TWO HOMES: Candidate’s Residency Challenged

A Des Moines woman is questioning whether a candidate in the city council race can actually run for the seat.

She claims he doesn’t live in the ward he wants to represent.

Shawna Johnson plans to vote in the election for the Des Moines City Council’s fourth ward.

“I vowed to become more politically involved,” said Johnson.

Joe Henry, a realtor, and Joe Gatto, the owner of Cafe Baratta’s are vying for her vote.

While researching the two candidates, she says something didn’t add up.

“If voters have to be residents and it’s implied they live there, for the candidates it should be the same,” Johnson told Channel 13 News.

Johnson questions whether Gatto is actually a resident of Ward 4.

According to the Polk County Assessor’s website, Gatto owns two homes.

He’s owned a property appraised at $350,000 dollars in the heart of Ward 3 since 2004.

He acquired another home appraised at $92,000 dollars in Ward 4 about five months ago.

“Citizens want transparency and want to believe what they hear,” said Johnson.

Johnson is challenging Gatto’s residency.

Gatto wouldn’t speak on camera, but sent this response drafted by his attorney.

A portion of it states there is “no meaningful dispute that Gatto was a resident of the fourth ward as of February 6th, 2014”.

That’s the day he filed for candidacy.

It goes on to say he regularly sleeps, pays property taxes and utilities, and accepts mail at the Ward 4 house.

Iowa Code doesn’t define how long a person must live at a residence to qualify as a candidate.

Johnson says legality aside; she says it still doesn’t sit well with her.

“If we’re going to go by technicality and any person can acquire property and run for a seat in that ward, than we need to re-evaluate if we want a ward system or not,” said Johnson.

A three person committee including Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, city clerk Diane Rauh, and a council member to be selected at Monday night’s council meeting will review the challenge Tuesday.