The location of District 3 City Councilman C.J. Small’s $1.1 million Dog River home is raising eyebrows as the Aug. 22 municipal election draws near. The house on Dog River Road is one of three owned by Small, according to information from the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner. It also happens to be outside the city limits, with a Theodore address.
Small also owns a historic home at 951 Marine St., which is in District 3, and another on Smith Street. In an email message, Small said the home on Marine Street, which is worth just under $120,000 according to tax records, is his permanent residence and the one where he spends most of his time.
As for the larger waterfront house some 12.1 miles away from his district residence, Small referred to it as an investment.
“It was purchased in 2011 as investment property that allows me, my family and business colleagues an occasional opportunity to enjoy one of Mobile’s greatest assets, beautiful Dog River,” he wrote. “I don’t live there.”
Small said he claims a homestead exemption on the Marine Street home. The state allows a homeowner to apply the exemption to one property. The exemption allows the homeowner a $68 rebate on a property tax bill, as well as a reduction in the percentage of assessed value used.
Leola Chaney, Small’s challenger in the Aug. 22 election, doesn’t buy his explanation. She said she finds it hard to believe he would live full time in a house worth so much less than the other 20 minutes away.
“It’s wrong,” she said. “As a leader in this district, you have to lead by example.”
Lori Lein, general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, said the residency of someone running for an city office is often hard to prove. A court of law is usually the only place a question like that can be answered, and a judge or jury would have to consider evidence aside from where the officeholder lays his or her head. Evidence could also include where an individual picks up his or her mail and where an individual is registered to vote, Lein said.
Meanwhile, campaign records indicate that an employee of Stimpson’s campaign initially worked for Chaney. Erica Perkins Cooley was listed as a member of Chaney’s campaign committee in her May report to the Mobile County Probate Court. But Cooley was also recently paid $5,000 as a consultant for Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s re-election campaign.
Chaney said Cooley never worked for both campaigns at the same time. In fact, Cooley told Chaney she “got promoted” to work on Stimpson’s campaign.
Stimpson campaign manager Candace Cooksey said Cooley has been paid a total of $7,500 for diversity outreach. Cooksey said there was no “promotion” as the campaigns are not connected. When the team was deciding who to bring onto the staff, Cooley came to mind, Cooksey said.
“Erica is a leader in the community and is a supporter first,” Cooksey said. “She’s talented, smart and brings a lot to the table.”