Tom Bassford legally resides in Galloway Township and can therefore continue to serve as a member of Galloway Council, Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections John Mooney has determined and stated in a letter to Bassford dated Jan. 13, 2012.
The letter was part of a document Galloway Township Manager Arch Liston released to members of the media following the council meeting on Tuesday night, April 24.
Bassford was not in attendance at the meeting.
The issue has been raised by members of the public and the media who dispute Bassford lives in Galloway, saying instead he spends most of his time in Pennsylvania, and should therefore be forced to vacate his seat on council.
Bassford has lived in his home, owned jointly by his wife, Carol, on First Avenue in Galloway Township for 29 years, according to a letter from Solicitor Michael Blee to members of council, which is included in the document.
There are no divorce proceedings in place, and there is no property settlement agreement between the parties that would change ownership of the property, according to Blee.
Blee then states that Bassford, who worked in the casino industry in the 1990s, attempted to re-enter the industry after his full-time status with Foundation Title Industry became affected by the extreme decline in the real estate market.
Foundation Title is a company that provides title insurance and settlement services, and has a location in Linwood.
In November 2010, Bassford secured a full-time job with Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Pa., according to Blee.
According to mapquest.com, the shortest travel time between Bassford’s home address on First Avenue in Galloway and Hollywood Casino is three hours, four minutes.
When Bassford first began working at the casino, he began renting a home with three roommates, all of whom had ties to Atlantic County, Blee said. Early in 2011 Bassford signed a month-to-month lease at a home in Grantville. A copy of that lease is included in the document.
Blee previously stated his work schedule allows him to be in Galloway for council meetings on Tuesday nights, but members of the community and the press challenge his availability to voters the rest of the week, saying he should be removed from office.
According to Blee, the primary statute in this situation is the municipal vacancy law, which states: “The office of a mayor or a member of the governing body of a municipality shall be deemed vacant upon a determination of the other members of the governing body that the mayor or member of the governing body no longer resides within the corporate limits of a municipality or ward from which he is elected. If the governing body determines that a member no longer resides within the limits of the municipality, that member has due process rights.”
As far as what constitutes a person’s home, the law in the State of New Jersey reads: “Domicile has been variously defined as the place where a person has his true, fixed permanent home, and principle establishment, into which whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning or the habitation fixed in any place without any present intention of removing therefrom.”
Blee points to a recent case involving former Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, in which the court ruled it is the person’s intention to establish a place as home demonstrated by relevant factors that determines residency for purposes of qualification.
Relevant factors include: telephone bills; gas and electric bills; place from which taxes are filed; mailing address; membership in local clubs; drivers license and automobile registration addresses, both of which were supplied in the document, and both of which list Bassford’s home in Galloway as his address; place where person spends greater amount of time; newspaper subscription; and location of schools attended by children.
It has been determined that Bassford spends the four nights a week in Pennsylvania and three nights a week in Galloway. However, he is seeking employment at the recently opened Revel casino in Atlantic City and a casino soon to be opened in Valley Forge. Bassford claims that if he becomes employed in Valley Forge, he will commute from Galloway Township every day. That commute would be either one hour, 43 minutes or two hours, 39 minutes, according to mapquest.com.
Bassford is not identified as the owner of any utilities at the Grantville home, nor does he have a phone at that location, Blee states. He also doesn’t receive mail at that location.
His telephone bills and gas and electric bills continue to be paid through a joint account with his wife through their home in Galloway, Blee said. That home is listed as Bassford’s mailing address, and all tax returns filed with the federal and state governments list his home as Galloway Township.
He is also a member of the Galloway Township Republican League, attending their meetings periodically, and is a member of the Board of Directors for Highland Swim Club, Blee said.
“The records reflect that he has continued to fulfill his responsibilities by regularly attending council and committee meetings,” Blee says in his letter. “He indicated that he could have adjusted his schedule to spend more time in Galloway, but it is not practical. It is clear from his statements that if an employment opportunity arises closer to his home in Galloway Township, he plans to accept the opportunity and cancel his month-to-month lease for his apartment in Grantville, Pennsylvania.”