LACONIA — Three former mayors and three current city councilors say they don’t have a problem with Mayor Andrew Hosmer’s decision to temporarily reside in Gilford.
Meanwhile, one former mayor and a school board member say Hosmer should resign.
Hosmer said he is selling one home in Laconia and preparing to move into another residence in the city. In the meantime, he has been living on Governors Island, just over the city line.
The City Charter requires that in order for someone to serve as mayor, that person must be qualified to vote in the city.
In order to be qualified to vote in a city, one must have a domicile in the city, but the law relies on a voter’s intent and allows temporary changes in circumstance.
Voters can be temporarily absent from a community, including living in another community, and not lose their domicile "if they have every intention to come back. The law allows for that," said David Scanlan, deputy secretary of state.
For example, if a voter’s home burned down, the voter could still be considered to be domiciled in the city while the home is being rebuilt.
“The intent of the individual is a critical element in determining someone's residency,” Scanlan said. “But that intent also has to be supported by evidence, examples of which include where a person works, where the children attend school, or the address they use when filing their income tax, or the address on their driver's license.”
In 2017, then-Mayor Ed Engler left the city for four months to undergo colon cancer surgery and treatment. The late Armand Bolduc, mayor pro tem, filled in until Engler returned in early 2018.
Engler said he explained to the City Council and City Manager Scott Myers that he needed to go to California for medical treatment, and they were supportive. His intent was always to return.
By the same token, Engler said Hosmer’s temporary change of circumstance is not disqualifying when his intent is to return.
“He has said he is moving,” Engler said. “I would take Andrew at his word.”
Former Mayor Rod Dyer, an attorney, also was supportive of Hosmer.
“I firmly believe he’s a person of honesty and integrity,” Dyer said. “I feel if he is simply temporarily out of the community for a valid reason, moving from one house to another, it is appropriate. If he were to move permanently to another community and declare that his domicile, that would be it.”
Dyer said a temporary change is not a major concern.
“I fully expect the mayor will do as he indicated he would and will continue to be a permanent resident of Laconia.”
He said it’s not that unusual for a mayor or other city officials to be temporarily removed from the city for health or other reasons.
“My experience with issues of domicile is that this would not preclude them from maintaining they are in Laconia.”
One former mayor had a different view. Tom Tardif said if Hosmer has been staying on Governors Island, he should step down. He said that Hosmer could also run afoul of voter laws if he is misrepresenting his address.
City Councilor Bruce Cheney said he takes Hosmer at this word. As long as he is residing on Governors Island just until his newly purchased house in Laconia is ready, Cheney doesn’t have a problem with that.
“And I suspect most of the council will feel the same way,” he said.
Councilors Henry Lipman and Mark Haynes as well as Mike Seymour, a former mayor, concurred.
“I think there are various points in people’s lives where we should be respecting privacy in people’s lives,” Hosmer said.
Laconia School Board member Dawn Johnson, who recently won election as a Republican state representative, has challenged the mayor’s residency, and has called on him to resign immediately.
Referring to the Governors Island home, Johnson said, “If that’s where he rests his head, that’s his domicile.”
Hosmer, a Democrat, has questioned whether Johnson and others have political motivations arising from his hard-fought mayoral race against a Republican opponent, Peter Spanos.