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Residency put to rest

"We were pleased with Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn's decision last week declaring Bill Nelson to be a resident at his folks' Wing Point home, and thus eligible to run for office from Bainbridge Island's central ward.It's not that we necessarily favor Nelson - it's too early for us to make up our minds. But we like voters to have choices, and Nelson is a clear-cut alternative to neighborhood activist Bill Knobloch, whose neighbors challenged Nelson's residence, and youthful barista Houston Wade.Flynn accepted Nelson's assertion that he has moved back in with Mom and Dad temporarily, even though his wife and stepchildren continue to live on Old Mill Road in the city's south ward. More precisely, Flynn declared that challengers did not clearly disprove Nelson's assertions. And despite some conflicting language in Flynn's decision, Nelson assures us that marital discord is not at issue, and that the family will reunite when their new home on the Wing Point golf course is complete.What we have, then, is a temporary residence of convenience. Nelson basically admits, with candor, that he is living with his folks only for the purpose of running for a central ward office.Good enough, Flynn said. As she pointed out, one needn't have been a resident in the pertinent district for any period of time before filing for election. Nor is the motive for changing one's residence legally significant.So what difference does all this make? On the one hand, Nelson's opponents can argue that packing a toothbrush and moving back home for the duration of the campaign lacks the sincerity that ought to accompany a change of address. On the other, Nelson can argue that the problem lies with residency rules that don't provide for someone being in transit between filing day and election day. Our thoughts depend to a considerable extent on what we see as the purpose for the district arrangement, on an island small enough that all candidates will become familiar with issues across the community.First, districts make it easier for candidates to gain a toehold with the electorate. Most council hopefuls spend the primaries knocking on doors - far more possible in a district encompassing a third of the island than the island as a whole. Anything that increases the burden of getting started cuts against face-to-face candidacies, in favor of impersonal, media-centered campaigns.Second, and somewhat paradoxically, neighborhood activism is the historic incubator for our council candidates. We think there is some value in requiring that the council's seven members come from at least three different neighborhoods, with different circles of backers - even as we all help select them in the island-wide general election.We find it hard to argue that Nelson has violated the spirit of the residency requirements. He is plainly identified with the central ward - his business is downtown, he grew up in the area, and he is tangibly committed to returning, as the rather substantial scale of his under-construction house demonstrates.We'd also point out that this situation is not completely unprecedented. Two years ago, Michael Pollock decamped from a Crystal Springs residence on or about the time he declared his council candidacy, and changed his address to a rented room on Ferncliff Avenue, near where he had lived before moving to the beach. Even after the move, he admitted spending a fair amount of time at Crystal Springs. But no one can doubt that he represents his central-area constituents fervently. (Nor do we hear any complaints coming from Azalea Avenue.)Flynn's finding that Nelson is in compliance with the letter of the law puts this matter where we think it belongs, namely, with the voters. If they're bothered by a sudden residence change, they can vote accordingly. To us, it doesn't look like much of an issue. "

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