The newly enlarged race for Santa Rosa City Council now includes nine candidates, including two latecomers who have been frequent and vocal critics of local government and who appear to be fudging to meet residency requirements to get on the ballot.
Sebastopol resident Colleen Fernald and Keith Rhinehart, who until recently lived in Wikiup, both qualified for the ballot in part by changing their voter registration information to reflect Santa Rosa addresses where they don’t actually live.
Fernald, who regularly addresses the Santa Rosa City Council on issues ranging from the nation’s military policies to police harassment, changed her home address from Norlee Street in Sebastopol to a community hall and former school on Lomitas Avenue in Santa Rosa the same day she picked up her filing documents from the city clerk’s office.
She said she continues to keep her home and office in Sebastopol, but has added the address in Santa Rosa to qualify for the ballot.
“I’m carpetbagging in full disclosure,” said Fernald, 51.
But Jim Bennett, who owns the Lomitas School House — which is rented out for fitness, yoga and dance classes — said it is not accurate to say the property is Fernald’s “primary residence.”
He said he has rented a room in the building to Fernald at times and that she gets some mail there.
“She might be reaching a little bit, but she’s not being dishonest,” Bennett said. “She’s spent some time there.
Fernald says the Lomitas address has been her “domicile” since she filed to run, but she was evasive when asked to explain her situation. She said she still has her Sebastopol home, but is “nesting” in Santa Rosa while she runs for office.
She said she had an arrangement with Bennett, which she declined to specify, and that she is now looking for more suitable short-term accommodations. But she disputed a suggestion that she may have committed voter fraud by misstating her address.
Voter registration forms state that a person’s address for voting purpose must be their “residence and domicile.” The election code defines a “domicile” as a home where one intends to remain and return to after an absence.
“You may not use your business, mailing or secondary address,” the form advises.
Voter registration forms are signed under penalty of perjury and providing false information can be prosecuted with fines and imprisonment of up to three years.
Rhinehart, a part-time teacher and former UPS supervisor who has twice run for county supervisor, changed his voter registration information two days before the city’s filing Aug. 13 deadline.
Since Oct. 22, 2013, Rhinehart, 61, had been registered on Gazania Court in Wikiup, which allowed him to run in the primary for the 4th District supervisorial seat earlier this year. He came in last in the June election.
Before that he was registered at an address on a gated road called Lavender Lane off Riebli Road northeast of Santa Rosa. He ran for supervisor in the 1st District in 2012 before dropping out in March to deal with an undisclosed “family issue.”
On Aug. 11, Rhinehart changed his voter registration address to 600 Morgan St. in Santa Rosa, which is Catholic Charities’ homeless drop-in center.
The center provides a range of services for homeless residents, including receiving mail, making phone calls and doing laundry, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities.