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Council candidate Casey Roats faces questions over residency

Casey Roats is a fourth-generation Bend native with deep roots in the community. He graduated from Mountain View High and attended Central Oregon Community College (although it is unclear if he earned a degree) before taking over operation of the family business, Roats Water System.

Yet, he may not have the most simple qualification to serve on City Council—being a Bend resident for the year proceeding his term.

The born-and-raised Bendite's candidacy for City Council is being challenged by a local political action committee, whose founder says Roats is not qualified to run because he spent the past year living outside the city limits.

"He was not residing in the city limits of Bend, and is therefore not qualified to run for City Council," said Charlie Ringo, a former state senator, local attorney and founder of Bend Good Government Committee, a PAC supporting candidates including Roats' opponent Lisa Seales. "Further," Ringo continued, "Roat's Candidate Filing statement was not accurate and constitutes a felony."

According to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office—and the disclaimer printed above Roats' signature on his candidacy filing form—providing false information could be a violation of state law and be prosecuted as a Class C felony.

The City's charter is clear about its rules as well: a councilor must "have resided in the city during the 12 months immediately before being the office." But Roats has, by his own admission, only been living within city limits for about two weeks out of the past year.

According to city and county records, Roats sold his home in southeast Bend on Sept. 30, 2013—more than a year prior to the upcoming general election. Then, after selling the home, he moved with his wife and two children into his parents' home, outside of Bend city limits. On Nov. 19—still most likely not within the one-year period of time to qualify as a candidate for city council—he changed his voter registration address to that of his office, a location within city limits. Roats says he made that change because he was receiving mail at that address, despite the fact that he maintains a post office box in Bend and was not residing at his office.

By Dec. 4, Roats had submitted an application to construct a single-family home on property owned by the Roats Family Trust on Brookswood Boulevard. Yet he continued to list his Hamilton Lane office as his residence. That didn't change until after Roats submitted his candidacy filing paperwork on June 19. On that form, which warns that providing false information is illegal, he wrote down the Brookswood Boulevard address of his still-under construction home. The city did not grant Roats a final building permit—essentially approval to occupy the building—until Oct. 3.

For his part, Roats minimized the importance of these dates and his deviance from strict adherence to the election law. What matters, he told the Source, is his continued commitment to the community. While living outside of Bend for 12 months, Roats continued to serve on City advisory committees (members of which are likewise required to be city residents), work at his office, and check in on the construction of his new home. He also explained that although he wasn't technically residing within city limits from October 2013 to October 2014, he spent the majority of his waking hours in Bend.

"The only difference would be where I slept at night," he said. "You're asleep for, what, eight hours a day?"

He went on to point out that he did not rent or own a residence outside the city during that time, and argued that regardless of where he laid his head, his heart remained in Bend. "Nothing about our lifestyle changed," Roats said.

If Roats' wins the election and his qualifications are formally challenged, City Council will be required to determine if he is eligible, per the City charter. That document does not define what it means to "reside" inside the Bend city limits, City Attorney Mary Winters said, so Council would have to decide if it wants to use the state's definition of residency or some other measure.

It's unclear whether City Council will take up the issue, as a number of councilors expressed concern about wading into such a sensitive political subject, and some have endorsed Roats, while others are supporting his opponent Lisa Seales.

Mayor Jim Clinton, who was unaware of the challenge to Roats' candidacy and has publicly endorsed Seales, said he doesn't think it's appropriate for Council to make that decision.

"Due to the highly political nature of this, I'm not interested in having myself or the council pursue it at this point unless we're forced to," Clinton said.

Still, Clinton recognizes Council may be required to take the issue on, and said the residency question seems pretty black and white.

"How does a house that's empty count as a residence for anyone?" he asked, adding that the discrepancy could have other consequences. City advisory committees have similar residency requirements—Roats currently serves on two. And then there's the legal issue.

Councilor Sally Russell, who has also endorsed Seales, said that she had not yet looked into the details surrounding the residency question, but that it raises concerns about Roats' integrity.

"I do think it's really important as a leader that you're honest and forthright and transparent in your communications," Russell said. "My instant reaction is, if you knew it and consciously misrepresented it, that's not a good thing."

Coming to Roats' defense were Councilor Victor Chudowsky, who has endorsed and contributed to Roats' campaign, and Councilor Mark Capell, who has received campaign contributions from local political action committees supporting Roats.

"You can look at the letter [of the law] but then there's also the spirit," Chudowsky said, arguing that Roats' intent to continue living in Bend is more significant than where he lived over the last year. "In terms of his commitment to this place, I think that's unquestioned.... He's a quintessential Bendite."

Councilor Capell said he will consider the residency issue if a complaint is filed, but that he believes Roats is within residency requirements outlined in state law.

"He's owned the property for a number of years, he's building a house on it," Capell said. "I'm not concerned about it."

As for Jodie Barram, whose council seat Roats is running to fill, she said that, first things first, she'll wait to see how the election turns out. Then, if Roats wins and there is sufficient community or council concern, she'll look into the issue.

"If it's a big enough of a concern, we'll weigh in on it. If not it will just be what it is," Barram said.

But if Roats wins and the City Council certifies his election in December, at least one resident will be expressing concern. Charlie Ringo, the founder of the PAC supporting council candidates Lisa Seales, Barb Campbell and Nathan Boddie, told the Source he will take legal action if Roats makes it into office.

"I will take every step possible to make sure he doesn't serve," Ringo said. "I think it's a big deal when somebody runs for City Council when he's not a resident of the city."

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