Controversy dominates Gladstone City Council races
Gladstone has almost as many political controversies as its nine candidates now running for City Council.
Mark Horst, the 10th candidate appearing on the ballot for Gladstone City Council races, gave written notice that he doesn't want to be elected, because he might move to southern Oregon, as he continues to help a relative affected by wildfires. That leaves three candidates for each of the three council positions up for election.
City Councilor Tom Mersereau, the only incumbent running for reelection, faces opposition from Mindy Garlington, a member of Gladstone's Budget Committee and its Park and Recreation Board, and Geoff Whalley, who has no previous governmental experience and has never voted in any election since he registered as a Gladstone voter in 2016.
Meanwhile, Steve Johnson, who was recalled by voters from City Council in 2017, is hoping to return to public office. In a Voters' Pamphlet statement that doesn't mention the recall, Johnson instead lists "City Council" as part of his governmental experience before a platform that includes constructing a high-speed municipal internet service without raising fees or taxes.
Greg Alexander, who was a 2017 recall petitioner, is one of Johnson's opponents in this year's City Council race. Alexander's statement includes a direct attack on Johnson, pledging to "be transparent and give you the information and ability to weigh in on all of the decisions affecting our town, instead of the closed-door policy my opponent practiced during his short term prior to being recalled."
Andrew Labonte, the third candidate in the race, is a member of city advisory boards on traffic safety, parks and recreation. He says the city should get ahead of issues that impact public safety, the environment and transportation through a "level-headed approach to problem solving" focusing on a civility and inclusivity.
Johnson, Alexander and Labonte are running for the seat being vacated by City Councilor Linda Neace, who is once again under state investigation for alleged election fraud. Secretary of state officials have proposed a $250 fine against Neace after they determined she failed to properly witness signatures that her son had collected from registered voters to qualify City Councilor Randy Ripley for the ballot in 2018.
After a 2017 voter-fraud complaint against Neace, state officials came back with the determination that she wasn't violating election laws "at this time." Neace's current voter-registration address was never at issue; the complaint against her concerned her Oregon City registration address between 2009 and 2014, when she was living in Gladstone.
City Council candidate Bill Osburn, who was the chief petitioner in the Johnson recall, had alerted state elections officials to the Ripley signatures. Elections officials determined Neace's son, Scott Blessing, had witnessed and collected signatures before giving them to his mother, who signed a form asserting that she had witnessed them.
Osburn and Blessing are among the three candidates for the seat being vacated by City Councilor Neal Reisner. The third candidate in the race, Annessa Hartman, has been accused by Osburn, Reisner and Mayor Tammy Stempel of violating copyright laws by using an image of the Gladstone Pow-Wow Tree as part of her campaign materials.
"Please send her notice of this violation," Reisner wrote to City Administrator Jacque Betz. "Ms. Hartman is using the image of the Pow-Wow Tree that the city has used for several decades."
Stempel added, "I believe the Pow-Wow Tree was essentially copyrighted as ours as soon as it was in use, and remains so until we formally relinquish rights."
Betz asked the city attorney look into the issue, finding that the city neither registered its logo as a trademark with the state nor with the federal government. Hartman would have "strong defenses" against the city's potential claim of a common-law trademark, including Hartman's addition of a heart shape to the Pow-Wow Tree.
"Changes such as this are strong evidence against trademark infringement claims under the fair use and other doctrines," the city attorney wrote.
Hartman is using the tree for political speech, not in connection with distribution or advertising of goods or services, which according to the city is the standard under federal law.
"To demonstrate a trademark infringement claim, we would have to prove that there is 'consumer confusion' regarding the source using the mark," the city attorney wrote. "Here, it is unlikely that reasonable 'consumers' would be confused that the use of the tree in her logo somehow demonstrates an endorsement by the city or that the logo is from the city itself."
City Councilor Matt Tracy said that such "spurious claims" are a waste of city staff time and taxpayer funds going to attorney bills, especially against a candidate who describes herself as biracial with family in the Cayuga Nation.
"I find it ironic that anyone would have the audacity to complain about an Indigenous person utilizing an Indigenous cultural icon that has been co-opted and assimilated by the white founders of our fair city," Tracy said.
Hartman is no stranger to controvery, having helped organize a kid-friendly Black Lives Matter protest attended by more than 250 people in Gladstone to honor George Floyd and other Black people who have been killed nationally in police custody. She said she received some hate for organizing the June 5 protest, but much more support.
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