After three failed 2-2 votes on the issue of whether East Bethel Mayor Richard Lawrence is in fact a resident of the city and can continue to serve as mayor, the East Bethel City Council adjourned its Dec. 18 meeting with no resolution.
Councilmember Bob DeRoche had brought up the issue of Lawrence’s residency, sharing with the council an email exchange he had previously with Lawrence earlier in the month. DeRoche said his initial email to Lawrence was prompted by the fact that city residents have been asking him whether the mayor still resides within East Bethel.
Lawrence, who has lived in East Bethel for 20 years, said his home at 455 Sims became bank-owned in November. He said he has looked for rental housing in East Bethel with no success and will be unable to qualify to purchase a home for a minimum of six months.
Lawrence said his plans are to reside at an RV park at 4126 Viking Blvd. for seven to eight months of the year. He said he is currently staying outside of the city limits, but plans to return to the Viking Boulevard address by March or April. He said his intentions are to return to living full-time in East Bethel as soon as possible and that he continues to collect his mail at a post office box in the city.
East Bethel City Attorney Mark Vierling said that the issue of the mayor’s residency and whether he should continue to serve on the city council basically comes down to a judgment call and must be resolved by the rest of the council.
He said several things may be considered in the decision, such as whether Lawrence intends to continue living in East Bethel and whether he has a presence and contacts in the community.
An hour-long and sometimes heated discussion — particularly between DeRoche and Councilmember Heidi Moegerle — resulted in three failed 2-2 votes, with Lawrence abstaining.
A motion made by Moegerle and seconded by Councilmember Ron Koller to declare Lawrence a resident of the city failed first, with DeRoche and Councilmember Tom Ronning voting no and Koller and Moegerle voting yes.
The second motion was by DeRoche, seconded by Ronning, to declare the mayor’s seat vacant. DeRoche and Ronning voted in favor of the motion, with Koller and Moegerle opposed.
The third failed motion, made by Moegerle and seconded by Koller, was to table the issue until the council’s next meeting. DeRoche and Ronning were opposed; Koller and Moegerle voted in favor.
Moegerle then made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Lawrence did not need to abstain from this vote, so the motion passed 4-1, with DeRoche voting against it, stating that he felt the issue should be resolved and not put off.