Recall election yields landslide opposition

Election results posted Tuesday evening, Feb. 23, show Columbia River People’s Utility District Director Craig Melton will retain his seat on the board.

Tuesday’s final count showed 63 percent of voters opposed the recall. By 9:10 p.m. Tuesday, nearly all ballots were counted, according to Columbia County Elections Supervisor Don Clack.

The unofficial final results showed 966 people in Melton’s subdivision voted against removing him from office, while 577 voted to recall him. In all, 4,311 ratepayers were eligible to vote in the election.

MELTON“I want to thank the voters and supporters that kept me as their PUD director,” Melton stated Wednesday. “The recall was presented to the public and voters inaccurately ... Thank you to the the ratepayers who took the time to research both sides before voting.”

Dave Ehrenkranz, a former math and science teacher from Warren, was the chief petitioner in the recall.

“I’m disappointed and glad it is over,” Ehrenkranz stated Wednesday morning. “I am proud of what we attempted to accomplish.”

Dave Ehrenkranz, right, waits as Don Clack, Columbia County elections supervisor, reviews petition signatures submitted for a recall election against Columbia River PUD Director Craig Melton. The last of the mail-in ballots for the recall were turned in Tuesday evening.In December, Ehrenkranz spearheaded a group calling itself Restore Our PUD, to recall Melton from the PUD.

The following month, the group turned in enough valid petition signatures from ratepayers in Melton’s subdivision to trigger a recall election.

Ehrenkranz alleged Melton supported decisions exposing the district to lawsuits and supported “wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars,” since he took office in January 2015. The recall petition also cited the district’s loss of insurance coverage and the loss of six of the PUD’s top managers in less than a year, while characterizing the public agency as an “unstable workplace.”

Recall proponents pointed to the district’s failure to hire a permanent manager more than a year after the former general manager resigned in December 2014.

“I hope the board will quickly start the search for a General Manager who is not hobbled by the past and will be able to return the PUD to an agency of which we can all be proud,” Ehrenkranz stated Wednesday.

Nearly as quickly as the recall petition kicked off, a political action committee formed to oppose the recall. The PAC, Friends of Columbia River PUD, launched a heavy outreach campaign in support of Melton and fellow directors Jake Carter and Harry Price. The committee took in more than $4,200 in contributions, elections records show.

Melton responded to the recall petition through the Columbia County Elections Department, pointing to a track record of conservative spending, approving cost saving measures and settling outstanding litigation the district faced when he took office.

“As your Representative I have a duty to protect the PUD, and to hold management accountable for their spending,” Melton stated. “I will continue to do so if you keep me on the PUD Board.”

Shortly after the county announced an election date, Melton filed a formal complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, alleging recall proponents violated the election code by making false statements about Melton to voters when they were asked to sign the recall petition.

Records showed Columbia River PUD Director Dave Baker, who was president at the time, collected a substantial amount of signatures, along with his son, to help launch the recall election. Melton indicated in his complaint that Baker “framed the recall election in light of false statements.”

Baker later denied misleading voters.

Melton called Baker and fellow director Richard Simpson, who also collected a sheet of signatures for the recall, “key players,” in trying to remove him from the board.

“I, along with others, have submitted complaints to the Secretary of States Election Division about their unlawful tactics,” Melton stated Wednesday. “Dave Baker and his son Riley Baker told voters in my District that I was a criminal and other additional untrue/slanderous statements. I plan on going forward on the PUD board working to make the PUD a great work environment that provides safe, reliable, cost-effective power to our area.”

This story has been updated.