Residency questions target Pope County seats

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RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Some Russellville citizens question how one of their elected officials can represent them if he lives three counties away.

Pope County Justice of the Peace James Kusturin moved from Russellville to Forth Smith last year, about 70 miles outside of his district, but uses his Russellville business, an accounting firm, as his address.

Kusturin told KARK he lives in an apartment in his office during the week and spends more time in Russellville than Fort Smith anyway. He said the former and current county judges have also approved the situation.

However, a Russellville City Council member found himself in a similar predicament and had to resign last year after speaking with the mayor, city attorney and fellow council members about the rules.

“It’s a little frustrating to see as someone who believes in the system, ran for office, wanted to run to help, be involved in the community, lead the community,” said Nathan George. “I feel like I did a pretty good job. When I see other people in these positions that aren’t necessarily following the rules, what does that say to the community you represent? Are you better than the people who you are wanting to represent?”

A Pope County resident said the bigger issue at hand is the system to report situations like this across the state.

“A business office where you have a bed thrown in the back obviously isn’t a permanent residence,” said Kristin Foster. “For me, it’s about following the law as it’s written. If we need to look at changing that then that’s a thing that should be handled, but for now that’s what it says.”

Foster said after contacting the county judge, the election commission, the Association of Arkansas Counties, the secretary of state and the attorney general’s office, her options would be to take the residency issue to court as a private citizen or question it during a quorum court meeting.

“There’s not really a good way for citizens to call attention to this without putting their own name on the line,” Foster said. “When I talked to people about this situation, lots of them said, ‘Oh, we know about that, but we’re not willing to get involved.’ I don’t think that’s the way it should work. There should be a system in our government when an elected official is not following the law that we’re able to report it and an agency takes care of it.” 

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