Resident files recall petition for Estacada City Councilor
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED:
Under the subheading of "Community Members Speak," a quote by Brandy Litkie, president of Estacada Community Watch, was removed from this story. Litkie's quote did not address the recall petition against Estacada City Councilor Katy Dunsmuir, but was addressing an unrelated concern with Dunsmuir. Estacada Community Watch has not taken a position on the recall. The Estacada News regrets taking the quote out of context and apologizes for the error.
A recall petition has been filed for Estacada City Councilor Katy Dunsmuir, who in turn plans to take legal action, stating that many of the claims outlined in the petition are false.
On Monday, Dec. 6, Estacada resident Cathy Fernstedt filed the petition with the city of Estacada. Fernstedt has until 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, to gather 214 signatures on the recall petition. If the required signatures are received, the question will go to Estacada voters in an election next May.
"On multiple occasions Counselor Dunsmuir has shown to place her personal agenda above the citizens of Estacada, failing to recuse herself when she has stated or shown she has a personal interest," the petition states. "She has also on numerous occasions stated the people do not need to be involved in the decision making nor does she need their input. It has been observed many times that she makes motions out of order and decisions without taking the time to do proper due diligence. She has also on many occasions over the pandemic used her platform for her personal agenda, on pushing controversial issues as well as disrespectful statements towards the people she represents. Counselor Dunsmuir has also expressed her deep disappointment in the Red Fox Deal being stopped, despite the majority interest of the people against it. Counselor Dunsmir has also been observed online making derogatory and disrespectful statements toward other counselors, the mayor and community organizations. These kinds of behaviors do not make a good representation of the people and show she is not fit to be a city official."
As of Wednesday, Dec. 15, Fernstedt said she had received 40% of the required signatures and plans to hold a signing party.
"It's not anything against her as a person, but some of the behavior we've noticed doesn't make a good representation of the people," Fernstedt said, claiming that everything in the petition is true.
Dunsmuir countered that the petition contains falsehoods and noted that she has obtained a lawyer. Per the recall manual from the Oregon Secretary of State, supplying false information in an SEL 353 recall petition can result in "a felony conviction with a fine of up to $125,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 5 years."
"Upon reading (the petition), I'm outraged because so many of these things are presented as fact, but they are not. They might be assumptions at best, or speculation, or they're flat out lies," Dunsmuir said.
The Dec. 6 recall petition is the second one Fernstedt filed. The first one, filed Monday, Nov. 29, reads similarly to the most recent filing, but makes the additional claim that "Counselor Dunsmuir has also taken part in organizing deals with low income housing that sought to surpass input from the council, specifically the Red Fox Deal," which was removed from the second petition.
"Community organizations" was added to this sentence: "Counselor Dunsmuir has been observed online making statements that would be considered derogatory towards other counselors and the Mayor" in the second petition.
City staff said that before the first petition could move forward, an SEL 222 form needed to be filed with the state elections department, which had not been done at the time. Once the form, which is a statement of organization for petition committee, was filed, the second petition was approved.
"We felt that the changes better clarified our position," Fernstedt said.
Upset surrounding proposed Red Fox project
Fernstedt told the Estacada News that one of the main instances of Dunsmuir prioritizing personal interests was in January 2021 when Clackamas County Commissioners were considering entering the due diligence phase prior to the potential purchase of the Red Fox Motel to use for housing for those displaced by the Riverside Fire and the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the property could have been used to develop workforce housing, which is affordable to households that earn 60% of the area median income.
During the Dec. 13 Estacada City Council meeting, Trena Feldman, who is working with Fernstedt on the petition, said Dunsmuir discouraged her from speaking about the Red Fox project during a Clackamas County Commissioners meeting.
"When I got there and talked to them, they acted like they had no idea…they thought Estacada was all on board to have it, so I'm really glad that I went there and spoke," she said.
A screenshot of part of a conversation between Feldman, who declined to speak to media, and Dunsmuir that was posted to the "Dunsmuir Recall" Facebook page shows Feldman stating, "Excuse me but you were elected to represent the people of Estacada. The people of Estacada have a right to meet and plan how they are going to fight something they believe will hurt Estacada. You have NO right to tell or even ask us not to. If this idea is being talked about the [residents] have a right to know and you as a representative of the people have a responsibility to keep us informed. So if you are not going to help the people that elected you, please step down and move out of the way."
Dusmuir wrote in reply, "Before you light your torch or sharpen your pitchfork, please understand that community meetings and Town Halls are already in the works, with representation from the Housing Authority itself because community involvement/input is."
Dunsmuir noted that the rest of her response was cut off and she did not have a screenshot of it, but said she likely "said something along the lines of community involvement is extremely important." She added that county commissioners were exploring whether or not to enter the due diligence phase of a sale, rather than if they should buy the property.
Fernstedt found the torches and pitchfork comparison inappropriate.
"Why would a councilor say something like that?" she questioned.
During a January meeting in which county commissioners discussed the Red Fox project, staff said they had received 38 emails and voicemails opposing the project. Dunsmuir pointed out 38 is not a majority of Estacada's population of 5,000.
"Words are tools. When the words of 30 people who speak out in fear and anger are able to shut down a process before it even begins, it is the equivalent of an angry mob, and their success in shutting down the Red Fox project has taken away the opportunity for broader community engagement beyond just those 30 people," Dunsmuir said. "When I refer to 'torches and pitchforks,' I am talking about the words that are being used as those tools. I would have very much appreciated a community conversation about the future of the Red Fox, but that was taken away from all of Estacada and I will continue to express my deep disappointment in that conversation being robbed from the masses because of the few."
"We never had an opportunity to ask the rest of Estacada how they felt about it. For them to say (in the recall petition), 'despite the majority interest of the people against it,' stating it as if it's a fact, when in reality, there was no poll. There was no survey. There was no public outreach," she continued.
Dunsmuir added that when she ran for City Council, it was on a platform of creating additional housing options in town.
"I am going to fight for housing diversity. I will continue to fight for housing diversity because when the people voted me, that's what they were voting me in on," she said.
Discussing petition's claims
During the Dec. 13 Council meeting, Dunsmuir said the petition conflates "personal interest" and "conflict of interest."
"You're using language in this document out of context in order to stoke emotional reactions out of your target demographic of voters," she said, reading a statement to Fernstedt. "There is no reason a city councilor cannot speak on issues of personal interest. What you are referring to in context is conflict of interest."
State law prohibits public officials from using or attempting to use their position to acquire financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment for themselves, a relative or member of their household, or any business with which they, a relative or member of their household is associated, if it would not otherwise be available to them.
Dunsmuir noted that she had recused herself from discussion and abstained from voting during an Estacada Urban Renewal meeting on Jan. 28, 2019. The agency was discussing a request from Acadia Investment Group, which owns the Cazadero building, for a loan to complete a roofing project. Dunsmuir's mother, Sherry Andrus, owns The Cazadero Steakhouse, one of the building's tenants.
"My mom wasn't even the applicant but her business was located under the roof being discussed and I decided to be overly cautious," she said.
During the Dec. 13 meeting, Dunsmuir also referenced an exchange during a Nov. 15 council workshop on marijuana dispensary regulations when Councilor Joel Litkie asked if she would recuse herself from voting after she said her mother had previously been interested in opening a dispensary in town.
"I have a personal interest. I live here too. And as I explained during the meeting, I have been witness to how the current ordinances are acting as barriers to an entrepreneur's experience as it relates to this industry in our city," she said, noting in a followup interview that she had only brought the discussion up after the council's Feb. 22, 2021, meeting, during which an entrepreneur who was interested in opening a dispensary within city limits shared that he found the regulations difficult.
"That being said, what did not exist was a conflict of interest. It has been five years since my mom attempted to open a marijuana dispensary in Estacada, and to my knowledge, she is not planning to open one even if the ordinances change. So no, I will not recuse myself over an imaginary business that is not based in reality," Dunsmuir continued.
In a followup interview, Fernstedt said she has "no idea" why Dunsmuir brought up the dispensary discussion, noting that her main concerns were with the Red Fox Motel.
Regarding the petition's statement that Dunsmuir claimed citizens do not need to be involved in decision making processes, Dunsmuir cited a council meeting this summer when she voted to seek their input.
During a meeting on July 12, after a charter review committee recommended that Estacada's mayoral term length remain the same, Dunsmuir made the motion to send the question to voters.
In response to the statement that "she has also on many occasions over the pandemic used her platform for her personal agenda," Dunsmuir referenced an instance during the Aug. 23 City Council meeting when she praised the full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, criticized the cancellation of a vaccination clinic in Molalla, encouraged people to talk to their doctor about the vaccine and encouraged elected leaders to use their platforms to support responsible medical information.
"I told them to contact their doctor if they have questions about the vaccine, and I told them to get off of Google and Facebook, and if that's derogatory then they must have a guilty conscience. But ultimately, that's just good, sound advice, and I would give it again in a heartbeat," she said.
When asked about the accusation of Dunsmuir making "derogatory and disrespectful" statements online, Fernstedt said, "I know people who have texts going back and forth with her that aren't very nice. That's all I'm really going to say about that."
During the Dec. 13 Council meeting, Dunsmuir brought up Fernstedt's involvement with local nonprofit group Estacada Community Watch.
"Cathy, I realize that you are the treasurer of Estacada Community Watch, but I am going to try my very best to keep your participation in that nonprofit separate from the political candidates in the city, which is why I am taking legal action to hold you personally accountable for each and every one of the statements that you certified to be true, even when I can prove you wrong — with the majority, that is," Dunsmuir said, adding that she sees it as "outrageous" that she is criticized for actions that are allowed of all councilors or that other councilors do.
In a later conversation with the Estacada News, Fernstedt countered that her involvement with the recall and ECW are not connected.
"This has nothing to do with Estacada Community Watch. I'm a private citizen who votes," Fernstedt said. "(During the Dec. 13 City Council meeting,) I was sitting with (ECW President) Brandy Litkie, but she's also my best friend."
Fernstedt said she doesn't believe Dunsmuir is acting in the best interest of the majority of her constituents.
"She is a city councilor meant to represent all the people. We have seen her actions, statements and decisions on the council. We don't believe she is doing an adequate job representing and performing her duties as a councilor," she said.
Fernstedt added that she found it inappropriate that Dunsmuir discussed her plan to take legal action during the councilor comments section of the meeting.
"She should not be using her seat on the Council platform to say she's going to sue me," she said, adding that she is not concerned by the possibility of legal action. "It felt more like a threat. I'm going to laugh it off. We do have proof."
Community members speak
Many Estacada citizens spoke about the recall during the Dec. 13 meeting.
Nicole Gardner-Austin described Dunsmuir as "one of the most organized, well spoken city councilors."
"I think that this recall effort is an absolute waste of time. I think it is nothing more than a performative political stunt," she said. "I hope that Cathy Fernstedt realizes that if you make false claims there can be legal repercussions to that. And I would also wonder, is she here in the capacity as a board member for ECW? It seems that ECW, as a nonprofit, gets quite involved in politics a lot."
Taylor Gibson said she considers the recall to be "a colossal waste of time, energy and money."
"It seems like a complete and total political stunt. And I continuously keep thinking, 'How are we ever going to recruit a new city manager when the job title is becoming babysitting the City Council?' As a citizen, as a business owner, I'm so frustrated. I'm disappointed. I'm embarrassed. And I just think this madness needs to stop," she said. "What we need is for you guys to do your job, get along, figure it out and get the job done. I don't want to hear about you guys not liking each other or not getting along or whatever. Just do what's best for the most amount of people in the city."
Scott Staudt said he appreciates the balanced perspective Dunsmuir brings to the council.
"I've not always agreed with everything Councilor Dunsmuir states or offers but I appreciate that she's always willing to look at both sides of every issue," he said. "I find the petition to remove her disappointing, almost embarrassing, especially in an environment that's been highly charged politically in the past few years," he continued, adding that he appreciated Dunsmuir's previous statement that encouraged citizens to talk with their medical providers about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Former Estacada City Councilor Kimberlee Ables, who served with Dunsmuir, said she believes her previous colleague always has the city's best interests in mind.
"I just hope that Councilor Dunsmuir knows that we see her as a strong woman leader in our community, and we want to uphold her," Ables said. "I hope this recall really looks at the due diligence of the law and what you can recall councilors and elected officials for, and we make sure that there are actual foundational concerns that would meet this requirement."
Feldman referenced the exchange in which Dunsmiur told her to put down her torches and pitchforks and said it discouraged community involvement.
"I don't know what problems you guys have on the council, but it's things that she does, and discouraging people from going and having a voice. Everybody needs to have a voice, and you shouldn't be put down for having a voice, whatever your opinion is," Feldman said.
Other councilors respond
Multiple City Councilors expressed support for Dunsmuir during the Dec. 13 meeting:
"This recall petition is not based on any solid facts," Councilor Jerry Tenbush said.
Councilor Justin Gates noted that although he and Dunsmuir had disagreed in the past, he thought the recall was "absolutely ridiculous and a waste of time."
"Katy, I think that you're a great person. You've done amazing things. I think it's sad to see this kind of hatred. I, for one, am getting tired of it."
Councilor Paul Strobel also said the recall petition was "ridiculous" and described Dunsmuir as "a very passionate person that is engaged in the success of this city."
"If folks do have issues with the approach of what we say or do up here, please come see us. We're all reasonable. We'd love to talk with you," Strobel said. "Reach out, email, text, phone, stop us on the streets. I think that's a better approach and a better use of time than filing a petition to get somebody removed from an elected position here."
Councilor Joel Litkie said community members were within their rights to file the petition.
"I don't think it has anything to do with how we interact here on the council. There's times I agree with Katy. There's times I disagree with Katy," he said. "Based on what I heard there, it's how they feel they're being represented. . .For a recall, you have to get a certain amount of signatures and petitions on it, from what I understand. And let the people speak to it. If they agree with it, they're going to sign it. If they don't, then they aren't going to. It's the right of the people to call into question anybody. . .If the majority are going to agree with it, they're going to act on it. So let them do their thing. I don't think it has anything to do with how we interact up here. I don't think it has to do with us as a Council. It's how the people feel, and I've seen some people say things. In this case, they've decided to take action."
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