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Zurik: Plaquemines or Prairieville? Councilman's candidacy questioned

Plaquemines Parish Councilman Jeff Edgecombe, sitting in his truck as we questioned him about his Prairieville homestead exemption. Plaquemines Parish Councilman Jeff Edgecombe, sitting in his truck as we questioned him about his Prairieville homestead exemption.
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BELLE CHASSE, LA (WVUE) -

A public official may have violated state election laws when he ran for a council seat in Plaquemines Parish. That official dodged our questions for weeks, until we found him sitting in his truck before a recent council meeting.

We waited steps from the vehicle of District 7 Councilman Jeff Edgecombe until he finally lowered his window. We reminded him that we'd sent email requests for an interview, and never got a response.

"Turn the camera off," Edgecombe told us. 

This public official didn't want our camera recording. In fact, he didn't want to talk to any reporter.

"No, my problem with reporters - just like everybody else - when you talk to them, they pretty much tell you or they dictate what y'all want to say and not what we want to say," Edgecombe told us. "Y'all always try to look at the people like we're out there trying to better ourselves. But yet we strictly… we all try to do what's better for the parish."

We've been trying to track down Edgecombe and question him about whether he should even be an elected official in Plaquemines right now. Four years ago, he qualified to run for the Parish Council. 

New information raises serious questions about his candidacy. 

Plaquemines Parish's charter is clear: A candidate for election must be a "resident of and legally domiciled… within the district… for at least the last one year before he may qualify for such office." But records show that, after Hurricane Katrina, Edgecombe dropped his Plaquemines Parish homestead exemption. He bought a house in Prairieville, in Ascension Parish, and claimed a homestead exemption there. 

Edgecombe sold that Ascension Parish property in late 2009 and applied for a homestead exemption in Plaquemines Parish, meaning he may not have met the requirement to live in the parish one year before qualifying.

"Basically he got away with it," says Barry Colligan, a resident in Edgecombe's district. "And it was against the rules in our voting process."

We asked Edgecombe why he had the homestead exemption in Prairieville. He said, "My wife was living in Prairieville, with my daughter going to Dutchtown."  

We reminded him that the house was in his name. "Look, whatever," he told us, "my wife was up there taking care of the kids. I had a house built which she was staying at and I was down here working. As far as what she did with the paperwork…" Edgecombe simply shrugged. 

After Katrina, Edgecombe still had property in Plaquemines Parish. But records show those tax bills were sent to Prairieville. And when he took out a mortgage for his business in October 2009, Edgecombe listed his Prairieville address. 

But there's more. The secretary of state's website clearly says that, if you have multiple addresses, you must register to vote using your homestead exemption address. So technically, Edgecombe should have been a registered voter in Ascension Parish, not Plaquemines – and that also would have made him ineligible to run for office in Plaquemines Parish. 

Michelle Wilcox worked on Parish President Billy Nungesser's campaign. She says she remembers Edgecombe coming to get some help with a campaign brochure.

"When he came in, he showed me what he had," Wilcox recalls. "It wasn't complete, so I completed it for him. And I just told him, ‘Well, if you want to just go home,' I said, ‘you just stop back the next day and get it, it will take me a while.' And he said no, that he lived out of town and that he wouldn't be back for a couple of days, could I just do it then."

Where was he living during that time? "He said Prairieville," Wilcox tells us.

Edgecombe insisted he's done nothing wrong. "When you say you got a house in Prairieville when your wife lives there - well yeah, you know?" Edgecombe told us. "But as far as the homestead exemption, I didn't do anything intentionally, as far as falsifying any information."

But two Plaquemines Parish residents say they think Edgecombe may have falsified his notice of candidacy, when he acknowledged with his signature that he met the qualifications to run.

"It's my opinion that he tainted the race with him in it," Colligan says. "And I think - once again, in my opinion - he absolutely altered the course of that election."

And Colligan says Edgecombe altered history by running for office, when the law says he likely should not have been able to run.

"If they don't live here anymore they should move back, live here a year and then qualify," Wilcox says. "If it were you or I, we would have to do it that way. I don't think anybody would make an excuse for us… I lost my house during Katrina, too, and I lived in a hotel for six weeks. But I came back here and I never had another residency. I lived with my sister and I rebuilt. And a lot of people did that. So if he lost everything, or for whatever his reason was, Katrina, for leaving, there were other places in the parish that you could live and rebuild."

Edgecombe has qualified to run in November for the District 8 council seat. following parish redistricting.  He's set to face Jay Friedman of Buras.

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