Ashland mayor lives mostly in Talent
Ashland Mayor John Morrison lives most of the time in Talent while he lists an Ashland address as his main residence on public documents, raising questions about whether he's in conflict with state and local election laws.
"I spend less hours there than I spend elsewhere," he said. "I will not deny that."
Morrison, 63, said he lives most of his time with his girlfriend, former Talent Mayor Marian Telerski.
"I do spend quite a bit of my life in Talent with my girlfriend," he said. "She's got a bigger TV than I do."
While he says he's done nothing improper, Morrison said he's prepared if someone challenges his residency claim, particularly during the campaign season when he is running for county commissioner.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," he said.
Morrison has listed 6371/2 Oak St. on his voter registration, his driver's license and his candidacy papers to run for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. He said he paid $100 a month to rent out a room for six months that he describes as more suitable for a college student than a mayor.
Morrison initially told the Ashland Daily Tidings he lived at the Oak Street address, but later said he'd been staying with friends elsewhere after the Tidings talked to the owner of the house, who said Morrison only received mail there.
Morrison admits that he is keeping the address primarily to satisfy the residency requirements as he fills out his term as mayor this year. In order to hold an elected office in Ashland, the person has to be an Ashland resident and a registered voter.
Morrison has lived in Ashland for 18 years, but said he has found it difficult to find a cheap place to live since he moved out of his residence on Wimer Street a few months ago.
"If people think the mayor is out of touch with the struggle of living in Ashland, this should show I'm in touch with the struggle for housing in Ashland," he said.
Morrison, who said he lives on a fixed income and a $500 annual stipend as mayor, said he prefers staying at his girlfriend's bigger place, but will eventually find another place to live — although he is budgeting only about $300 or $400.
Morrison said questions about his residency are politically motivated. "When you're in public office you always do something that people don't like you for," he said.
Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said Oregon law requires a person to declare a fixed habitation on the voter registration form.
She does have some voters who say they live under a bridge or in the WinCo parking lot and have their mail delivered to the County Clerk's Office.
Walker said there is much latitude in the law in determining someone's residence.
Some of the factors include where a driver's license address is issued, where mail is delivered, where immediate family members reside, where utilities are paid or what address is listed on state and federal income tax statements.
"We can consider those, but we are not limited to them," said Walker. "The interpretation is very broad."
Walker said a complaint would have to be filed before any action was taken against someone accused of misstating his address.
City Councilman Russ Silbiger said he will take Morrison at his word that he lives in Ashland.
"At this point John says he's an Ashland resident," he said. "I don't think it's my role to see if it's true or not."
Jim Olney, who is running against Morrison in the Democratic primary race for commissioner, said he's heard about Morrison's living situation for two months, but hadn't brought it up.
"I sympathize with his inability to pay rent in Ashland," he said.
However, Olney said the issue will only raise questions about his residency. "It certainly gives the voters a clear difference between the candidates," he said. "The voters will have to decide that."
Scott Keith, another commissioner candidate running in the Democratic primary, said he had only just heard of the situation and wanted to hear more from Morrison himself.
"It sounds like John just needs an opportunity to explain his thoughts on it," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.