How Is Fall River Councilor Stephen Camara on the Ballot? [OPINION]
According to the Fall River Elections Office, a candidate must reside in Fall River in order to be eligible to run for public office. In reading the city's charter, it states:
(c) Eligibility - Any voter shall be eligible to hold the office of councilor-at-large. If a councilor-at-large removes from the city during the councilor’s term, that office shall immediately be deemed vacant and filled in the manner provided in section 2-11. The city council shall determine whether a councilor has removed from the city.
Just so I could be sure about something, I called the office today at 4:06 p.m. and spoke with a nice lady in that department who told me that someone can own property elsewhere but they would need to live in Fall River to hold office.
So it seems clear that in order for a person to run for Fall River's City Council, they must reside in Fall River, agreed? Bear with me.
According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Q&A for Homestead Act Declarations:
The Declaration of the Homestead Act is allowed for the owner or owners of a home who occupy or intend to occupy the home as a principal residence.....A homestead can be declared only on an applicant’s “principal residence”. A person can have more than one residence but the statute only allows the protection on one’s primary dwelling. There is no legislative intent to allow the exemption to apply to a vacation home that is not principal residence.
So my question is: how is Fall River City Councilor Stephen A. Camara eligible on any Fall River ballot? He made a Declaration for Homestead on his 38 Cherry & Webb Lane house in Westport on September 19, 2014, according to the Registry of Deeds.
He has stated publicly that his residence is 55 LeBaron Street in Fall River, a single-family for which he is currently listed as the owner. His parents are on the Homestead Act there, both deceased as of March of 2015.
Is it possible that Mr. Camara can explain this? I called him and asked to do exactly that this evening. I spoke with him and he said, "55 LeBaron Street in Fall River is my primary residence." I then asked him if he used the Homestead Act in Westport in error. He said it was not in error and that he was advised to declare the Homestead Act there for his more expensive second home at 38 Cherry & Webb Lane.
He then politely excused himself and said he was currently attending a climate change meeting in Fall River.
He didn't name who it was that advised him, but as an experienced public servant, an owner of multiple homes with experience in real estate and a higher education which includes studies like a BA in Government, Urban Affairs, Policy Analysis, it seems like Mr. Camara would be well-versed about his own state's Homestead laws.
Section 5 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Part II, Title I states the following:
Section 5. (a) A declaration of homestead shall be in writing, signed and acknowledged under penalty of perjury by each owner to be benefited by the homestead, except as provided in clause (4), shall be recorded and shall comply with the following:
(2) the declaration shall state that each person named therein occupies or intends to occupy the home as their principal residence;........(other clauses not relevant to this scenario)
It would seem that Mr. Camara is ineligible and has either defrauded the city taxpayers and voters of a resident representative or has perjured himself in his Homestead Act Declaration.
Which is it?
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at ken.pittman@