to Florida—but he remains on the school board in Crete, and he cannot be removed for having left.
Concerned, Tammy Burnham contacted District 201U’s assistant superintendent of student affairs, Monica Spence, and asked what steps could be taken to remove Anderson. Spence informed Burnham that, in fact, there were none. Having consulted the school district’s attorney, Bill Gleason, Spence concluded that there was no evidence upon which to conclude that Anderson had permanently abandoned his residence—the fact that he had relocated to another state was insufficient to constitute abandonment absent some additional evidence of a change in domicile.
The notion that a person can be elected to office in Illinois, leave the state for several years without resigning from office, and nevertheless be immune to removal on the basis of his or her absence seems to defy reason—unless you ask Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Challengers objected to Emanuel’s mayoral campaign in Chicago, questioning whether Emanuel was an Illinois resident—Emanuel had lived in Washington, D.C., from January 2009 until October 2010 as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, and his family had lived in Washington with him from June 2009 until October 2010. In 2011, the challenge made it to the Illinois Supreme Court in a case called Maksym v. The Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago. (The full case decision can be accessed here, and a detailed explanation from Illinois law firm, Robbins Schwartz, can be accessed here.) In Maksym, the Court noted the distinction between becoming a resident and relinquishing residency, each requiring a different test. In order to become a resident of Illinois, one must (1) be physically present in Illinois and (2) intend to remain there as a permanent abode; but once one becomes a resident, she remains a resident until she abandons her domicile. Petitioners argued in Maksym that, as a matter of law, Emanuel abandoned his residence in Chicago when he rented it out and moved to another state, but the Supreme Court ultimately disagreed.
It seems clear that a person’s status as an Illinois resident, once acquired, remains intact indefinitely unless that person takes active steps to abandon such status. Therefore, absent some change in the law, there is no legal basis upon which an Illinois constituent might successfully challenge the residency status of an elected official who permanently lives in her cottage on the Oregon coast if that official could plausibly claim an intent to return to Illinois at some later date. While this idea was instrumental in the successful mayoral election of Rahm Emanuel, it also successfully allows Jacksonville business owner, Edward Anderson, to remain on the Crete school board against the wishes of concerned Crete residents.