By REBEKAH ALLEN
Advocate staff writer
August 26, 2012
John Delgado, who is running for District 12 Metro councilman, is raising questions about whether incumbent Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois resides in the district he represents.
“Since I announced my candidacy, I have received dozens of phone calls and emails alerting me that Smokie doesn’t live in the district,” Delgado said. “I know that he claims to rent a house in District 12, but he actually owns a much nicer house on Kleinert Avenue in District 10.”
Bourgeois, who claims in qualifying documents and his voter registration that his official residence is 1225 Highland Park, said he isn’t breaking any rules.
“I have an officially signed and documented lease on that house,” Bourgeois said of the house on Highland Park. “I’m in full compliance with the law.”
He also owns a home in the Garden District at 2195 Kleinert Ave., which is in Council District 10, represented by Councilwoman Tara Wicker, near the boundary with District 12.
Asked what he considers his primary residence, Bourgeois said, “Where ever I feel like living. I’ve never kept a log.”
“I don’t have to live in that house all of the time,” he said of the Highland Park residence. “All that has to be is an official residence, and what I do with it is my business.”
When asked if he sublets his Highland Park house, Bourgeois said he does not. He later acknowledged that another man stays at the house “part time” and pays what Bourgeois described as “a pittance” to help with rent.
“It’s not a sublease, so to speak,” Bourgeois said. “If I want to move three or four people in there, that’s my right. But I also have a bed there, and I can wash my clothes there if I want.”
The person who receives the sewer bill at the Highland Park residence is Ryan Salario, according to records obtained through a public records request to the city-parish.
Asked about Salario, Bourgeois responded, “He’s a private individual.”
Bourgeois is listed as the recipient of the sewer bill at the Kleinert address.
Bourgeois has owned the Kleinert Avenue home since 1988, according to records. The last year he claimed homestead exemption on the Kleinert property was in 2008, the year before he took office. A homeowner can only claim homestead exemption on property he or she claims as a primary residence.
Bourgeois said he chose to stop taking the exemption, because “the city needs the money.”
According to state law, residents are supposed to register and vote where they claim homestead exemption.
The city-parish plan of government says Metro Council members must be qualified voters and residents of their district but doesn’t expressly define what constitutes residency.
Several court challenges have arisen over the years in Louisiana raising the issue of whether a particular elected official or candidate resides in the district he or she is running for but these generally have not been successful because state law defining legal residency is so loosely written.
Brandon Abadie, deputy clerk of court in East Baton Rouge Parish, said the office uses the voter registration address of candidates to determine whether they are running in the correct district. He said questions of residency are left to the courts to decide.
Delgado said he would not mount a legal challenge against Bourgeois’s residency.
“But I think the voters in District 12 should know the facts and decide for themselves whether this is acceptable to them.”
Delgado and Bourgeois, both Republicans, are being contested by Democrat Rose Carey in the Nov. 6 primary.
District 12 includes the Kenilworth, Magnolia Woods, Pollard, Southdowns, and Valley Park neighborhoods.
Friday is the deadline to challenge candidacy to get a name removed from the ballot.