CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A candidate for the Clay County School Board has admitted to the News4Jax I-TEAM that she doesn’t live in the district where she’s running for office.
Her disclosure came after a tip about District 5 candidate Lynne Chafee, who's in a runoff race with incumbent Ashley Gilhousen. Now the question over Chafee's residency could lead to a lawsuit.
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Last week, Gilhousen's mother, Clay County Commissioner Diane Hutchings, approached the I-TEAM with evidence that she said shows Chafee doesn't live in Green Cove Springs in District 5, which is the area she's looking to represent.
Gilhousen’s campaign provided multiple documents showing her challenger, in fact, lives in Fleming Island, not Green Cove Springs. The campaign also provided photos that show Chafee leaving a Fleming Island home multiple mornings. When the I-TEAM stopped by the house Tuesday, there was a vehicle in front with a Chafee campaign sign on it.
The I-TEAM contacted Chafee and asked her which town she lives in.
"Actually, I own two homes in Green Cove and I own a home in Fleming Island," Chafee said. "I don't have to technically lay my head down in Green Cove until I'm sworn in and I have a home waiting to do that."
The problem with her statement that she plans to move to one of her Green Cove Springs properties after the election is that, according to Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless, a candidate has to live in the district at the time the candidate files to run for office, which Chafee did in May.
Chambless also pointed out that Chafee's voter registration shows she lives in Green Cove Springs, which contradicts what she told the I-TEAM.
"I will be moving, as soon as the election is over, to Green Cove," Chafee said.
Chafee said she believes Gilhousen and her mother are going after her because of the Fleming Island charter school St. Johns Classical Academy, where Gilhousen’s mother -- who tipped off the I-TEAM -- is the founder.
Chafee said most of Gilhousen’s votes on the school board support the charter school and Gilhousen even sends her children there.
The I-TEAM asked Gilhousen about that.
Ashley Gilhousen: "I’m a mom of three boys in our public schools, and I know firsthand."
I-TEAM reporter Scott Johnson: "I've got to interrupt you there. She said the kids go to the charter school."
Gilhousen: "Charter school is public school. It’s paid for by tax dollars. It’s not a private school."
Despite the back and forth over charter schools, in light of the revelation, Gilhousen’s camp is considering its next step, which it said could include legal action.
Responding to the I-TEAM investigation on Wednesday, Chambless said his office's role in the candidate qualification process is more custodial than anything else. When it comes to verifying someone's residence, the supervisor said, he depends on the candidate to file accurate information.
At this point, we have been made aware through phone calls and an office visitor stating the candidate’s confession of not currently residing in the district, and as such, I have had a conversation with the State’s Attorney concerning this matter. I feel that it is very unfortunate that this event has distracted us from our daily office operations during our very busy time and having us to defend our position that we do not perform residency verification measures, we trust the candidate to attest and report accurately to all relevant information provided."
On Thursday, the I-TEAM received a copy of a letter from the attorney representing the campaign of Gilhousen. It is asking Chafee to withdraw her candidacy.
The letter reads, in part, “We ask that you immediately submit written notice to the election’s official of your intent to withdraw from the District 5 race."
The letter goes on to say if Chafee does not withdraw, they will take her to court.