Judge and Jury: City Council prepares to weigh Casey Roats’ qualifications

By Erin Rook, Source Weekly

On December 1, City Council will hold a special session to deliberate and decide on the question whether councilor-elect Casey Roats is qualified to serve on Council. The meeting, scheduled for 3 pm at City Hall, will include testimony only from Roats. Neither the public, nor attorneys, will be permitted to comment.

The meeting comes as a lawsuit seeking to prevent Roats’ certification is working its way through the Deschutes County Circuit Court. Spearheaded by attorney Charlie Ringo, who was the first to publicly raise concerns about Roats’ qualifications, the case has been slow to progress. In response to concerns that the initial plaintiff, local activist Foster Fell, may not have standing to challenge Roats’ election, Ringo has opted to re-file the lawsuit with Roats’ opponent Ron “Rondo” Boozell as plaintiff.

The Council’s deliberations on December 1 will likely hinge on two questions: What does it means to “have resided” in the city limits? And, did Roats meet the qualifications based on that definition?

While some councilors have previously expressed an inclination toward one definition (where he laid his head at night) or another (where he intended to live), as the decision draws closer they are increasingly emphasizing the importance of an open-minded and balanced approach.

“I think we’re all just doing our homework,” Mayor Pro-Tem Jodie Barram said. “We’re going into it with an open mind. We have to be as unbiased as possible.”

For her part, Barram said she’s been turning to legal statutes, dictionaries, thesauruses—anything that can provide some insight into what it means to “have resided.” She’s also considering perspectives from other cities, like those shared by Redmond Mayor George Endicott, who offered his thoughts in an unsolicited email to Barram and Mayor Jim Clinton.

Like Bend, Redmond requires councilors to have been a “resident” of Redmond for a year prior to taking office. Bend differs slightly in that it requires councilors to “have resided” in the city for a year prior to election, rather than taking office.

“Since we don’t define the term in our Charter we would defer to the State law where the term is defined and speaks to ‘temporary situations’ and to ‘intent,'” Endicott explained. He recalled a case several years ago in which the mayor moved from Redmond to Eagle Crest. Because that mayor did not intend to return, he was required to resign.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Bend City Council to decide how it wants to interpret the City Charter, as state and other definitions of residency are not binding in this case. Councilor Victor Chudowsky said he doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

“It’s a pretty big thing, it’s an election,” Chudowsky said. “You’re either certifying or nullifying. It’s very important we stay close to the spirit and letter of the law.”

If Council goes with the stricter definition of “have resided,” Roats will be hard pressed to defend his qualifications, since he has openly admitted to living outside the city limits for most of the last year. If Council instead adopts a definition that privileges “intent,” Roats can more easily make a case for his residency.

That said, intent is inherently subjective, which could work for or against Roats. On the one hand, he registered local addresses for voting and candidate filing purposes, and filed the initial permit for his new home construction in December 2013. The fact that Roats appears to be living in Bend now certainly implies some intent, but it raises the question: Was it always his intent, and does that matter?

If Council takes the position that intent must be demonstrated one year prior to election, Roats may have a tough time proving it. His first documented steps toward returning to Bend didn’t take place until Dec. 4, 2013, when he filed an application to begin construction on his Brookswood Boulevard property.

And a sworn affidavit filed by a neighbor, Laura Fife, who lives on the property behind Roats’ Brookswood home, claims that Roats expressed uncertainty about his intention to live in the home as recently as the summer of 2014. It further alleges that Roats did not live in the new home until on or about Oct. 29, well after he told the press he had already moved in.

(UPDATE: In an interview with the Source after this story went to press, Roats said that Fife was upset about him building the house on what had previously been six acres of undeveloped property and that her husband had vowed to take action to keep Roats from being elected to council. He also reasserted his intention to live in the house and expressed dismay that a private issue between neighbors had risen to the level of an affidavit.)

Though these claims do not speak directly to Roats’ qualifications, if Council accepts them as true, they could cast doubt on Roats’ oft-repeated argument that it was always his intention to return to Bend.

If Council finds Roats to be qualified, he will be certified at the Dec. 3 Council meeting. But the lawsuit may continue, meaning the story is likely far from over.

If Council finds Roats is not qualified, it will likely put out a call for applications from qualified individuals interested in being considered for appointment to Council. Lisa Seales, Roats’ closest opponent in the race, told the Source she is not interested in fighting for a seat on Council.

“If Casey is for some reason unable to serve on Council,” she said, “I am strongly advocating that the Council consider reappointing Jodie to the seat.”

Barram, however, said she would not pursue an appointment to Council, adding that it would be “awkward” to be in that position, but that, “I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” She initially joined Council via an appointment in 2008 after the death of councilor Bill Friedman. Barram had run against and lost to Jeff Eager that November.