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Elected, they cannot serve

Sat., Dec. 1, 2007

Two candidates who won elections last month are not eligible to take office next month because they don’t meet residency requirements in state law.

In one case, James Bedard, who ran unopposed and won a seat on the Millwood Town Council, does not live in Millwood, even though he’s registered to vote there. The registration is at a business he owns on North Argonne Road.

In the other, Kevin Richey won a contested seat for the Airway Heights City Council but has not lived in that city for a full year, which state law requires for candidates for city office. Richey became aware of that restriction before the election and has already said he wouldn’t take office if he won.

Questions about Bedard’s residency surfaced from city residents, Mayor Dan Mork said, and he asked the councilman-elect about them at a recent meeting. Bedard initially said he lived a few blocks from where he is registered, at the office that houses his insurance business on North Argonne, Mork said.

In a conversation Friday afternoon, Mork said, Bedard acknowledged that he lived outside the town limits but thought he could register to vote at his office in Millwood and serve on the council.

State law requires a person to register to vote at their residence and reside in a town in order to hold elective office.

Bedard could not be reached for comment, but Mork said Bedard agreed to send the town a written acknowledgement that he does not live in Millwood.

Like other winners, Bedard is scheduled to receive a certificate that he has won the election, which for most candidates leads to being sworn in when their term starts in January. Mork is hoping Bedard will simply withdraw from the position, allowing the council to take applications next month and appoint someone else by early February.

Richey, a deputy sheriff, will receive a similar certificate, even though he has already said he won’t take office because he hasn’t lived in Airway Heights long enough. In an interview in October, he said he should have checked the rules and took responsibility for his mistake. He collected about two-thirds of the votes in a race against Ron Welker, who had informally dropped out of the contest.

Airway Heights Mayor Matt Peterson said they, too, expect to take applications in January and appoint someone to the vacant seat. They’re waiting on a timetable, however, “because we’ve not officially heard anything from the auditor’s office” that Richey isn’t eligible.

And they won’t, Auditor Vicky Dalton said, unless a voter in Airway Heights challenges Richey’s qualifications. Nor will Millwood get something voiding Bedard’s eligibility unless someone in that town challenges his.

“We’re required to take people at their word” when a candidate lists their residence on filing papers, Dalton said. Absent a challenge, Richey and Bedard will each get a certificate of election. “It’s his choice whether he wants to take the oath of office,” she said.

Deputy County Attorney Dan Catt said a voter has 10 days after the election is certified to file such a challenge and have it investigated by the auditor’s office. The election was certified Tuesday, so that would make the deadline for challenging it Dec. 7. After that, challenging an ineligible candidate who takes office could require a recall election.

The town itself can’t file a challenge, and Millwood Town Attorney Brian Werst said they hope Bedard will withdraw so that it doesn’t have to find a voter willing to take up the cause. If not, town officials will likely refuse to swear him in, although “we’d very much like to avoid that.”

Mork, too, is hoping Bedard will withdraw so the town can appoint someone else: “It’s unfortunate in a way, because I think he would have made a good council member.”


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