KC officials defend investigating Municipal Judge Elena Franco's residency

The city manager of Kansas City said Wednesday the city had been obligated to thoroughly investigate whether a municipal judge was violating the city’s residency rule.

City Manager Troy Schulte issued a statement following Tuesday’s decision by the Municipal Judicial Nominating Commission, which decided not to submit any charges to the City Council concerning the residency of Municipal Court Judge Elena Franco.

The commission said no credible evidence existed to remove Franco for violating the residency rule. The commission also chastised the city and Schulte for what it felt was an overly intrusive investigation.

The city charter requires municipal judges to live within the city limits. Franco owns a home in Kansas City and has consistently maintained that it is her official residence. Her husband owns a home outside the city limits where Franco frequently goes.

After the city became aware of questions about where Franco really lived, the internal auditor did an investigation this summer, which included the use of surveillance cameras and private investigators. His report said she spent far more time at her husband’s address than at her own.

But the commission found ample evidence that Franco meets the residency requirement, including the fact that she owns a home in the city limits, pays taxes on it, has clothes and furniture there, employs a yardman and gets her mail there, has held family gatherings there and has neighbors who frequently see her there.

Schulte said in his statement Wednesday that the investigation was justified because the city charter requires that, as a basic qualification, a municipal judge must continuously reside within the city for as long as she continues to serve.

“In the city charter, our citizens place great importance on their municipal court judges residing within the city of Kansas City, Mo.,” Schulte said. “Our charter goes on to provide for the automatic forfeiture of the office for any municipal court judge who fails to maintain this qualification to serve. Given the charter’s requirements and the allegations raised, there was an obligation for us to undertake this process.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-234-4317 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.