The Nevada Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that Robert Miller didn't meet residency requirements when he won the post of Ely mayor last summer.
The ruling sends the case back to a district judge who will have to remove him from office. But the city council is expected to reappoint him almost immediately because he now does meet residency requirements.
Miller's candidacy was challenged by George Chachas of Ely, who said Miller wasn't a resident for a full year before his 2002 election. The state constitution and law require mayoral candidates have "actual residency" and not just "legal residency" for a full year. Miller ran for and won a second term, even though he had lived outside the city limits for two years.
District Judge Andrew Puccinelli ruled Miller qualified because he moved out of town only to care for his elderly mother and never intended to give up residency.
Chachas appealed, joined both by the Nevada Secretary of State's Office and Nevada's county clerks and election officials. The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed that, while Miller never relinquished his legal domicile in Ely, he didn't meet the residency requirement for a full year. He admitted he slept in his Ely apartment only one time during the two-year period and actually lived at a home in Mineral Heights just outside the city limits with his mother.
County officials, including Carson City Clerk Alan Glover, said the issue is important because, if actual residency isn't required, they won't be able to determine who can and can't run for a local office or who can vote in a district.
"We need it in black and white," he said after oral arguments in the case. "You either live in a location or not."
Ronda Moore, elections deputy for the Secretary of State's Office, agreed.
"If intent is what matters instead of where some one actually lives, then the clerks can't do their job and determine who qualifies to vote in an election," she said when the case was heard.
Patty Cafferata, who represented Chachas, said Wednesday the order reaffirms residency requirements for all local candidates in Nevada.
"It helps straighten out the law. It says you really have to live in a district you're going to represent," she said.
Miller said he expects to be reappointed to the mayor's post. Cafferata said she too has been told the council plans to reappoint him.
But even if they do, his term will be shortened by the requirement that appointees, under state law, must run in the next general election.
In Ely, the next election will be June 2005. Miller's term, had he won the case, would have run through June 2007.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.