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Sterling alderman’s residency at issue

Cox appears to have moved out of town

STERLING – Ward 3 Alderman Barry Cox’s official residence is 1203 E. 20th St. – in the ward that he represents.

But one neighbor says Cox has moved out of town.

For months, a huge dumpster has taken up a good portion of the the Coxes’ driveway. The split-level house is largely empty.

It turns out he has another house at 24269 Hillcrest Drive, 5 miles northwest of Sterling. The Coxes have owned it since 2010.

On a recent day, a Sauk Valley Media reporter visited the Hillcrest house, which overlooks a small lake. Neighbors down the street say that’s where Cox lives.

Cox’s wife, Julie, was tending the yard. Asked whether Barry Cox lived there, she said yes. But she also said they would be moving and that they still had a bed at the 20th Street house.

In a recent interview, Cox said he complies with the requirement that an aldermen maintain a residence in his ward. Cox’s voter registration and driver’s license are tied to his city address, he said.

Asked where he hangs his hat at night, Cox said, “It’s none of your damn business where I sleep.”

Cox, who is often the council’s lone dissenting vote, said his constituents want him to continue representing them.

“If they have a problem in the ward, do I get back to them? You’re damn right I do,” he said during an interview at Turnroth Sign Co. in Rock Falls, where he works. “I tell people I’ll resign from the City Council in the next few months. The people say, ‘Don’t do that.’ They feel they get representation from Barry Cox.”

Cox, an alderman for the past 23 years, said he wouldn’t pinpoint a time frame for leaving the council, but he said he expected to finish moving in the next 60 days. 

“When I move out of the house and put a for-sale sign in the front yard, I’m really close to resigning from the council,” he said.

At a City Council meeting last month, Mary Carlson, news director for WSDR radio station, questioned where Cox lived. He said he is at his 20th Street house sometimes, according to the meeting minutes. Carlson, who lives in Cox’s neighborhood, said she has seen the dumpster in front of Cox’s house for 6 months. 

A few weeks ago, City Clerk Marie Rombouts asked an attorney for the city clerks association about the legalities of Cox’s situation.

Attorney Adam Lasker responded that elected representatives are allowed to have more than one house but can claim only one as a lawful residence. 

“That means your alderman could be a proper resident of the city, even though he spends some time in another location, so long as he uses the rights and privileges of residency only within the city,” the attorney wrote in an email.

That is the case with people who own winter homes in Florida but still claim lawful residency in Illinois, Lasker said. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hardly had any ties to the city before taking the helm, but he convinced the courts he was a lawful resident because he maintained a house in the city, the attorney said. 

“I’d have to hear more of the details in order to give you my opinions as to whether this alderman is or is not a lawful resident of Sterling,” he wrote.

In an email to Sauk Valley Media, Lasker said lawful residency is a rather complex area of law.

“It takes entire trials and evidentiary hearings to figure this stuff out,” he said.

Other Sterling City Council members have resigned as soon as they moved out of town.

In February, Linda Pennell (formerly Linda Marley) married and moved to Rock Falls. She immediately left the council.

Cox said his residency is not news, adding that only Carlson has expressed concern.

“Is it hard for me to let go? Yes,” he said. “The citizens of the city of Sterling are very special to me.”

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