By filing for office, Sarina Otaibi knew that she was committing to serve the community in a thankless job that would inevitably open her up to public scrutiny. She just wasn't expecting it so soon.
As the filing period came to an end on Tuesday, July 31, Otaibi was revealed as the lone candidate to fill the Ward - 1 council seat of west Granite Falls. Come November, though, you will not find Otaibi on the ballot because a residence, as defined by the city charter, did not at the time include her home.
"I was pretty disappointed," Otaibi said upon hearing the news. "I really thought [the city] would look at the situation and be more understanding. But I understand the legalities... I know they had to deal with it and that they dealt with it the best they could. It's just definitely going to make it more difficult to run."
In January of this year, the 26-year-old Otaibi moved back to Granite Falls after obtaining a degree in Historical Preservation from the University of Maryland. Anxious to put her education to use, she purchased the former church situated east of the high school with the intent of restoring the structure to serve as her residence.
The hook-up of city water and sewer lines became Otaibi's first priority when she was informed by City Building Inspector Darren Haslip that she was required to be hooked-up to city water and sewer lines before she could be issued a certificate of residence.
Prior to this revelation, Otaibi lived and worked at the residence without the knowledge that she was in fact breaking city law. The water and sewer had not been a pressing issue, because of a 250 gallon water tank, installed by the former congregation, sufficiently handled utility needs.
In a letter sent to the city in March, Otaibi informed officials that she would work to see that her water and sewer services were connected and, in the meantime, would abide by city law by living within the home of her parents in east Granite Falls.
In reality, Otaibi admits that she would spend time living at both locations –– a misdemeanor violation of the local charter that the city could pursue, according City Attorney Greg Holmstrom.
Otaibi would have likely flown under the radar, if not for the attention brought about by her candidacy. Instead, councilman Bill Miller, who was aware of the utility issue, asked to make sure that the situation was legal.
Having owned the property for eight months, Otaibi did not consider the idea that she was not yet considered an official resident of west Granite Falls. But alas, the legal opinion of Holmstrom indicated just that.
According to a letter from Holmstrom to the city, state statue requires an individual to have maintained a residence within the district in which a candidate seeks elections for 30 days before the general election––and without a certificate of occupancy, Otaibi couldn't be considered a legal resident.
Page 2 of 2 - "In rendering this opinion we believe that Ms. Otaibi has good intentions in wanting to serve the community and provide public service." said Holmstrom. "However, we are also mindful that if she were to be elected and participate in governing functions that might adversely affect others, or at least be challenged as adversely affecting others, there could be considerable legal complications to the City. It is with that in mind I am being cautious in rendering this opinion."
Otaibi must have felt a sense of irony as she watched heavy machinery break ground and move dirt in conjunction with the hook-up of her utilities that finally got underway at her future official residence this Tuesday. She noted that the contractors have been ready to perform the work since spring, and the water and sewer lines would have been in place long ago had she not had to wait for the high school to move the home students and teachers construct and later sell as a part of a class each year.
In light of all this, Otaibi says that she remains enthusiastic about the idea of serving on the city council, and still plans to try and do so this upcoming term. Though it will be more effort, Otaibi hopes to garner her seat on the council through a write-in campaign that will soon see her attempting to introduce herself to townsfolk as she moves from door-to-door.