Court rules PSC residency rule doesn’t block Democrat Edwards from ballot

photo of Cobb Superior Court building from the front with a blue sky with clouds in the background

By Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
July 13, 2022

The state’s one-year residency requirement to serve on the Georgia Public Service Commission does not apply to the Democratic nominee running to finish a former commissioner’s term, a judge has ruled.

Shelia Edwards won the three-way Democratic primary outright in May, but she does not live in District 3, which includes Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties. Edwards lives in Cobb County, which sits in another district, and says she will relocate if elected.

The two other Democrats in the race challenged her candidacy, arguing she is not qualified to run because does not live in the district. Wednesday’s ruling was in response to a challenge from Chandra Farley, the runner-up in May with 31% of the vote.

Judge David Emerson, who is a roving senior superior court judge, concluded that state lawmakers appear to have “made an express exception” to the 12-month residency requirement for current members and the unexpired term Edwards is hoping to finish when they redrew the commission’s five districts earlier this year.

Former Commissioner Chuck Eaton, who is a Republican, was narrowly reelected in 2018 but was appointed last summer to serve as a judge in the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, vacating the office.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Fitz Johnson to the seat last July. Johnson lived in Cobb County when he was first appointed but now lists a northwest Atlanta apartment on his campaign documents.

The Nov. 8 election will decide who will serve out the rest of Eaton’s term, which ends in 2024.

“The court rejects the argument put forward by the petitioner which seeks to impose the residency requirement upon a person who might be elected to serve Commissioner’s Eaton’s unexpired term,” Emerson wrote in his ruling.

Attorney Bryan Sells, who is representing Farley, said Wednesday he was still reviewing the decision and that Farley had not yet decided whether to appeal it.

The one-year residency requirement has been a dominant factor in this year’s PSC races after the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew the commission’s map. Another Democratic candidate, who was drawn out of District 2, is challenging the residency requirement in court.

The Public Service Commission regulates the state’s utilities and has the ultimate say over what Georgians pay for essential services like electricity. Two of the commission’s five districts are on this year’s ballot. All five of the sitting commissioners are Republican.

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