"I know you are, but what am I?"
That refrain has been used to great effect by countless first-graders and adopted as a tagline by Pee Wee Herman, a mocking, juvenile response to an accusation meant to deflect and frustrate the accuser. It is also the unfortunate tone taken last week in response to accusations that City Council candidate Casey Roats may not have resided within the City of Bend for the 12 months prior to the election—a qualification set out by the City Charter.
In a letter dated Oct. 24, "Re: Casey Roats' Qualifications for Bend City Council," local attorney and former state senator Neil Bryant wrote a three page letter that effectively echoed that schoolyard taunt. In it, Bryant lays out four points bolstering the legal basis for Roats' residency and qualifications for City Council, and adds in four paragraphs that suggest that one of Roats' opponents for Position 6, Lisa Seales, is not a resident of Bend.
(Full disclosure: The Source has employed the Bryant Lovlien & Jarvis law firm in the past, and also has endorsed Seales for Position 6.)
The accusations against Seales are curious and unfounded, apparently based primarily on her LinkedIn profile, which lists her as having been employed in Gainesville, Fla., through April 2014. Indeed, she had been working on her Ph.D. from the University of Florida over the past several years (she graduated this year), but Seales has lived in Bend since 2010 and promptly provided proof in the form of lease documents when asked. She has also been teaching at Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades since 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Bryant makes the argument that "Oregon law makes clear that residency refers to where you intend to live and makes exceptions for temporary hiatuses." Yet, paradoxically, he is not applying this logic or legal argument to Seales, whose address and residency were very clearly within the City of Bend, even though she travelled to Florida occasionally (worth noting: she says she spent no more than three weeks in Florida last year, all told). No, instead he states this in defense of Roats selling his home, which was within Bend city limits, and moving in with his parents, who reside outside the city limits. During the 12 months prior to this election—the timeframe in which the City Charter requires a candidate to live within city limits—Roats owned a plot of land and was building a house within the city limits, yet did not reside there.
Bryant seems to believe that the law applies more generously to Roats and less so to Seales, pointing out that Seales spent time in Florida for the purpose of completing her Ph.D.—saying, "presumably there were days in which Ms. Seales did not return to Bend after working or studying in Florida," with the ultimate implication that these temporary absences (all 21 days or so of them) undermine her claim as a Bend resident, even though she has been living at the same address within the Bend city limits and teaching at Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades for much longer than the 12 month timeframe preceding an election as required by city election rules.
As with any political snafu, it is not just the infraction, but the reaction that colors how we consider the politician. In this instance, Roats has continued to insist that he is in the right, despite the very real possibility that City Council (and the Secretary of State) could find otherwise. Though he has been calm and respectful in his responses, he has failed to own up to the fact that he was less than forthright in his residency claims and to accept (or, dare we dream, welcome) inquiries into his actions. And, those in his camp have been less than wise, fair or noble about their responses; the most egregious being the legal accusation that Roats' competitor also should have her residency questioned, even though very superficial research finds that this is a frivolous claim.
During our endorsement interviews, we were impressed by Roats' civic passion and his grasp of policies. Although some political detractors have remarked on his testy and bossy nature in committee meetings, we found that he was approachable and generally agreeable. That said, we certainly hope that the manner in which questions about his residency have been handled are not an indication of the tenor and tactics he would employ as a City Councilor if questioned or crossed—that is, without adequate research and without direct responsibility.