Celeste Matthys will remain a candidate for the City Council elections, as the city of Independence says the city clerk cannot investigate or determine whether a candidate for office is fully qualified.
Matthys is among the four candidates on the ballot for the District 3 primary election on Feb. 4. Another candidate, Kenneth Love, had challenged Matthys' residency qualification, saying she had not lived in the generally southeast district the required 12 months before election. Matthys moved to her current home in March 2019 – enough time to meet the one-year requirement for the April 7 general election but not the primary.
The city charter only refers to “the election” and does not specify if primary or general, and Matthys said she interpreted it as general because there's no sure way to know, when filing, if there will be a primary election.
City spokesperson Meg Lewis said legal analysis confirmed the clerk's role in a city election is “ministerial.”
“The charter does not grant the clerk authority to investigate or determine whether a candidate for office has the required qualifications, including residency,” Lewis said in a statement. “If a candidate files the proper paperwork and declarations, the candidate should appear on the ballot.”
State statute provides a way to challenge a candidate's qualification, Lewis said, and the city charter also says the council has the ability to determine whether newly elected members meet qualifications.
However, the state statute referenced says for such a challenge, the petition must be filed within 30 days after the filing deadline. That date passed in December, and absentee voting for the primary has already opened.
“I'm just glad there's been an answer provided,” Matthys said Tuesday, adding that she plans to work together no matter the end result.
“We both have the same goal: to make the lives of people in the city better. We have respect for each other.”
Love said Tuesday he was “shocked” at the decision, will continue to knock on doors and didn't know at the moment what, if any, other legal avenue he might take. Love said, “I don't want to look like a bad guy trying to kick a lady off the ballot,” and that his question is more a matter of upholding the charter.
“I think the charter speaks very clearly for itself about residency requirements,” Love told the City Council at Monday's meeting, noting that council members often refer to the charter when asking the city manager about various agenda items, and the primary is an election.
The charter, he said, doesn't belong to any person on the dais, “It belongs to the citizens, who voted on it.”
Dan O'Neill and Mike Steinmeyer, are the other two candidates for the District 3 primary.