Voters recall Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay
Oregon City voters have chosen to recall Mayor Dan Holladay, according to unofficial Nov. 10 special election results showing 68% in favor of removing him from office.
Holladay's ousting marks the first time a mayor has been removed from office in the 175-year history of Oregon City, the first city incorporated west of the Mississippi River. More than 13,000 people voted in the election, more than double the number who voted in the election to recall Jim Nicita, an Oregon City commissioner removed from office in 2011. In the Nicita recall, 5,419 total ballots were cast, with about 56% supporting his removal.
"Once again, Oregon City residents have shown up in force for ethical and accountable leadership," said Adam Marl, manager of the campaign to recall Holladay. "Amid the pandemic and wildfire evacuations, our 100% volunteer effort gathered a thousand more signatures than the amount needed to qualify for the ballot. And tonight, after months of socially distanced hard work, the people of Oregon City have affirmed what we knew all along: Oregon City is better than Dan Holladay."
Voters weighed in on the recall after Oregon City released an investigation report on Holladay's activities and statements in defiance of COVID-19 orders.
Lori Watson, the investigator hired by the city on July 8, said Holladay had "caused great confusion, unease and disruption" to the City Commission. Oregon City commissioners asked for the report to be released on Oct. 21, the same day that ballots were mailed for a Nov. 10 recall election.
Denyse McGriff, who on Nov. 3 became the first person of color ever elected to the Oregon City Commission, said the Nov. 10 recall provides an opportunity for citizens to come together.
"I think it's a pretty clear message from the community," McGriff told the Oregonian. "The community is asking for a change. They want civility, they want openness, they want people that are there working on their behalf."
Watson's report echoed language city commissioners approved on June 17 to censure Holladay for his various actions since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I find that the preponderance of evidence supports that Holladay's actions (or lack thereof) constituted offenses described in Robert's Rules of Order section 61:3, as they were: 1) injurious to the commission or its purposes; 2) tended to injure the good name of the commission; and/or 3) disturbed the commission's well-being," Watson wrote.
Watson's conclusions stopped short of accusing Holladay of violating state laws.
"None of the information gathered in this investigation indicated by his comments, Holladay had an intent to obtain a benefit or harm another," Watson wrote.
In releasing the report, Oregon City commissioners said they weren't happy with the investigation, which didn't address whether Holladay's actions showed his intent to violate state statutes, so they requested further inquiry. The city's elected officials on Nov. 4 directed the city manager to submit the information about Holladay's actions to the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
According to the report, Liz Hannum, director of the Downtown Oregon City Association, was told by Holladay to "just have them open up," referring to downtown businesses during an April phone call.
Victoria Meinig, CEO of the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce, was pressured by Holladay to organize a meeting so Holladay could speak to Chamber members about reopening. However, according to the investigative report, this meeting never took place, as Meinig spoke with City Manager Tony Konkol and former Mayor Dan Fowler, who dissuaded Holladay from having such a meeting.
William Gifford, past president of the Oregon City Business Alliance, told the investigator that multiple OCBA members heard from Holladay about the potential to "hold funds raised (in the future)" for the fireworks planned by Holladay. Gifford called Holladay's plans "stupid" in the report.
Holladay admitted that he contacted Western Display Fireworks of Canby to obtain a quote for how much such a such a display would cost. He also involved a city staff member in a meeting with the CEO of Benchmade Knife Co., who was asking for information about expanding in the city while being requested by the mayor to support the fireworks.
During a special emergency meeting on June 7, Holladay said he "had raised quite a bit a money" but later told the investigator he never managed to obtain any financial sponsors for a potential fireworks show. He told the investigator that he misspoke at the June 7 meeting, that what he meant to say was that he had gotten "substantial commitments of support" for his planned fireworks show, rather than that he had "raised quite a bit of money," for it. At a meeting of commissioners in October, he said, "I never took any money, nor did I suggest any tit-for-tat."
On June 17, city commissioners ordered an investigation into the mayor's continued defiance of the governor's orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and his attempts to raise money for a city celebration that would have been in violation of the ban on large public gatherings.
Commissioners then unanimously voted "no confidence" in Holladay after the city's two leading business groups testified at the commission's July 1 meeting.
Many more than the necessary 2,400 valid signatures were turned in to put a recall initiative on the ballot.
Holladay's recent actions have led to several special emergency meetings in response. On April 26, commissioners voted to uphold the governor's orders to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus after the mayor's defiance of COVID-19 orders received a threatening letter from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Holladay joined the unanimous City Commission vote that Oregon City would continue to follow COVID-19 orders, but then began asking businesses to fund his now-canceled July 4 fireworks show. Commission President Rachel Lyles Smith said she had a "real concern" about Holladay as an elected official soliciting funds on behalf of the city.
"The community responded in a way because they didn't like the way the mayor was representing our city," Lyles Smith told KOIN 6 News. "Our city was hurt in the process over the course of these few months."
Holladay's subsequent inflammatory comments about police killings and systemic racism led Oregon City's elected officials to pass a resolution in response to the killing of George Floyd. Although he participated in the June 9 meeting and joined the unanimous vote to support the resolution against racism, he did not make any additional comment, unlike the other commission members who spoke at length pledging to fight for a public environment that is respectful and free of hate.
Holladay also declined to sign a June 4 statement from the Mayors' Metropolitan Consortium consisting of 26 regional mayors standing in solidarity with residents mourning Floyd's murder.
Holladay's alleged request for campaign funding is part of an impending lawsuit over a stalled construction project. He also directed a city-contracted employee to end the meeting recording directly after he adjourned a June 3 meeting, which prevented other commissioners from responding to his comments about racism on tape.
"With the recall officially behind us, it's critical that the citizens remain engaged with local government as we look ahead to electing a mayor who represents our values in the coming months. Until then, I'm hopeful that our community will now be able to heal after the mayor's divisive and destructive tenure," Marl said. "Lastly, thank you to all who donated their time and money to our grassroots effort. We have proven that bridging the partisan divide for the sake of community is still possible, and I am confident that this renewed sense of civic engagement will result in a better future for us all."
Oregon City will hold a special election in March to select a new mayor from any citizens who file for the ballot. Recall campaign organizers say they will not be making an endorsement in the March mayoral race.
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