Clerk of Council ruling overturned, Ruel Joyner ruled eligible to run for Savannah City Council from 1st district

The Savannah Morning News, as well as other local media, reported an hour or two ago that Superior Court Judge Penny Haas Freesemann has ruled Ruel Joyner an eligible candidate for the 1st district Savannah city council seat.

I don’t know Judge Freesemann personally, but am aware of her work and reputation. So, even though I have not found a copy of the judge’s decision, I feel pretty confident as a citizen of the city and a resident of the 1st district that she made her ruling based on the laws as they are written.

As I noted in a previous post on this blog — Thoughts on the denial of Ruel Joyner’s candidacy for Savannah City Council — I found some of the conclusions in the previous denial of eligibility to be spurious. Whether the tax records show it or not, there is an apartment at 24 East Broughton Street (I’ve been there), Joyner has a number of public documents listing that as his address, his family has owned the building for decades, and he presented adequate documentation to qualify as a voter in the city of Savannah and to qualify to run as a candidate before the deadline.

I am no expert in the applicable laws, but those are plenty of reasons to let Joyner be on the ballot from my perspective. If voters wish not to vote for him because he owns two residences outside the city, that’s certainly their right.

But any residency challenge that musters three weak pieces of evidence (a property record card, a printout from Facebook, and a South magazine article from over a year ago) is automatically suspect; so is a Clerk of Council ruling that asserts there is no evidence of an apartment when there is clearly one there. It also seems clear that a Clerk of Council, who works closely with the members of council, should not be the one ruling on challenges to candidacy. There is just too much appearance of bias and of conflict of interest.

Now, does Joyner have a chance at knocking off Van Johnson, who has held the 1st district seat for two terms?

I don’t know. But with a third candidate in the mix — Tonia Miller — the race is clearly now in question.

I don’t know how dedicated Johnson’s supporters are, but he has certainly alienated many in the downtown areas that are included in that district. Fewer than 3200 people voted in the 1st district race in 2003, when Van Johnson defeated David Jones by just 102 votes. If either Joyner or Miller is able to drive a significant turnout or to cut into any of Johnson’s base of support, things could get very interesting on election night.

I’ll have more to say about some of the dynamics of that race in the next few weeks.