The filing deadline for the Ward 5 seat on the Bakersfield City Council is 10 days away but potential candidates are already sharpening their knives.
Ryan Nance, who came in third in November’s general election for the seat, is questioning prospective candidate Bruce Freeman’s residency in Ward 5.
“Though we admire the work Mr. Freeman has done in this community, we find it unfortunate, and dishonest, that Mr. Freeman — who is registered to vote in Newport Beach at his ocean-front property, pays taxes there, and has his business registered to that address — now wants a seat in Bakersfield,” Nance’s campaign said this week in a statement.
Freeman, the retired president of the Mainland division of Castle & Cooke Inc., said he indeed has a home on Lido Island in the Newport Beach harbor, but it's a weekend beach getaway and he has never left his home in Bakersfield.
“I own a home down there. I have been able to get there about one day a month for the last two years,” he said.
He’d like to visit more, he said, but he is very busy in Bakersfield doing work for the boards of community organizations.
Nance’s campaign said it doesn’t look like Freeman has been around much from the public documents.
“What he is engaged in doing is worse than political carpet-bagging. He is essentially attempting to swindle Bakersfield voters into believing that he has always remained in Bakersfield. In fact, he prefers Southern California over Bakersfield,” Nance’s team stated. “If this is not the case, then Mr. Freeman would be living in Bakersfield, paying his taxes in Bakersfield, running his business in Bakersfield, and voting in Bakersfield.”
The raw data seem to show that Freeman, indeed, left Bakersfield two years ago after his retirement.
In 2015, according to the Kern County Elections Division, Freeman terminated his voter registration in Kern County.
And the California Secretary of State’s office online database shows that Freeman’s Newport Beach property is the registered address for his Pinnacle Advisory Services Inc.
But Freeman said those official records were just business moves that do not, in reality, reflect where he’s lived for the past two years.
“I only moved voter registration down for mortgage tax purposes and when I found out that was wrong, I moved it back,” he said.
According to Kern County Elections, both Freeman and his wife did, indeed, re-register in Bakersfield’s Ward 5 on Feb. 3.
That move, Freeman said, took place before people urged him to run for the Ward 5 seat, which was left open when Councilman Jeff Tkac died from a self-inflicted gunshot in January.
As for his business, Freeman said, he registered it out of the Newport Beach home because he hoped the Orange County location would provide him an additional pool of clients for his real estate consulting work.
The phone for the company, he said, comes back to his 661-area-code cell phone.
Voter registration is a critical part of establishing the qualifications to run for certain elected offices, including council.
According to the Bakersfield city clerk’s campaign packet for the Ward 5 race, “a person is not eligible to hold office as a city councilmember unless he or she is a registered voter and resides within the ward boundaries of the office being sought at the time the nomination paper is issued to the candidate. The candidate must live within the ward boundaries throughout the entire term of office.”
The nomination period for the Ward 5 race opened on Feb. 13, 10 days after Freeman formally re-registered to vote in Bakersfield.
Currently, there is one certified candidate for the Ward 5 seat; stay-at-home father Noel Pineo.
Nance, Freeman and businessman Larry Koman have all pulled nomination papers but have not yet returned them and had them certified.
A fifth potential candidate, Ty Hudgens, has dropped out of the race, according to the Bakersfield City Clerk’s office.
The deadline to file and return nomination papers is March 10.