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Accountable Newberg fails to meet deadline for submitting petition signatures

A Newberg group's effort to recall the mayor and a council member has failed to qualify for a special election ballot this summer.RogersFindley

In a May 13 email to Mayor Rick Rogers and council member Stephanie Findley, Newberg City Recorder Sue Ryan advised the pair that Accountable Newberg (sometimes also known as Newberg Transparency) had not collected the required petition signatures to place the recall questions on the ballot. The deadline to gather the 1,495 signatures was May 4.

"This letter is to inform you that the deadline for submitting those signatures has passed and no signature sheets for the petition were submitted," Ryan wrote.

Attempts to contact Ewan and Rebecca Wallis, who initiated the recall process, for comment were unsuccessful as of press time Monday afternoon.

Rogers, in his first term as mayor, said he wasn't relieved when he received word from Ryan. "Not particularly," he said. "We've been busy."

Findley reacted differently to the news: "There was a sense of relief, for sure, but there are so many big things happening at the city of Newberg that the recall was not at the forefront of my work on the council."

Rogers commented that Accountable Newberg wasn't justified in attempting to recall Findley and him for, among other things, actions that occurred under the previous mayor and by way of a city manager no longer in office.

In addition, he insisted that the group's filings contained factual errors that prompted him to contact the state Department of Justice's elections division as supplying false information on a petition statement is felony that carries a stiff penalty and possible jail time.

"People are entitled to their own opinions, but in the case of a recall petition the elections division makes it clear that statements must be factual," he said.

Regardless, he said the saga hasn't shaken his willingness to serve in an unpaid elected position. "It has strengthened my resolve to do the best job I can for the people of this community … ," he said in an email. "Even in in this unprecedented time, I feel we are at a much better place than when I was sworn into office."

Rogers began his term in January 2019 and will continue to serve through December 2023. He declined to speculate whether he would seek a second term.

Findley said that while she recognizes the group's right to mount the recall, the effort was misguided.

"I absolutely believe that my actions as a city councilor have shown a respect for the office and responsibility and that I have not engaged in any action or decision that would justify a recall," she said in an email. "While I know that there will always be dissenting opinions, I try very hard to listen to all of the voices of residents and to respond in a way that is respectful and cognizant of the well-being of our entire community. I think that honest and open discourse goes a lot further to address the issues of our community than posturing, but I also respect that it is absolutely within a citizen's right to petition for recall without basis in Oregon."

Rather than being shaken by the effort to remove her from office, the recall has only emboldened Findley.

"The outcome of the petition has cemented my opinion that doing the right thing is always important and that being thoughtful and diligent when making decisions is recognized by the voters of Newberg," she said.

Findley has a little less than two years remaining on her four-year term and was noncommittal on the question of a second term: "It's a long time to make my final decision, but I have very much enjoyed the challenges and rewards of serving in this capacity and am open to another term when the time comes."

She added that the recall could have an unfortunate chilling effect on people considering serving on one of the city's myriad boards and committees.

"I am disappointed in the idea that a recall petition would be filed against any elected official before making an attempt to have a discussion about their concerns and needs," Findley said, adding that neither the Wallises nor any group attempted to discuss the troubles at city hall prior to the recall being filed.

"I'm concerned about the integrity of our system if people believe that they will be attacked for running for office or serving simply because they offer a difference of opinion," hse said. "I absolutely believe that differing opinions and ideas lead to a balanced council and attempting to silence voices does not lend itself to encouraging good people to run for office." 

Wallises led process to recall pair

Accountable Newberg, led by outspoken council and city staff critic Rebecca Wallis, filed the paperwork to begin the recall effort in February and named Ewan Wallis as chief petitioner.

Rebecca Wallis explained then that of the six-member council, Accountable Newberg originally had planned to attempt to recall three councilors: Elizabeth Curtis Gemeroy, Gene Piros and Findley. However, Gemeroy resigned after moving out of her district and Piros could not be recalled at that time because he had served on the council for less than six months, a benchmark set by state law. The three councilors who were not targeted in the recall effort were Patrick Johnson, Denise Bacon and Elise Yarnell Hollamon.

"Three councilors have been very supportive of taking the necessary steps to resolve the issues at city hall," Rebecca Wallis said in February.

Accountable Newberg, which Wallis characterized as a grassroots effort with a "large number" of members, primarily accused the council of failing to adequately take action to deal with a number of controversies in city hall, including a pending sexual harassment complaint filed by a city employee with the state, a current federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by the city's IT director and a racial discrimination lawsuit the city lost last fall.

The group called for firing then Interim City Manager David Clyne and City Attorney Truman Stone, claiming the men were responsible for many of the city's troubles.

The group also had targeted Anna Lee, who served as the city's human resources director until January and had filed grievances with the city claiming harassment and retaliation. She reached a settlement with the city in January and has left the position.

"We've asked that city staff be held responsible for their actions or especially (the) lack thereof," Wallis said in February. "We've voiced our concerns only to be called 'cowardly' by the mayor."

The group's demands, given the state of the city, were concise.

"With all the issues current and in (the) recent past, there should be a unified council that says 'This is not OK' and takes immediate action," she said. "The public sees the issues, however certain members of the council are either blind to the issues or don't have the fortitude to make the difficult, uncomfortable decisions that is currently required of them."

If the group had been successful in placing the recall questions on the ballot, the city would have been responsible for reimbursing the county for the cost of the election, estimated to be $60,000 to $70,000. It's been a decade since the last recall effort was mounted in Yamhill County, which centered on Lafayette's city council.

A February post on Accountable Newberg's Facebook page said signature-gathering stations would be "set up periodically throughout town" and the circulators will also be going door-to-door seeking signatures. City officials said no such effort was undertaken since the effort began in February. 

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