Parks commissioners recall moves forward

    The city of Ashland forwarded thousands of signatures collected in an campaign to recall three parks commissioners to the county clerk office Friday afternoon, city staff confirmed.

    The effort to recall Commissioners Rick Landt, Mike Gardiner and Jim Lewis from their positions was launched in 2017 by members of a group called Ashland Support Our Seniors. The group has been critical with the commission since its vote in August to reorganize the city’s Senior Center and dismiss the center’s manager of 10 years, Chris Dodson.

    Petitioners Mary Sundberg, Mary Canfield and Avram Chetron claimed they have collected enough signatures — at least 1,566 signatures from Ashland registered voters for each commissioner — to move forward with the recalls, the city Recorder Melissa Huhtala said.

    All three petitions claim that the three commissioners mismanaged parks’ $9 million annual budget, mismanaged personnel, repeatedly failed to follow Oregon Public Meetings Law, approved spending $230,000 on a consultant for Lithia Park with disregard for public concern, and ignored two specific recommendations from a 2016 audit regarding making changes within the department.

    Landt, Gardiner and Lewis are three of five parks commissioners.

    Lewis, reached by phone on Friday, said the commissioners were put in “a frustrating position” as they have been advised to limit their comments due to pending litigation over Dodson's dismissal.

    “We’re handicapped in that way,” Lewis said.

    Lewis said he will instead seek legal advice to take action against the statements in the recall petition, which he said are false.

    “I don’t see any true statement in the petition,” Lewis said. “They are cooking up false statements … and I am being put through a trial of public opinion.”

    According to the recall manual, providing false information on the recall petition is a violation of Oregon law, and a complaint can be filed with the circuit court.

    Landt responded via email and declined to comment while the process to verify the signatures is ongoing.

    “Until the recall signatures are verified, I don't see a lot to comment on,” he wrote. “What would be an informative, valuable story would be one that fact-checked the claims made by the recall advocates. You can count on me to comment on that.”

    Gardiner also said via a phone interview it’s premature for him to comment.

    “We’ll see how it will work out,” he said.

    Chetron, who filed the petition to recall Gardiner, said via a phone interview that he stood behind the statements in his petition and has no further comment regarding Lewis’ claim. Sundberg and Canfield didn’t respond to emails from the Tidings requesting comment.

    The Jackson County Clerk has 10 business days to conduct signature verification, making sure the petitioners met the requirement of collecting signatures from at least 15 percent of Ashland registered voters.

    If the number of the submitted signatures is sufficient, the commissioners could either resign or write a letter of justification within five days. The city of Ashland is responsible to hold and pay for a special election within the following 35 days if the commissioners decline to resign.

    “That could be costly to the city,” Huhtala said.

    The county might charge Ashland up to $30,000 for the recall special election, based on the costs for the November special election in Phoenix-Talent School District with 17,379 registered voters at $19,596.86, Huhtala said.

    Gardiner’s and Landt’s terms expires on Dec. 31, while Lewis’ term ends in 2020, she added.

    — Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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