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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Leslie Wright’s name will appear on the ballot even though Oregon City commissioners determined on July 6 that Wright is not eligible for the Aug. 23 mayoral election.
Oregon City charter requires that commission candidates are residents of the city for at least 12 months prior to the election date.
“The people of Oregon City deserve to know that their mayor lives in their community and knows their community,” Commissioner Adam Marl said.
Wright’s name will appear on the mayoral ballot with two other candidates who failed to submit Voters’ Pamphlet statements. Commission President Denyse McGriff, the fourth candidate and the only one who submitted a Voters’ Pamphlet statement, recused herself from the process to disqualify Wright.
Besides Wright’s residency, Marl said there were several other reasons why Wright wasn’t qualified to be mayor.
On July 1, County Circuit Judge Michael C. Wetzel ruled that Wright’s filing for the city’s “mirror” position rather than mayor was “sufficient” for showing intent to run in the mayoral election. Wright’s mayoral campaign launched with a statement that he later said he regretted about plans to place homeless people in shuttered schools like “the Japanese.”
City Attorney Bill Kabeismann said the county and secretary of state have cited a state statute mandating that a slate of candidates has to be finalized within 60 days of filing by the city recorder. While the ballots had not yet been printed when Oregon City commissioners made their determination of Wright’s residency, state and county officials said that the law mandates his name appear on the ballot anyway, given the timing of the city’s decision.
Two mayoral elections are being held in a three-month period because the mayor who was elected to replace Dan Holladay after a 2020 recall, Rachel Lyles Smith, resigned prior to the end of her term, and the city charter calls for voters to fill the seat as soon as an election can be held.
Wright presented a Washington state driver’s license to file in both the upcoming Oregon City mayoral elections and in the March 2021 mayoral election. Oregon state law requires that citizens obtain an Oregon license within 30 days of establishing residency here.
All three of the elected commission members who found Wright to have not been an Oregon City resident for the past year said his driver’s license was the biggest factor in their determination.
“If any of us in this room pulled out our driver’s licenses, it’s going to show where we’re living on it, pretty much, so that’s a big piece that’s missing,” Commissioner Rocky Smith said.
According to a sworn statement from Wright’s former employee, he had been living in Wilsonville during November and December 2021. Even without the sworn statement, commissioners said they had enough evidence to disqualify Wright from taking public office.
Smith said Wright’s history of receiving mail in Oregon City wasn’t enough for him to establish residency in the city. Much of the mail Wright received in Oregon City was out of date or undated, so it had limited value to commissioners.
“I have plenty of relatives that get their mail sent to other loved ones,” Smith said.
Commissioners said they were only able to weigh evidence on three out of seven potential factors that the Oregon Legislature uses to determine residency. Wright declined to offer any additional proof of his residency and didn’t attend the hearing, despite repeated requests for information from commissioners.
Commissioner Frank O’Donnell said Wright’s decision to avoid the hearing and provide the commission with additional information had deprived the elected officials with evidence that may have potentially swayed them to make a different decision.
“The burden of proof falls upon the applicant … falls upon the prospective candidate,” O’Donnell said.
Commissioners said they would have preferred to allow Wright to be eligible for the office, but in the end, they felt they had to disqualify him based on their oaths of office promising to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the city charter.
It’s possible the city recorder will not submit Wright’s name to the county elections office in November because of the commission’s determination about his residency and the evidence presented at the hearing in July.