A City Council race that started on high ground, talking about livability and affordable housing issues, has in its last weeks become overshadowed by questions surrounding the residency qualifications of candidate Casey Roats. That shadow grew longer last week when the candidate's attorney, Neil Bryant, responded to calls for Roats to withdraw by attempting to cast doubt on the residency of his opponent Lisa Seales.
"Your letter of October 21, 2014 to Casey Roats argues he should withdraw 'in fairness to the voters,'" Bryant wrote in response to local attorney and political action committee founder Charlie Ringo, who claims Roats is not only unqualified but may have committed a felony by misstating his address on election forms. "If that is your true concern, you should send a letter to Lisa Seales requesting her to withdraw."
(Full disclosure: The Source uses Bryant's firm— Bryant Lovelin & Jarvis—for legal services.)
Bryant's claims that Seales, not Roats, was the one in violation of a City Charter section requiring candidates to have lived within Bend city limits for the 12 months preceding their election appear to be based on information from her online LinkedIn profile.
While Roats told the Source he did not asked anyone to challenge Seales' qualifications, he said he finds her residency record troubling.
"From what I've seen, Ms. Seales' situation is far more alarming because until recently it appears her intent was to be a resident of Florida," Roats said.
The letter points to the fact that Seales' profile shows she was employed as an integrative graduate education and research traineeship associate in Florida through April 2014 and that she received her Ph.D. from University of Florida in 2014.
"Presumably," Bryant wrote in the letter, "there were days on which Ms. Seales did not return to Bend after working or studying in Florida."
Yet in spite of these accusations, there seems to be little support beyond conjecture. Over the past four years, Seales has worked, studied and lived in Bend, a fact supported by lease agreements and employment records.
"It would have been a long daily commute from [Florida] to the OSU campus to teach," Seales wrote in an email to the Source.
Though she was working toward a doctoral degree from the University of Florida, Seales has not lived in Florida since she moved to Bend in September 2010 to begin her research. She has taught at Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades since 2011 and 2012, respectively, and provided the Source with lease documents spanning September 2011 to August 2014 for a home in northwest Bend near campus.
"I traveled to Florida three times in the last year, each time for less than a week," Seales said, "once to defend my dissertation, once for my graduation, and once to oversee the management of the property I co-own."
She explained that her LinkedIn profile shows employment and education extending into 2014 because of her doctoral degree, which despite being granted by the University of Florida, did not require her to live in Florida to complete. Seales added that she registered to vote in Oregon after graduating from University of Florida and changed the address on her voter records when she realized her ballot had been sent to Florida.
"The allegations regarding my residency are ridiculous," she said. "I'm frustrated that the Roats campaign is attempting to turn this all around on me. Not sure why I'm the target, since...I had nothing to do with starting this controversy. I look forward to getting back to talking about the issues that are of importance to the voters, though truthfulness with regard to their elected officials is pertinent."
But even if the conversation around Position 6 returns to the pertinent issue, it will remained shadowed by these questions as, on Monday, a formal compliant was filed with Oregon's Secretary of State by the local political activist Michael Funke alleging that the City Council candidate Roats committed voter registration fraud when he gave the addresses of his business office and then-under construction home in Bend as his residence on voter registration and candidacy filing forms.
"I filed it because I think he lied," Funke said. "It's ultimately up to Casey Roats to explain why he did that."
In response, on Tuesday, Roats explaned to the Source that he didn't register his candidacy with his parents' address because his nearly 12-month stay with them was " temporary" and that he planned to return to Bend.
"Once I sold my house, I used my business address because I knew that address was not changing anytime soon and that was the best place for people to find me," Roats said. "Once I had a recognized address at the new house, I switched to the new house because that is where I would be living over the long-term."
According to Secretary of State Communications Director Tony Green, the issue is complicated because it involves multiple jurisdictions and may include more than one category of complaint. But he did make clear that there are potential criminal repercussions.
"If we find that we believe he knowingly provided false address information [on his voter registration or candidacy forms], we would refer it to [the Department of Justice] to pursue criminally," Green told the Source.
In his defense, Roats said he does not believe he violated the law and wouldn't comment on whether, knowing what he does now, he would have filled out his paperwork differently.
"In hindsight, and after a crash course on election law, there may have been steps that might have avoided this whole situation," Roats explained. "However, because I didn't commit a crime and I didn't jeopardize my eligibility for City Council, I'm not going to dwell on what could have been done."
Locally, the City has declined, at the recommendation of Deschutes County Assistant Legal Counsel Laurie Craghead, to take any action on the question of Roats or Seales' qualifications before the election. Any questions about whether the winner of the race is qualified will need to be addressed by City Council, per the City Charter.
According to City Attorney Mary Winters, if the winner of the that election is disqualified, the City Charter directs Council to appoint someone to fill the vacancy within 30 days, or to hold another election at a later date. Council may appoint anyone who is a qualified voter and is a 12-month resident of the City of Bend; they are not obligated to select from the other candidates for the position.