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Recall effort exposes Oregon City political rift

A recall petition filed last week heightened a political rift between Oregon City Commissioner Jim Nicita and local business people such as former Mayor Dan Fowler, who owns the Abernethy Center and other properties downtown.

In a May 3 e-mail to encourage lobbying commissioners to support The Rivers project, Fowler wrote, 'We have to let our commissioners know that this is a project that is important to Oregon City and we expect them to get it done. If they don't, we will work to remove them from office. It is that simple. If we have commissioners who won't work for what the majority of this community wants, then we don't want them as our leaders.'

This past week, Fowler noted his views haven't changed. He said he plans to support the recall effort, not only for Nicita's opposition to the landfill-topping shopping center, which developer Fred Bruning abandoned last month, but also for Nicita's disinterest in boosting business. Bruning and supporters like Fowler have blamed Nicita's criticism of the project for its demise.

'What businesses need to see is whether we want them here or not, and I think our leaders should have been cheerleading this great project in every way they can,' Fowler said. 'When you have someone who's an elected official, and they refuse to meet with businesses and they don't support efforts to bring 1,000 jobs into town, it wastes taxpayer money.'

Nicita responded by pointing out he campaigned and won his 2008 election with a public vote on urban renewal and criticism of The Rivers project as two of his major campaign promises.

'I've always been a very rigorous observer and analyst of The Rivers,' he said.

Nicita argued that he's always aimed to protect taxpayers' interests as a commissioner, and the Urban Renewal Commission agreed to make a prerequisite that the developer couldn't stomach - namely a signed sales agreement and a concrete purchase price of the land owned by Scott Parker.

'The real story behind the conduct of this deal lies in executive session, so that's why I'm supporting an effort to get those transcripts released. Then the public can see the real reasons why The Rivers deal died,' Nicita said.

Fowler said he doubted release of the transcripts would change his mind on the issue, saying public statements are more important.

'They're just a lot of things that are really performance issues that go beyond the Rivers - it's more of an attitude,' Fowler said. 'Ideally commissioners would say, 'We're going to be putting conditions on a development agreement that are going to be tough, but we got to get this right, and at the end of the day we really want to see this happen.''

Petitioner Rex Parks Jr. did not respond to telephone or email requests for comment last week. Both Fowler and Nicita claimed they have no previous acquaintance with Parks.