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Oregon City voters recall Nicita

First successful recall in more than a decade in Clackamas County

The effort to recall Oregon City Commissioner Jim Nicita on Tuesday scored a decisive victory. Official results showed the vote going more than 55 percent against Nicita.

Recall organizers turned in more than 1,752 valid signatures in October to force the vote. They were upset that Nicita opposed a 650,000-square-foot shopping mall that a developer had proposed to top a landfill.

Recall organizer William Gifford said that the next step is for the city to begin healing its wounds.

'The people who have worked so hard for Oregon City and its prosperity thank the voters and want to send the clear message that we are now open for business,' Gifford said.

The Dec. 6 special election cost between $9,000 and $10,000, according to the most current verbal estimate from the Clackamas County Elections Division to City Recorder Nancy Ide. The city has not yet received an invoice, and the Elections Office notes it has 45 days after the election to complete the financial report.

Nicita is now looking forward to 'enjoying life as a private citizen,' since he purchased a house in Oregon City and had to put off plans to renovate it when he was elected.

'The citizens have spoken,' Nicita said. 'It's been an honor to serve the citizens of Oregon City for the past three years.'

Nicita still saw the recall as a reaction to his wariness about the use of urban renewal funds for private development.

'Private interests have been wanting access to the public purse, and I have been defending the public purse, and if you wipe away all the chaff, that's what was at the bottom of the recall,' he said.

Nicita will not be officially out of office and could have continued to vote in City Commission meetings until Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall delivers an abstract of votes to the city. Out of respect for unclear city code on the subject and the will of the voters, Nicita choose not to attend the city meeting Dec. 7; Hall's deadline for delivery of the abstract is Dec. 26.

Historic election

Hall said the county's last recall election was the Hoodland Fire District in December '06, when three district board members were on the recall ballot; turnout was 26 percent, and none of the board members were recalled. Prior to that, the mayor and two councilors were on the Wilsonville recall ballot in November '02; turnout was 53 percent, and none of the officials were recalled.

About three years ago, Nicita originally won his seat by a 4 percent margin from incumbent Damon Mabee. In that November 2008 election, an unprecedented number of votes were cast everywhere but the 14,801 ballot returned from Oregon City represented a 83.3 percent turnout and the county as a whole 85.2 percent.

'We tried to get people enough information to make a decision, but the recall proponents have been at this since the end of July, and I got on the ballot and had 30 days to campaign,' Nicita said.

In the May 2008 election, when there were not only special Oregon City questions on annexation, but also primary candidates, the Oregon City turnout was 51.8 percent, and the county as a whole 54.2 percent. A total of 11,794 Oregon City voters turned in ballots for the November 2010 election, the last time city commissioners were on the ballot, when there were also Congressional contests; the Oregon City turnout was 70.5 percent, and the county as a whole 73.9 percent.

Even money

In the money race, the two sides were almost tied as the ballots were being counted on Tuesday. The recall effort raised $5,869, including $1,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 and $500 from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, unions that might have been able to find work at The Rivers project.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 350-2, which represents around 70 city employees, voted to oppose the recall. Union President Jake Ashenberner called Nicita 'a person of integrity and a watchdog for the public's interest.'

The 'Keep Nicita' campaign raised $5,658 through the end of November, with one its largest cash donations ($350) from Fisherman's Marine and Outdoor, which had worried about being outcompeted if the Cabela's sports superstore went in as part of The Rivers project. The largest cash donation of $500 came from Portland resident Ed Wagner, who supported an effort by Commissioner Kathy Roth, a Nicita supporter, to bring a Concordia University campus to Oregon City.

Election complaint

A complaint with the state alleges violations of election law by misrepresenting petitions as an effort to bring back the proposed development. Recall organizers have used the Cabela's argument, but it was not in the formal petition as a means of bringing back to superstore.

That complaint is still being investigated and Andrea Cantu-Schomus, communications director for the Oregon secretary of state's office, expects it to wrap up by Dec. 23. But the election wouldn't be invalidated if wrongdoing is found, and Nicita expects that recall organizers would only be fined.

Gifford told the City Commission on Dec. 7 that it was not time for revenge.

'Honest citizens on both sides of the recall issue were sincere and passionate; they are all to be saluted for their committed interest in what they perceived to be working for the betterment of their community,' he said. 'Mature citizens will often disagree on paths to take, but the goal of a healthy city - economically, socially and environmentally - must remain. This is a time of firm resolve; to work together to find common ground; with respect for one another and dedication to the honorable work of community.'