Campaigns to recall Gladstone City Councilors Steve Johnson and Kim Sieckmann took a couple of unprecedented turns last week.
The Clackamas County Election's Office sent out ballots with Johnson's name misspelled, and the secretary of state referred the chief petitioner for criminal prosecution for alleged willful lies on the petitions for recall.
A bold section on the ballots sent out Thursday says, "Statement of justification of Steve Johnston's (sic) course in office…" which is a section added on to the ballot by an elections-office employee. Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall said she called Johnson to alert him about the error and talked with him over the phone.
"The ballot was 'composed' by a member of the regular elections staff and proofread by multiple additional elections staff members," Hall said.
Adding to the confusion, the recall election on May 23 overlaps with the May 16 special district election, so Gladstone voters must insert their ballot into the envelope that accompanies each ballot to ensure their vote is counted. If you lose one of your envelopes or ballots, or if you're not sure you have the envelope to match the correct ballot, you can call the election's office at 503-655-8510 to obtain a replacement ballot and/or envelope.
Meanwhile, in a May 3 letter to Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the Clackamas County Republican Party Acting Chair Traci Hensley and the Democratic Party of Clackamas County Chair Peter Nordbye jointly condemned the recall of Johnson and Sieckmann and requested a state review of the petition for recall written by Bill Osburn, chief petitioner of the recall.
"Statements, information and claims within the petition for recall are false and opinions of Mr. Osburn," they wrote in the letter to Richardson. "Mr. Osburn was recently a candidate for Gladstone City Council, he should have a working understanding and knowledge of election laws, and know that he is in violation of ORS 260.532: No person shall publish false information."
Johnson is a registered Democrat; he switched from non-affiliated in 2008. Sieckmann was non-affiliated from 1988 until Jan. 28, 2016, when he switched to the Republican Party.
Debra Royal, Richardson's chief of staff, said that the complaint is being treated as a criminal matter and was referred to the Oregon Attorney General's Office.
In their written responses to Osburn's recall petitions claiming "illegal contracting," both Johnson and Sieckmann challenged the petitioner to produce evidence of even one contract that they alone approved. The councilors noted that city contracts are approved with a majority vote of council, so neither Johnson nor Sieckmann broke any laws.
Not only would the petition have to be proven false, but Osburn would have also had to publish it "with knowledge or with reckless disregard" of the truth to be convicted for obtaining election signatures based on false information. Osburn maintains the truth of "illegal contracting" based upon state contracting law that requires governmental agencies to seek competitive bids in various circumstances.
"There's very little open process, as the law encourages, before giving out these contracts for services," Osburn said. "When they're talking about awarding contracts, they very rarely talk about how they got bids from multiple sources. Anyone putting together a remedial flow chart would see how much money is being spent on contracts going into a single direction."
Osburn said he has no "smoking gun" involving a contract that was awarded illegally and only strongly suspects the city of illegal contracting. He said that his efforts of finding the "smoking gun" have been hampered by the city attempting to block his public-records requests.
Osburn's public-records requests for copies of complaints filed against Johnson and Sieckmann were rejected by city officials. Gladstone Assistant City Administrator Jacque Betz denied Osburn's request for copies of the complaints based upon an exemption in state law allowing public agencies to withhold records from disclosure if they involve a personnel disciplinary action. Osburn referred the city's attempt to deny disclosure of the complaints against Johnson and Sieckmann to the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, which will decide whether the public interest in disclosing the complaints outweighs the privacy governmental agencies can sometimes choose to afford personnel disciplinary actions.
Osburn said he has good reasons for targeting Johnson and Sieckmann and not a majority of City Council approving contracts. He said they attempted to censure Councilor Neal Reisner over talking about their meeting with Betz and were most vocal in not letting Reisner look at the city's attorney bills.
"I watched their attitudes and how the way they interacted with the public during council meetings was blatantly disrespectful, so that was what drew me in on them," Osburn said.
In response to claims that he would seek to be appointed to office after a successful recall, Osburn initially said last week that he hadn't made a decision, but was leaning toward letting others step up to vacant City Council seats.
"Politics is frustrating, and I won't lie that I haven't given a thought to it, but I think I do much better as a community watchdog than I would as a city councilor," he said. "I see that their campaign is based upon me running when I hadn't even made up my own mind."
Osburn gave the matter some thought over the weekend and heard from "well qualified" potential candidates for any seats that would be make vacant by a recall.
"My intention after the recall, if successful, is to relax for a bit and go fishing, grow my my garden and take a break from politicking for awhile," Osburn said on Monday.