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Recall election of PUD director set for Feb. 23

Ballots expected to be mailed Feb. 3; Craig Melton fires back with complaint to state

Voters in Subdivision 2 of the Columbia River People’s Utility District will vote by Feb. 23 to either keep or recall Craig Melton on the PUD board of directors. Ballots will be sent by mail to voters in that PUD subdivision on Feb. 3.

MELTONA recall petition was initiated in December by a group calling itself Restore Our PUD.

The Columbia County Elections Office certified the petition for the ballot last week, indicating a recall election would be held unless Melton resigned.

Melton files formal complaint

Around the same time the special election date was announced, Melton alleged the recall proponents violated elections laws.

He filed a formal complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Elections Division, alleging petitioners who collected signatures for the recall violated elections code by misleading PUD customers with false statements and information. BAKER

Signature sheets turned in to the elections office show Dave Baker, who was president of the Columbia River PUD board at the time, and Baker’s son, Riley Baker, helped more people sign the petition than any other volunteer with the recall group. Director Richard Simpson also turned in a sheet of signatures.

In his letter to the state, Melton said he could provide witnesses who say the Bakers told voters that Melton was a criminal who broke the law while in office.

“They framed the recall petition in light of the false statements,” Melton’s complaint states. “Individuals who signed the petition reasonably believed, based on the statements they made, that the effect of the petition was to remove a criminal from the CRPUD Board.”

The complaint is now being investigated as a potential criminal case.

Molly Woon, communications director for the Oregon Secretary of State, said the complaint will be sent to the Department of Justice "if the elections division's investigation reveals sufficient evidence of a criminal violation."

*TIt’s unlikely any investigation would be completed before the recall election on Feb. 23, Woon noted.

Proponents defend their actions

EHRENKRANZ Dave Ehrenkranz, the recall’s chief petitioner, said he was clear with people about the motives for the recall when he approached them for signatures and those who signed knew the purpose of the petition.

“I can unequivocally state every time I heard Dave or Riley Baker interact with potential signers I never heard either of them say the things Mr. Melton claims in his complaint,” Ehrenkranz stated.

When questioned about their involvement in recall efforts against a fellow board member, Baker said at a Columbia River PUD meeting last week that he did not recall telling anyone that Melton had broken the law. Simpson said he turned in petition signatures after he was approached by people from his church’s congregation who asked if they could sign the petition.

Don Clack, elections supervisor for Columbia County, said he estimates the special election will cost the PUD about $5,000, but that cost could be more if the mail ballot election yields high voter turnout.

This story has been updated with a clarification from the Oregon Secretary of State's office. A previous version of this story that appeared online quoted the elections spokeswoman indicating a criminal investigation was already underway.