Tyrell Spradley, who was appointed to a one-year seat on the Harrisburg school board in January, denies allegations that he lived in Penbrook in the months leading up to his appointment.
But residents say that they have evidence that Spradley failed to maintain a fixed residence in Harrisburg for one year before seeking office and is therefore ineligible for his seat under state law.
Members of a citizen-led school reform group sent a letter making their case to school board President Judd Pittman and board Solicitor Samuel Cooper on Thursday. They say they’re prepared to submit a quo waranto petition to the Dauphin County district attorney if Spradley does not voluntarily resign his seat. That petition could trigger a formal investigation into Spradley’s residency.
“We wanted to put them on notice that we demand better representation, and that includes people who are transparent,” said Kia Hansard, co-founder of the group Concerned About the Children of Harrisburg (CATCH.) “You’re not deserving of the seat if you are not a resident… so we wanted to give [Spradley] the opportunity to be honorable and resign.”
Spradley said on Thursday that he would not give up his seat. He admits to spending time in a Penbrook home that he bought with a former girlfriend in 2010, but insists that his home in Harrisburg has been his fixed, legal residence for years.
County records list him as an owner of both properties.
“I am in my living room [in Harrisburg] right now,” Spradley said by phone on Thursday night. “I’ve offered to have these people come by my house to see that I live here, but they have not.”
Voter registration records confirm that Spradley does vote in Harrisburg. He also has a child enrolled in the Harrisburg School District.
However, court documents from October 2016 list Spradley’s legal address as his property in Penbrook. Those documents include a civil complaint filed by a credit card company seeking more than $3,700 in unpaid balances. Spradley was found liable for the damages and settled in 2017, according to the docket.
Spradley said that he applied for that credit card when he “was residing” at the Penbrook address. But he still denied that the Penbrook home was ever his fixed, legal domicile. He said there was no way to quantify how much time he spent in Penbrook in the year leading up to his appointment.
Spradley said that work and graduate school also took him to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia for periods of 2017. But the time he spent in those locations has never been scrutinized, he said.
“Since I turned 18 in 2002, I’ve had at least six different addresses,” Spradley said. “I’m not denying I stayed [in Penbrook,] but I never legally lived there.”
CATCH claims that Spradley testified in court this year that his legal address was in Penbrook. Spradley admitted to testifying, but again insisted that spending time at his Penbrook property did not make it his primary residence.
CATCH also plans to submit a notarized statement from a woman who lives next door to Spradley’s Penbrook property, saying that Spradley was residing there through the end of 2017.
Spradley impugned the credibility of that neighbor, saying she was involved in litigation against his former girlfriend.
Harrisburg officials fielded similar questions about Spradley’s residency in 2014, when he was appointed as Harrisburg’s treasurer. He held that position for two years after the city found him eligible to serve.
Spradley says he’s being targeted over his support for Harrisburg Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney. Spradley switched his allegiance to Knight-Burney during a protracted debate over her tenure this spring. Though he initially voted to seek new candidates for her position, he later tried to rescind that vote, and then sided with four other board directors in May to award her a new contract.
“People are grabbing at straws,” Spradley said. “When I changed my vote, all of this started coming out.”
Hansard denies that the challenge to Spradley’s seat is politically motivated.
Pittman said on Friday that the letter from CATCH was not the first time a constituent had questioned Spradley’s residency. He plans to discuss next steps with the board solicitor this afternoon.
“Our solicitor has made it clear that it is hard to prove residency,” Pittman said.
Pittman also said that the challenge to Spradley’s seat could reverberate throughout the board.
Spradley is the second board member who’s been forced to defend his seat this year. In November, the county’s assistant district attorney asked board member Carrie Fowler to step down due to a misdemeanor conviction from the early 2000s.
Fowler has held on to her seat. The DA did not respond to requests for comment on her case.
“We have to do our due diligence to make sure that everyone who is on the board is seated properly, and that means everybody,” Pittman said. “It’s important that we’re equitable.”