Facing questions, Lake Oswego mayoral candidate Joe Buck clarifies residency
Chatter surrounding the legality of Joe Buck's mayoral candidacy sparked throughout Lake Oswego following Buck's August announcement that he would run for mayor.
After Buck purchased a property located just outside city limits in July, some have questioned whether Buck could technically run for office if he intends to live in unincorporated Clackamas County.
Buck, who has resided in Lake Oswego for 34 years and owns three local restaurants — Babica Hen, Gubanc's Pub and the soon-to-be opened Lola's Cafe — said Lake Oswego is his home and he does not intend to live elsewhere.
"Recently I purchased a property in the Lake Forest neighborhood. This currently unincorporated property is in the process of being annexed into the city," Buck said in a statement to the Review. "In the meantime I reside in the Lake Grove neighborhood, and I will continue to reside in Lake Oswego. I am at a stage in my life where I am preparing for family and changing from my prior single-person residence. But make no mistake, LO has been and will always be my home."
Buck publicly announced his mayoral bid Aug. 10 and the city determined he could indeed run for mayor. A letter signed Aug. 25 by Anne-Marie Simpson, the city recorder, said Buck submitted the appropriate documentation supporting his qualifications for candidacy in the upcoming election.
"I requested materials verifying your residency and demonstrating that you have maintained continuous in-city residency for at least 12 months preceding the November 3, 2020 General Election," the letter read.
Buck submitted several documents including: an emailed letter stating he lived at his Berwick Road residence in the city for more than six years (he moved away from that residence in July); his intent to maintain residency either at his parents' home (located within the city on Edgemont Road) or "elsewhere in the city;" a letter from his attorney, Gregory Chaimov of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, stating his opinion that Buck met the residency requirement of the Lake Oswego Charter; and other documents updating his place of residency to the home on Edgemont, including auto insurance, a candidate filing form and his voter notification card, among others.
"The submitted statements, letters and other materials are consistent with and support your
certification of current and continuous residency in the City of Lake Oswego for at least the last 12 months," the letter read. "I have no current reason to find that you do not meet the residency qualifications for the office of Mayor, and therefore I will certify your name for the ballot. Of course, if there are future challenges to your qualifications, I will need to consider any new evidence at that time."
The Lake Oswego City Council meeting to decide whether Buck's new property will be annexed into the city falls on election night in November, and Buck said the annexation "is a non sequitur" since he plans to live in Lake Oswego regardless of the council's vote on annexation.
In his application for annexation, Buck listed "to become a Lake Oswego elector" as the reason for the request.
Mayor Kent Studebaker said the annexation decision was moved from Oct. 6 to Nov. 3 due to conflicts of interest on the City Council.
"It's been a topic of discussion by the city manager and the city attorney. This is the best solution we could come up with," Studebaker said. "You would have had four people that could not have been able to vote (on annexation) because both John LaMotte and Theresa (Kohlhoff) are running against him for mayor so that wouldn't be a good thing to have them voting on it, and John Wendland and Skip O'Neill have endorsed John Lamotte so that would have left two people to vote on it. That doesn't work very well."
He said by moving the annexation vote to election night, most people will have already voted so it wouldn't be the same situation had the vote been earlier.
Lake Oswego City Attorney David Powell said that so long as staff determines an application meets criteria, it is rare for an annexation proposal to be rejected. He did not know if there was precedent for an application to be turned down in Lake Oswego, adding that although it doesn't typically happen, council isn't bound to follow the staff report/recommendation.
Powell said Buck's property would be considered a "cherry stem" annexation — a non-legal term that refers to annexing a segment of a right-of-way or narrow strip in order to have the particular property annexed into the city while surrounding properties remain unincorporated.
In prior years, the cherry stem annexation wasn't popular among some city councilors and staff presented several policy changes, including one that would prohibit cherry stem annexations. At a September 2018 meeting, the council — which at the time included Buck — voted unanimously in favor of having staff draft a policy prohibiting cherry stem annexations, but Powell said the council later reversed course and voted against adopting that policy.
A document prepared by Kohlhoff's husband, which was shared with the Review, said Buck had contacted city councilors about the annexation, though Studebaker said he doesn't recall talking to Buck about it. Councilor and mayoral candidate Theresa Kohlhoff said that during a phone call, Buck told her he'd purchased a residence outside the city and filed an annexation application. She added that the issue "popped up" during the call and she did not recall how it was brought up.
"He did not tell me that he had done so to become a resident and voter of Lake Oswego. I told him that this kind of communication was unethical — as he shouldn't be lobbying city councilors to get a favorable annexation vote," she said. "At the time of the call, I had no idea regarding any political maneuvers to skirt the local election residency requirements. I ended the call."
Buck said it's not unethical to communicate with city councilors.
"The annexation application was still a hyopthetical when I spoke to Theresa and others," Buck said. "I talk to them all often as both friends and colleagues and am sorry that filling Theresa in on potential future plans as a friend are now being twisted this way."
Annexation hearings are considered quasi-judicial, meaning that before the hearing begins, councilors must disclose any ex parte (outside) contacts they've had about the application. Disclosures of ex parte contacts can lead to challenges from the public concerning a councilor's ability to reach an unbiased decision.
Buck said he spoke to the councilors about the annexation prior to filing his application to let them know what he was doing and to make sure they were on board.
When asked why some of his campaign filing documents showed multiple addresses, Buck said he used the address on Berwick Road because he resided there at the time that he initially filed to run for City Council in June; he moved out prior to his decision to run for mayor.
His parents' house on Edgemont Road is listed because it is where he says he currently resides; that was the address used when he filed as a mayoral candidate. One of his business' addresses — that of Babica Hen — is listed as the address of his campaign committee, Friends of Joe Buck, because he said it serves as his campaign office.
The Statement of Organization for Candidate Committee filed with the Oregon Secretary of State for Friends of Joe Buck was most recently amended Sept. 24, listing the Edgemont Road address. A prior statement of organization, effective between Aug. 11 and Sept. 24, listed the Berwick Road address as well as the Babica Hen location.
"What's relevant to the residency is that I live in the city of Lake Oswego," he said. "I've always lived in the city of Lake Oswego and I will continue to live in the city of Lake Oswego if elected mayor."
Resident John Berman, who is listed among those who have endorsed Kohlhoff for mayor, filed a complaint with the city at the end of August citing Buck's "ineligibility" to run for mayor. In his complaint, he said that when Buck purchased his new property in unincorporated Clackamas County this summer, that was then his place of residency — a place where he intends to reside indefinitely. Oregon Revised Statute 247.035, which governs how residency is determined in Oregon elections, states that a person cannot be considered a resident in any part of the state if it is for "temporary purposes only, without the intention of making it the person's home."
"I understand that he has said that he is currently living with his parents, who live in the City of Lake Oswego, so that he can claim his residence is still in the City," Berman said in the complaint. "lt is obvious that Mr. Buck did not buy an expensive home with the intent of living with his parents. Politicians and those seeking public office should tell the truth. If Mr. Buck purports to tell you that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to live with his parents, that defies all common knowledge and common sense. We all know better."
Chaimov, Buck's attorney, said in a Sept. 3 letter to his client that "you intend to reside at that home (on Edgemont Road) for the foreseeable future (that is, indefinitely)."
He added in an interview with the Review that as long as a person is planning to move somewhere else in the city, then discussion about the legality of running for office is irrelevant.
"To run for an office, you have to be a resident of whatever jurisdiction it is in which you're running and you are a resident where you are situated," Chaimov said. "I guess in this case, Joe is living at his parent's house in Lake Oswego and is a resident of Lake Oswego there and it may be that if the property he owns in the unincorporated county becomes part of the city, he will move to it. But that plan to move to some other place in the city is entirely irrelevant to whether he's a resident or not because the place he's planning to move to — assuming he moves — is still in the city."
Buck said his opponents and a handful of their "campaign surrogates and supporters" are investing in a false narrative.
"The husband of one of my opponents exhausts city time requesting records pertaining to my residency and the property annexation and even engaged an attorney/supporter to gain his wife an advantage. Nevertheless a prominent Oregon elections law attorney found the residency claims baseless, the city's election official found them baseless and the City Council itself refused to take up the issue despite being pressured to do so by my opponents, council members themselves," Buck said in an email to the Review. "The City's findings were determinative. Discredited by basic facts, legal authorities and the city itself, they now … attempt to manipulate public opinion to cast aspersions."
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