Council candidate’s residency questioned
Ballot cast in November lists a home outside city
February 23, 2013 - Updated: 6:05 a.m.
A candidate for Spokane City Council who already has the backing of two other elected leaders may be ineligible to run.
Mark Hamilton, the pastor of the former Spokane Christian Fellowship and a real estate broker for Soleil Real Estate, was registered to vote at an address outside city limits when he cast a ballot in November’s general election, which could complicate his efforts to assert he meets residency requirements.
The Spokane City Charter requires candidates to live within the city at least a year prior to filing for office. Candidates for this year’s municipal elections will file in May, so they must have been city residents at least since May 2012.
Hamilton, who plans to run against Councilwoman Amber Waldref in the August primary, changed the address where he is registered to vote last month to 217 E. Pacific Ave. He bought the property in May and has spent the majority of his nights since then at that address, he said. Hamilton said he bought the home, in part, so he could run for City Council.
Hamilton filed paperwork this month with the Public Disclosure Commission, allowing him to start spending money on a campaign. He has loaned $2,000 to his campaign and raised about $500, including donations from Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori and Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase.
Salvatori said he decided to endorse Hamilton after meeting with him, though he added that he reserves the right to endorse multiple candidates for the seat representing northeast Spokane.
“He’s got a strong sense of fiscal conservatism that I like,” Salvatori said.
Waldref announced this month she would seek a second term.
“I would hope the people running for office in Spokane live in their district and respect that,” Waldref said.
Ian Moody, who ran for Congress last year, also has announced a bid for the seat.
Hamilton’s property on Pacific Avenue was so dilapidated when he purchased it for $20,000 that it was considered substandard by the city. Although he has made substantial improvements to the home, it still was labeled “uninhabitable” by a city official at a hearing on Oct. 30.
Dan Skindzier, the city’s deputy building official, cited the building’s lack of heat and other conditions at the hearing.
City officials say it would not be illegal to live at the address since it still has a valid certificate of occupancy.
Even if he can establish that he lived in the home, however, Hamilton will have to contend with having cast a ballot in November that contradicts his claims to residency inside city limits.
Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo said “any voting action subsequent” to the one-year requirement would have to be examined if Hamilton’s residency is challenged.
From June 2012 until January, Hamilton was registered to vote at an address south of Spokane that he said belongs to a friend. He didn’t register to vote at the Pacific Avenue address because he was having problems with mail theft there, he said.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said voter registration forms allow people to have their ballots mailed to a different address than the one they use to register.
Hamilton said he has a strong connection to the district because his church, Spokane Christian Fellowship, used to be located in Hillyard. It has since been renamed One Body Ministries.
Hamilton’s quest for office could face other obstacles than his address.
When his wife, Helen Hamilton, filed for divorce in 2010, among other claims she accused Mark Hamilton in court documents of inappropriately mixing personal finances with those of the church.
“The only thing that was shown was that I have helped the church a lot financially,” Hamilton said.
Edwin Cain, who served as assistant pastor at the church, said in court documents submitted on Helen Hamilton’s behalf that the finances of the church were “shrouded in secrecy.”
“My wife and I thought it was very odd that the three offerings taken each week were put into an envelope and handed to Mark after each service. We never knew how much was given or how it was disbursed,” Cain said.
Church board members who filed declarations in support of Mark Hamilton said finances were above-board and Hamilton poured significant amounts of his own money into the church.
“Mark and Helen have been the primary contributors to the church over the years of its existence,” church board member Ian Wilson said in a court declaration. “Many of the church’s physical assets were acquired because Mark Hamilton would purchase them in the name of the church, and incur the liability as personal debt.”