Group upset at criticism of large development

The recall of Oregon City Commissioner Jim Nicita will be on a special election ballot.

Organizers of the recall were able to gather 300 more signatures last week after falling 125 short Oct. 20 when the county clerk rejected 27 percent of the signatures as ineligible. The group needed 1,752 valid signatures to force a special election.

The recall will be scheduled after Nicita submits his 'statement of justification' this week.

Arguments about the politics and economics of 650,000-square-foot shopping mall, where a developer had promised a sports superstore as a major tenant before jumping ship, have been the focus of the recall effort. In a special meeting and executive session last week the city commission voted 3-2 against exercising the 2009 option agreement to sell a 6.8-acre extension of Former Mayor Dan Fowler's properties near the proposed 66-acre development.

Commissioners Rocky Smith, Kathy Roth and Nicita were all concerned about selling the property and losing sight of the city's goal of getting another Amtrak stop and other possible transportation opportunities.

'Because of what I see as the supreme importance of this kind of alternative transportation for Oregon City, especially as we're trying to open up Willamette Falls as an international tourist destination, we would be doing the citizens of Oregon City a grave disservice by transferring this property,' Nicita said.

The city attorney noted that Oregon City had to close on the deal before Oct. 31 or face possible legal action by Fowler.

Fowler told the commission that he developed a sentimental attachment to the property two years before he became elected.

'I just wanted to be treated fairly and wanted my tenants to be treated fairly,' he said. 'We made no error, and I'm curious that no one has asked what our development plans are, (since) they may coincide with what your plans are.'

Recall petition sheets show that Fowler and his family collected hundreds of the verified signatures. But dozens of other petitioners were also each responsible for several sheets that contain up to 10 signatures.

Among the petitioners were Former City Commissioner Daphne Wuest and her husband, Tim. Kent Ziegler's family in West Linn, whose housing development in Oregon City is on hold after failed annexation attempts, circulated about a half dozen sheets.

Meanwhile, a complaint with the Oregon secretary of state's office alleges violations of election law by misrepresenting petitions as an effort to bring back the proposed development. Brandon Beck, art director for Cabela's, saw the paid petitioners' signature folders covered by 'Bring back Cabela's' as a misuse of the store's logo. A paid signature-gathering company collected about a third of the signatures.

'I can say that I do not approve use of the logo from my brand perspective and compliance standpoint,' Beck said.

An investigator with the secretary of state estimated a finding by the end of November.

Recall organizers said it was unintentional on their committee's part that paid petitioners used the Cabela's argument, because it doesn't reflect where they're coming from.

'It wouldn't be appropriate for petitioners to say that if Nicita is recalled, then Cabela's will come back,' Blane Meier said. 'My assumption is that when this group was hired, they weren't sufficiently trained in our real message.'

That message is simple for many recall organizers who were looking forward to the economic and environmental benefits with the project. 'No one in that group has ever said anything about Jim himself as a person - I would say that he's very well-liked as a person - the simple issue is whether his political ideology is getting in the way of economic development,' Meier said.

Nicita said the developer hadn't produced sufficient evidence for $200 million investment, nor had a poll shown overwhelming political support.

'Democracy doesn't work if you don't have the integrity to maintain your ideals,' Nicita said. 'Although there are some circumstances where it would be appropriate for an elected official to change course on a campaign promise, we were never presented with information where I felt even close to giving up on the concerns of my constituents."

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