When Shelby County commissioner Tom Moss was appointed to his District 4 county commission seat in December 2000, controversy swirled up because Moss had only been living in the district for about six weeks and was renting his home from developer Rusty Hyneman, also no stranger to controversy. After only three weeks in Hyneman's house, Moss began using a different address, then another, then another, then another, for a total of at least six, maybe seven, residences in the 17 months he's had the commission seat.
Even Moss isn't exactly sure where he's lived.
"I've been in this house [1255 Stable Run] since, I think, November," says Moss. "Before that I was over in, oh, uh, Cumberland Farms. I don't remember the address there. I'd have to look it up."
When asked a second time for the order of his moves, beginning with Hyneman's 10211 Macon Road house in December 2000, Moss' story changes.
"I stayed there [10211 Macon Road] for a while," says Moss. "Then I stayed across the street on Stable Run, and then I stayed down at the other end of Stable Run. Then the market slowed and I had more choices, so I chose this place [1255 Stable Run]."
The issue of where Moss lives is important to the county commission, whose members include seven white Republicans (including Moss) and six black Democrats. Moss was appointed to his seat as part of an intricate political deal. As a developer and homebuilder, he is a critical vote on zoning and suburban-sprawl issues. The residency requirement is clear, although Moss is not the first politician to be questioned about it. His main accuser, Monya Jackson, is a disgruntled homeowner who spent election day two weeks ago driving around in a van trying to get her story out. But her credibility is bolstered by the fact that Moss's wife and children live in another house he has owned for several years in another district District 1.
Moss' moves started shortly after he took office. When he received the appointment, Moss told The Commercial Appeal that he did not plan to stay in Hyneman's 10211 Macon Road house which coincidentally Hyneman had that very month quit-claimed to Doug Beaty, Moss' attorney. The CA reported that Moss intended to move into a home he had built at 1470 Siskin Road, which is located in District 4 and, according to Moss, is more to his liking. Moss gave the 1470 Siskin Road address to the county commission and to the Shelby County election commission as his official residence.
But, when pressed a third time for the chronology of his moves, beginning again with Macon Road, Moss' story changes again.
"That [1470 Siskin Road] house is where I moved from, I think," says Moss. "Yeah, that's where I moved from when I moved out of there [10211 Macon Road]. I was having allergy attacks from the shag carpet. So, yeah, I stayed there for a while. I moved from Macon Road to Siskin Road then to a second address on Siskin Road that I can't remember. I just basically moved around in the district. But now I spend the night here [1255 Stable Run]. I'll be here for at least a year, or at least until the election is over."
But it's unlikely that Moss ever lived at 1470 Siskin Road and no one knows that better than Monya Jackson.
"We moved into this house [1470 Siskin Road] in February of 2001 after we had looked at it in December and January," says Jackson."When we were looking at it, the house was brand-new and empty. No one had ever lived in it."
Jackson's grandmother, Frances Briscoe, bought the house from Moss in February 2001 and has rented it to Monya Jackson and her husband Tom ever since. When Briscoe purchased the house, Moss issued a warranty saying the house was new construction and had no previous owners.
According to Jackson, appliance warranty documents were still inside the dishwasher, microwave, and oven when her family moved in. The walls were free of nail holes, and the carpet didn't have any marks from furniture, all evidence that has Jackson convinced that no one other than her family has lived in the house.
For this reason, Jackson was surprised when trips to her mailbox yielded mail for Moss, some of it official issue from the county government office. Over the last year, she has received many letters addressed to Moss from a host of sources, including his 2001 county commission W-2. Following their real estate agent's instructions, the Jacksons initially threw Moss' mail away.
But, one day, their 2-year-old daughter ripped into one of the letters and Jackson saw that it was an electronic-deposit pay stub sent to Moss from the county commission. Jackson now believes that Moss was using her address to defraud voters.
Moss, however, says the story is much more innocent.
"The county commission still has that address because I haven't bothered to change it," says Moss. "I had so little mail going there I never got around to changing the address. It never crossed my mind to change the county W-2. If somebody's not reminding me to do something, I forget. I mean, I forgot my anniversary last week."
Moss has attracted attention since he first joined the county commission. In December 2000, he was appointed to the commission to fill the seat previously occupied by Mark Norris, who had been elected to the state Senate in November. Moss, a Republican, was appointed at the same time Shep Wilbun, a Democrat, was appointed to the Juvenile Court clerk's position vacated by Bob Martin. Public speculation arose that party vote-swapping was responsible for both men getting their new jobs.
"I don't look at it as anything more than just politics," says Moss. "It's political give and take. People can go to the polls in August and tell us if they like me and Shep Wilbun or not. This is all like Jell-O on the wall. Every time you think you'd like to focus on one thing, something else comes up."
Republican county commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, who recently lost his reelection primary bid after 26 years in office, told The Commercial Appeal in December 2000 that both appointments were the result of a vote-swapping deal. Speculations quickly surfaced that Moss, a home developer, president of the local National Homebuilders Association, and a former member of the Land Use Control Board, was selected by VanderSchaaf and friends to tilt future commission votes in favor of developers. Moss' renting the house from Hyneman, one of Shelby County's most prominent and politically connected developers, only served to aggravate the suspicions.
Monya Jackson believes something is still fishy with Moss' tenure on the commission. Specifically, she thinks the reason Moss used her address was so he would meet the residency requirements for the commission.
In order for Moss to represent District 4, he has to live there, and up until the time of his appointment to the commission, he didn't. He lived in a big house at 2029 Woodchase Cove located squarely in District 1 the house where his wife and two young sons still live. This is the only house Moss owns personally, and the phone and utilities for that house are still in his name.
But with some creative shuffling, Moss may be able to get around the residency requirement. According to Rich Holden, secretary of the election commission, the law that applies to residency "is not terribly restrictive. The statute has nothing to do with the amount of time a person has lived there."
Interestingly enough, the statute (T.C.A. 2-2-122) applying to representative residency does provide in Section Five that "[t]he place where a married person's spouse and family have their habitation is presumed to be the person's place of residence, but a married person who takes up or continues abode with the intention of remaining at a place other than where the person's family resides is a resident where the person abides."
In other words, legally speaking, Moss may be in the clear. All he needs is an address in the district that he can use for a residence, be it for a day, a week, a year, or more. And as one of suburban Shelby County's top developers, Moss has lots of addresses at his disposal. Especially in Lakeland, where planned unit developments are the kudzu of the new South.
Plus, with friends like Hyneman, Moss' address options expand exponentially. When he had only a few weeks to find a District 4 home, it was Hyneman who helped him. Moss describes the two as good friends.
"I've bought lots from him. I've let him fly my airplane, and he's let me fly his. We're friends," explains Moss. "He's in business, and his approach is sometimes controversial, but he's a friend. I contacted him when I was hoping to be appointed to see if he had a place where I could stay, and he let me move in the Macon Road house."
When the Flyer asked Moss if his wife and children live with him at 1255 Stable Run or have lived at any of the other addresses, he initially refused to answer what he termed "family questions." When pressed, Moss acknowledged, "They're here sometimes with me. When I took this on I chose not to move them too many times."
Moss also jokes that it wouldn't be politically beneficial for his family to live in District 4 with him. "My wife is a liberal Democrat. It wouldn't do any good for me to have her in my district. That would just be a vote for the other guy," says Moss. "I don't want to talk about my family, but I will say that I chose to live this lifestyle until, number one, I got reelected and, number two, we are able to sell a house that has recently been annexed."
So Moss currently maintains at least two primary residences. When asked, the commissioner took it a step farther. "I maintain more than two," says Moss. "I've also got a house over on Kirby and a house in Florida. But this [1255 Stable Run] is my primary residence. This is where I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and go walking down the street."
Still, another problem may remain for Moss: If, as Jackson believes, he never lived in her house and doesn't live in the 1255 Stable Run house, he has given false addresses to the county commission and the election commission, which, according to the election commission's Holden, is a felony.
"You confirm your residency when you sign your voting form," says Holden. "If you falsify that, it's a Class C felony. Also, you sign an affidavit when you early-vote saying that you are giving the correct address."
Moss also has a problem if he did live in Jackson's house. When Moss sold the house to Monya Jackson's grandmother, he gave her a warranty saying that it was new construction, meaning it was never lived in.
Under Tennessee law, a seller is only excused from providing a Residential Property Condition Disclosure if the home is new construction and therefore has no known problems. Moss did not complete a condition disclosure for Jackson alerting the buyer and the warranty company to the house's supposed lived-in condition.
"I don't think my living there changed the 'new' status," says Moss. "I don't think I was there for more than a couple of months. The house had FHA and all the inspections done on it. It basically was new construction. I don't know how else you define 'new'."
He adds that he believes the definition of 'new' hinges on the trail of ownership. "The house was still in Moss Construction's name when it was transferred [to Jackson's grandmother]. If and when this [1255 Stable Run] house sells, it will be sold as new too. If the carpet needs to come out before that, I'll change out the carpet and the appliances."
So, to Moss, a house isn't lived in until it's sold. Jackson, who believes the addresses are mere fronts for Moss to establish residency, says she can almost understand his logic.The houses haven't actually been lived in anyway. Only the addresses, not the appliances, have been used. Moss just presumed no one would care.
But Jackson cares. She cares so much that on May 7th, primary voting day, she used her minivan as a rolling billboard in an unsuccessful attempt to get Moss defeated at the polls.
"I used some interior house paint ironically, some he left behind from when he built the house to paint on my van," says Jackson. "I painted 'Tom Moss Lies' on one side, 'Tom Moss is a Fraud' on the other, and 'Do Note Vote for Tom Moss. He is a Liar and a Fraud' on the back. Then I drove to all the polling places in District 4."
Jackson kept up her crusade the entire day. And she says she'll do it again in August for the final election.
Moral stances aside, Monya Jackson's anger may as likely be fueled by buyer's remorse. Within weeks of moving into the Siskin Road house, it looked less and less like a suburban dream and more and more like a money pit. Jackson says heavy rains revealed that the windows had never been caulked. Within months of moving in, she says, large cracks began to appear on the walls and ceilings. She says they've also had problems with the wiring and phone lines.
Monya and Tom Jackson reported the problems to Moss, and he sent some workers to fix them. But the repairs were not enough to sweeten the Jacksons' dissatisfaction with the house.
"I wish I had never moved into this house," says Jackson. "It's been a nightmare."
Moss tells a different story. In his opinion, Jackson is the sort of buyer that builders dread: a woman with outlandish demands and too much time on her hands.
"Some of her complaints are legitimate, but some of them are just ridiculous," says Moss. "We've been over there to fix things so many times. I get a customer like that about every seven years. It's a locust experience. She's somebody that has continued to pursue this as a way to vent, or whatever. It's her personality."
No longer happy with the home, Jackson says she went to a neighborhood meeting for residents of another community Moss was developing, where Moss was scheduled to speak. When she raised her hand to ask the commissioner a question, Jackson says he pointedly ignored her. Eventually, the moderator recognized her and Jackson publicly asked Moss if he planned to take advantage of other home buyers the way she felt he had taken advantage of her.
Moss replied that he didn't think the meeting was the appropriate time or place to discuss the matter.
After that meeting, Jackson says she became more irritated that Moss was using her address. She called Moss and told him she knew about his "scam" and wanted it to stop. She says he came by her house and handed her one of his business cards, with "10211 Macon Road" written on the back.
"That's when he said, 'If anyone asks you where I live, tell them 10211 Macon Road,'" Jackson says. "He also told me he and his wife were separated," she adds.
And then, true to form, Moss changed addresses again. Currently, the election commission and the county commission offices have 1255 Stable Run as Moss' official address. But records in the tax assessor's office show that, as with all the other addresses he's claimed, Moss never bothered to transfer the property from Moss Construction Company to himself. In fact, property records show that the only home Moss owns personally is 2029 Woodchase Cove, the Cordova home in District 1 where his family lives.
Moss says he did not transfer the properties to himself because it was a better deal for him economically to keep the house in the company's name.
"The rates are cheaper in the situation it's in now," says Moss. "It's under a construction loan, which is at a more favorable rate. I'm the sole owner of Moss Construction, so I'm paying it one way or the other."
So where does Tom Moss actually live? Only Moss knows, and, apparently, some of the time even he's not sure.