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Voters recall Team 3 in Cornelius 2-to-1

Dave Waffle, the city manager fired by recall targets won't apply for his old job

Cornelius voters ousted the majority of its city council Tuesday in a sharp rebuke of "Team 3."

Final Tuesday night returns in a recall election showed voters weighing in 2-to-1 against the city's mayor, Neal Knight and two city councilors, Jamie Minshall and Mari Gottwald.

The recall was initiated by Brad Coffey, who lost his bid for reelection to the city council last fall when Minshall and Gottwald ran as a slate, with Knight, known as Team 3.

In the 10 p.m. tally, 1011 (70 percent) were voting to oust Knight, while 418 (29 percent) were backing him. In the city council tally, 973 (68 percent) were voting against Gottwald, while 403 (29 percent) supported her and 963 (67 percent) were voting against Minshall while 415 (29 percent) supported him.

By 10 p.m., 1,435 votes were counted, leaving only 26 votes left to count.

Paul Rubenstein, acting Cornelius city manager, said following the recall of Team 3, the remaining city councilors, Jef Dalin and Steve Heinrich, will appoint replacements. The process for doing so will be determined at the next meeting of the city council on Oct. 10. Until a mayor is appointed, Dalin, council president, will act as mayor.

Recall gained steam with firing of city manager

Coffey, along with a number of other Cornelius citizens including former Cornelius Mayor Ralph Brown, began gathering signatures to recall the trio - which make up a quorum of the city council - in July. The recall campaign collected more than 600 signatures calling for a recall of all three, more than the 391 needed for county certification of a recall.

Council conflict first arose in December, when Knight demanded the resignation of Cornelius' city manager, Dave Waffle. Knight hadn't yet been sworn in as mayor, and by the time he took the dais a month later, Waffle and Knight had worked out an agreement that kept Waffle at his job, if he agreed to help Knight remove the city's general services fee.

But when Cornelius resident Dave Schamp filed a complaint alleging that Knight violated the city charter by putting preconditions on Waffle's job, Knight brought Waffle's firing back to the city council.

In January, Gottwald and Minshall voted against ousting Waffle after hours of public testimony urging the council to retain him.

But in June, Knight decided to bring Waffle's firing to the council again.

Knight told the News-Times at the time that he was upset Waffle wouldn't address grievances Knight had about the city's development and operations manager, Richard Meyer.

"We need to get a real city manager, somebody who will earn their pay," Knight told the News-Times in June. "I really question whether [Waffle will] fire anybody, I don't think he will. I don't think he has."

The city's charter precludes the mayor from urging the city manager to make decisions about personnel. Knight's comments triggered additional charter violations complaints. The city hired an investigator to look into the allegations, with a report due back in October.

And when the city council voted to fire Waffle the evening of June 6, calls of recall filled the room.

Waffle, now working for the city of Beaverton, told the News-Times Tuesday night that he won't seek to be hired back.

"I've moved on and the community needs to move on too. And now the community can move on," Waffle said. "Tonight it's all about Cornelius."

Elections complaint against Knight dismissed

Since August, when Washington County Elections certified the recall election, the political turmoil in Cornelius has continued to heat up. Earlier this month, Schamp filed a complaint with Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown's office alleging that Knight knowingly provided false information in the statement of justification he filed with county elections in response to the recall.

The state determined that the statement didn't fall under their purview since it wasn't a "required" filing.

"The Statement of Justification is not required to be filled out under election laws,' wrote Alana Guiney, an investigator with the Secretary of State's office. 'Therefore the statements you question cannot be investigated by this office under ORS 260.715. This does not preclude any private right of action through the court system."

Schamp said he was frustrated his complaint fell into what he called a loophole.

That loophole could be closed, however. Schamp said he contacted the office of State Rep. Katie Eyre Brewer, whose staff worked with the Secretary of State's office to clarify the rules. Come Jan. 1, a statement of justification will be considered a required filing and subject to election rules. But an adjustment of the rules won't mean the complaint against Knight will be investigated.

Knight calls the complaint "bogus."