Residency Row: Hancock City Council member’s primary residence challenged

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Hancock City Council member Ted Belej listens to concerns over his main place of residence at Wednesday’s meeting.

HANCOCK — City Council members must reside within city limits, but the question raised at Wednesday’s meeting is what qualifies as the residence when two homes are involved.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ted Belej’s status as a resident of Hancock was questioned by fellow council member John Haeussler during a Wednesday work session.

If Belej did not in fact reside in Hancock, he would be ineligible to serve on the council.

Belej maintains he is a Hancock resident but stays in two locations, one of which is in Atlantic Mine.

“I occasionally stay there (at the Hancock residence). I have all my documentation, driver’s license, voter registration, passport, etc. I do all my voting here in Hancock,” Belej said.

The second home came into the equation after he married about a year ago. His wife owns the residence in Atlantic Mine.

“I stay there occasionally. I stay in Hancock occasionally,” Belej said.

Haeussler’s concern stems from possible legal challenges to council decisions if Belej was not a resident while voting as a council member.

“As long as we have one member that is not legally a member, every decision can be challenged, even with a quorum,” he said.

The question over residency, Haeussler claimed, “calls into question every decision made in the last year, if in fact you’re legally not allowed to be a City Council member.”

Under state law a residency is defined as a place a person habitually sleeps, keeps personal effects and is a regular place of lodging, Haeussler explained.

“I would suggest it’s possible you don’t live in Hancock,” he said.

With that in mind, Haeussler inquired which location Belej spent most nights.

Belej said he spends an equal amount of time at each location and said he could not identify at which location he spent more time.

Haeussler challenged the veracity of that answer.

“You know where you spend most nights,” he said. “You just don’t want to tell us. I don’t know, but you know.”

“I think you’re misreading (the law), and I’m well within my right and well within my justification of how I’m doing things,” Belej said.

The Atlantic Mine location in question is currently for sale, Belej said. Once the sale is complete, the Hancock location will be the sole residence.

Upon Mayor Lisa McKenzie’s recommendation, the council decided to have the city attorney look into the situation and give his opinion at the next meeting, when the topic will be revisited.