Bethel Councilman Rus Whitley is still on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election, despite a protest filed Aug. 22 to challenge his residency.
“All I wanted was the truth,” Bethel councilwoman Donna Gunn said about protesting Whitley’s candidacy.
Gunn presented the protest that Whitley did not reside in the village of Bethel to the Clermont County Board of Elections at their Aug. 22 regular board meeting. Board members held a hearing Aug. 29 to investigate the protest.
According to Tim Rudd, board chair, Gunn presented the evidence she collected during the hearing. Board members also heard from Whitley and Carla Gerwe, the owner of the building Whitley leases, before making a decision.
“(Gunn) presented to the board four or five letters from people who lived near Rus’ residence that said they believed he didn’t live there,” Rudd said.
The location of the residence in question is 408 South Main Street in the village of Bethel. Rudd said Whitley operates his business out of the building, which is owned by Gerwe.
“I have my business in front,” Whitley said about the location. “I built that efficiency so I could stay here and protect it.”
Whitley said he built an efficiency in the building years ago and changed his residency to that location.
“Rus provided different pieces of mail, bills, personal correspondence and also provided work job invoices to help explain why he would be away from his residence,” Rudd said.
Gerwe, the owner of the building, also testified, and said that she knew Whitley had put an efficiency into the building. Rudd said what was interesting was that Gerwe was also one of Gunn’s witnesses.
Whitley said he owns several pieces of property, and he has changed his address several times.
In 1995 he registered to vote at 2149 Bethel-Hygiene Road. He updated his address to 2444 Bethel-Hygiene Road in 2003 and updated his address again in 2008 to 408 South Main Street.
“You have a legal right to change your residency anywhere you want in the United States,” Whitley said. “I use that out there at Bethel-Hygiene for my weekend retreat.”
Rudd said issues concerning Whitley’s residency have been brought up by council members before. He said two council members opposed Whitley’s council appointment in 2010 because of the issue.
Despite the questions raised about Whitley’s residence, Rudd said the board unanimously voted to deny the protest.
“The board simply did not have any overwhelming evidence that he didn’t live there,” Rudd said about Whitley’s 408 South Main Street address. “Ultimately it’s up to the voters of Bethel to decide whether they want Rus to be the mayor.”