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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow City Council recalls fail

City Council recalls fail

Voters reject measures to recall Mayor Dennis Dorrah and Councilor Beverly Calder by margins of more than 2-to-1

Baker City Councilor Beverly Calder, left, and Mayor Dennis Dorrah celebrated Tuesday night at The Sunridge Inn after learning that voters declined to remove the pair from office.(Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
Baker City voters rejected by more than a 2-to-1 margin an effort to recall Mayor Dennis Dorrah and Councilor Beverly Calder.

The measure to recall Dorrah failed by a margin of 2,288 to 938 — 71 percent to 29 percent.

The measure seeking to oust Calder from office failed by 2,187 votes to 1,036, a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent.

Calder was waiting at the Baker County Courthouse Tuesday evening when County Clerk Tami Green printed out the election results.

Calder said almost as many people voted against recalling her than voted for her (2,275) when she was elected in November 2006, a fact she said supported her belief that the recall effort was not justified.

“Recalls are bad for the community; they are bad for encouraging people to serve,” Calder said. “Recalls are bad unless there is a compelling reason, and there was no reason for this recall.”

In an election that started out with a bang and ended with a fizzle, Green said 3,238 out of 5,844 registered voters cast ballots by the 8 p.m. voting deadline, a turnout of 55 percent.

“The turnout is far below what I thought it would be, especially considering how we started out,” Green said — with 25 percent of ballots returned midway through the first week of voting in the vote-by-mail election.

Jamey Hardy, who filed the recall petitions against Dorrah and Calder in June, gathered with friends to wait for the Tuesday night election results.

 “I think this is a huge disappointment for Baker and for this community,” she said after the results were posted on the County’s Web site. “I think people were very apathetic to Dennis and Beverly ... and you can’t fix apathy.”

Hardy said she had hoped that voters would consider all of the issues addressed by the recall.

“People were looking at character rather than the issues at hand,” she said. “The issues at hand were what mattered and what counted and it’s a huge disappointment.”

In addition to Calder’s vote to fire Brocato, the petition demanding Calder’s recall contended, among other things, that she does not “work effectively with other councilors,” “places her own agenda ahead of the interests of the citizens and has contempt for anyone who disagrees with her” and takes positions as a councilor that “are controversial and inconsistent with the public good.”

Among reasons to recall Dorrah as cited on the recall petition were “his inability to provide adequate leadership of the City Council;” assuming “powers beyond those granted to him as Mayor by the City Charter,” and the accusation that he “has become a source of embarrassment to many citizens of Baker City.”

Kathye Corn, treasurer of the Recall Dorrah & Calder Committee, also expressed her disappointment after learning that the recall had been turned down.

But she did not regret the committee’s effort to take the matter to voters.

“I’m just sorry that it did go down, but, you know, some of us saw something that was going wrong in Baker and we tried to do something about it,” she said. “We just thought we should bring it to the voters’ attention that we thought something was wrong — and we did — but the voters saw it differently.”

Now that the issue has been decided, she said she knows of no plan to continue protests against the councilors’ decision to fire Brocato, including an attempt to recall Bonebrake and Button.

“I hope everybody can put it behind them and go on,” she said.

Now that voters have rejected the recalls by a wide margin, Calder and Dorrah said it’s time for the City Council to get back to the business of running the city.

“We haven’t gotten as much done over the past several months as we should have. That’s going to change,” Calder said.

“This whole thing for the last five months has not been a pleasant experience,” Dorrah said. “This recall has caused a lot of hard feelings between friends and organizations.”

During comments to a group of about 100 supporters who gathered Tuesday evening at The Sunridge Inn, Dorrah and Calder both expressed their desire to focus on their duties as elected officials.

“We have to put this all down as an experience and move on,” Dorrah said. “We’ve got to put it behind us for the good of Baker City.”

Hardy filed the recall petitions about a week after the June 9 Council meeting during which Dorrah and Calder joined councilors Aletha Bonebrake and Clair Button in voting to fire City Manager Steve Brocato.

Councilors Andrew Bryan, Milo Pope and Sam Bass voted against the motion to fire Brocato.

Those three councilors supported the recall campaign.

“Well, it didn’t turn out the way I expected, but that’s the way it goes in politics,” Bass said.

“I don’t have to put anything behind me. I did what I thought was right,” he said. “I tried to inform the public about what was happening.”

He blamed the failure of the recalls in part on what he believes was erroneous information in letters to the editor published in area newspapers, and incorrect statements made during City Council meetings.

Because Bonebrake and Button had been in office for less than six months at the time, neither was eligible to be recalled, according to Oregon law.

Bonebrake said Tuesday that she considers the margin by which the recalls were defeated as a mandate.

“We are grateful to voters for their confidence in the Council process,” Bonebrake said.

“To me, it says that democracy still works and that concerned people can make a huge difference,” Button said. “From here on I think we try to move forward, patch up the wounds and get on with business.”

Peggi Timm, a former city councilor and former member of the Democratic Central Committee, served as chairwoman of the committee opposing the recall, along with treasurer Virginia Kostol, a former member of the Republican Central Committee.

“We’ve worked all of our lives on political campaigns, but this is the first time we worked together on the same side,” Kostol said. “That ought to tell you something.

“This was a non-partisan issue, and the committee (that raised nearly $7,000 to defeat the recall) was non-partisan,” Kostol said. “We worked together on this because we felt the recall was completely inappropriate.”

Timm said the group gathered at The Sunridge included people from both political parties who donated money to oppose the recall without being asked.

Gary Dielman, who kept computer records of the contributions for the committee, said, “we collected $6,000 in less than a week, and we didn’t ask them for a penny. There were about 100 transactions” with donations ranging from $10 to $600.

Green said Tuesday’s election went smoothly, thanks to the hard work of county elections staff and the Elections Board: Dixie Hardesty, Dru Carpenter, Nancy Ferree, Sharon Bannister, Jean Geddes and Kitty Jury.

Green said the city must pay the costs of the election, which she estimates will total between $6,000 and $8,000.

Changes in state election laws that took effect Jan. 1 allow counties to begin counting votes for each precinct beginning seven days before election day, although Green said the law forbids elections staff from tallying vote totals from the various precincts until 8 p.m. on election night.

For the recall, Green said the election board started opening and counting votes at about 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Before each vote is counted, Green said a bar code on each blue envelope is scanned with a computer scanner, then a computer image of the voter’s signature pops up on the screen and the clerk’s staff checks to be sure the signature on the envelope matches the signature on the computer screen.

If the signatures match, the blue envelopes are sorted into boxes for each of the county’s five precincts.

From there, two-person teams composed of one member of the election board from each the two major political parties open batches of 25 blue envelopes, separating the unsigned white envelopes containing the ballots and then tabulating the votes on precinct cards. Then they trade batches and check each other’s work, Green said.

That work was completed Tuesday night a few minutes before 8 p.m.

At that point, Green said, “The machine knows the results, but we don’t.”

Then, when the clock struck 8 p.m., according to the official timekeeper, Green pushed the button on the model 650 Elections System vote tallying machine and printed out the first tally sheet, which was given to Bill Lee, director of the county’s technical department, to immediately post on the county election Web site, as the first unofficial results.

Also precisely at 8 p.m., Cindy Carpenter walked to the ballot drop box in the parking lot along Fourth Street behind the Courthouse to collect the last of the ballots — there were 17 — dropped off since the box was last emptied at 5 p.m.

Across town, another bonded ballot collector did the same at the ballot box at Community Connection, which contained six ballots.

Those 23 ballots were run through the ballot tallying machine and added to the initial numbers.

Over the next several days, Green and her staff will verify any challenged ballots, such as those with signatures that don’t match, tally overvotes or undervotes (some people don’t fill out both parts of the ballot) and then certify the election.


Chris Collins of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.

 
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