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End the reign of the Gang of Three

Opening the city up to lawsuits is just the first in a series of disastrous decisions these three seem hell-bent to make.

Last fall this newspaper urged Cornelius voters to resist the anti-government platitudes of former mayor Neal Knight and his two running mates, Mari Gottwald and Jamie Minshall, who hinted at what they didn't like but wouldn't (and, perhaps, couldn't) articulate a vision for the city.

We now call on Cornelius residents to gather enough signatures to recall the three council members, who on Monday ignored common sense and public sentiment by firing City Manager Dave Waffle, sending the city into certain political chaos and likely financial distress.

A political recall is a serious step, a dramatic exercise in direct democracy allowing voters to decide whether to remove or retain elected officials before their terms expire.

It is an extreme safeguard that should be used only when a person in public office steps across the line of public service and threatens the well-being of the people they purport to represent.

On Monday, Cornelius Mayor Knight and Councilors Minshall and Gottwald jumped the line.

The trio of 'Team 3,' as they dubbed themselves, won their seats on conservative rhetoric, recycled from the mid-'90s (the last time Knight held office), that resonated during a national campaign in which the GOP's Tea Party wing made government the enemy.

During the campaign, Knight, who owns a body shop and several rental properties in town, vowed he would work with Waffle, who he'd clashed with on various matters.

However, before taking office he indicated a change of heart and went after Waffle's job before backing away once and again pushing the matter to a vote in January. His pair of political playmates, however, joined with the other two councilors to postpone a review of Waffle's contract to at least August.

That should have ended the nonsense until after next year's budget was crafted, but last week Knight again decided Waffle is a problem and on Monday got Gottwald and Minshall to send the city manager packing.

Why? It's hard to tell.

Gottwald announced after two weeks in office that she won't talk to reporters (or, it seems, voters). Minshall, prior to the vote, was unable to offer a clear reason for his discontent with the man who has overseen a revitalization of the city's downtown during a lousy economy. The best he could muster was a sense that Waffle wasn't giving him complete information about the city payroll.

At the meeting, the pair said they were keeping mum on advice from the city's attorney in an effort to shield themselves from personal liability in any defamation suit Waffle pursues against his former employers.

Opening the city up to lawsuits and triggering a $125,000 severance package for Waffle, are just the first in a series of disastrous decisions these three seem hell-bent to make.

Next on the agenda seems to be cutting $500,000 from the city's coffers by eliminating the general services fee (and, in the process, handing out large sums of cash to Walmart and Fred Meyer). This will force the city into a corner that will require it to close the library and lay off employees, including, most likely, police officers.

This is not democracy, but government by fiat. There's no honest exchange of ideas, no agreement to disagree and certainly no teamwork here.

Instead, we have a gang of three that seems unwilling or incapable of explaining its actions, which threaten the well-being and safety of all Cornelius residents.

All three should be recalled. That would give them time to articulate a plan for how to move the city forward and give voters a chance to decide whether that's the direction they want to head. Because right now, it looks a lot like a cliff.