2011: Forest Grove, Cornelius shaken up in the year of the recall
Editor's note: This story is part of the News-Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that mattered to readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
In Oregon, even-numbered years are considered to be election years. That's when most city council and county commission races are held, as well as legislative, congressional and statewide races.
But just a year after the electoral upheaval of 2010, it was another, unscheduled election year in Forest Grove and Cornelius, as the 2011 year-end edition of the News-Times put it.
In Cornelius, voters had chosen to shake things up in November 2010, restoring firebrand Neal Knight to the office of mayor for the first time in more than a decade, along with two of Knight's friends, Jamie Minshall and Mari Gottwald. "Team 3," as the trio was dubbed, came into office promising to slash fees and get a firmer grip on the city's finances during a time of lingering economic pain.
Knight came into office with some personal history — and none of it good — with Dave Waffle, the popular and respected city manager at the time. Knight and Waffle had clashed in the lead-up to the November election, and publicly, Knight oscillated between saying he wanted to fire Waffle and denying he planned to do so.
At a January meeting, the City Council agreed to punt the question of Waffle's continued employment to August. But in a chaotic scene in June, without explanation, Knight, Minshall and Gottwald forced a vote on whether to terminate Waffle's contract. The vote was 3-2 in favor of firing him. Amid shouts of "recall" from the audience, Waffle and several of his supporters rose and walked out of what was then the Cornelius council chambers.
The termination of Waffle blew a gaping hole in the same city budget that "Team 3" had promised to rein in. The city paid out $125,000 in severance and was thrust into the position of having to search for a new city manager.
Meanwhile, at the Forest Grove School District, the watchword for the year was "cuts." A deepening budget shortfall, caused in large part by nosediving state revenue, forced the Forest Grove School Board's hand. On a split vote, and despite massive public outcry, school board members voted through a budget that slashed spending, killing several popular programs — and, most controversially, shuttering the beloved Gales Creek Elementary School.
"Your teachers, your kids, the whole spirit of Gales Creek will be alive at Dilley (Elementary)," said school board member Terry Howell at the June 13, 2011, meeting, trying to assuage the anger of audience members who showed up to protest Gales Creek's closure.
Voters didn't take kindly to what they saw as shenanigans in Cornelius and the Forest Grove School District. Within weeks, recall petitioners had gathered hundreds of signatures, ultimately forcing Knight, Minshall and Gottwald, as well as school board members Howell and Anna Tavera-Weller, onto the ballot in the fall.
The results were decisive. In Cornelius, about 70% of voters favored recall. The margins in the Forest Grove School District were closer, but not by much.
The Cornelius City Council was briefly left without a working quorum. Three new councilors were appointed, and Council President Jef Dalin — who had been a vocal critic of Knight throughout the year of tumult — was named mayor. Dalin has been serving ever since, winning re-election last year without opposition.
In the school district, while Howell and Tavera-Weller never regained their seats, it was mostly business as usual. The remaining board members appointed John Hayes and Gil Jimenez to fill the vacancies. Jimenez died in February 2013 after a battle with cancer. Hayes served until 2017, when he was defeated in another school board shakeup — but that's another story.
As for Waffle, he wasn't out of work for long. Nearby Beaverton hired him to work in the finance department. Ironically, Cornelius subsequently hired Rob Drake, a respected former mayor of Beaverton, as city manager. Drake continues to serve in that position and has overseen significant changes in city government — but, again, that's another story.
Knight unsuccessfully sued Waffle and several others in 2012, claiming they hindered his ability to work as mayor. A Washington County circuit judge ruled against Knight in 2013 and ordered him to compensate the defendants for their legal fees.
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