The Baker County Republican Party voted to suspend its own executive committee for 60 days and launch an investigation into the county chair, Suzan Ellis Jones, at a meeting on Thursday evening, July 28, at the Baker County Library.
The central committee also appointed a temporary executive committee to serve during the suspension period and moved to hold a recall meeting for the entire executive committee.
The action comes on the grounds of what some county party members said was a pattern of failed leadership by the executive committee.
Dan Johnson, a registered Baker County Republican and precinct committee person (PCP) for the county, organized the meeting along with other central committee members. Johnson was nominated and confirmed to serve as the temporary chair during the suspension, effective immediately.
“Many citizens of Baker County are simply tired of the discourse within the local GOP organization,” Johnson wrote in a July 27 letter to Jones. “It must stop, and the only logical approach to solve such disagreements is for a cooling off period and an unbiased, independent review of the disputed issues.”
The party voted to establish a committee of “three neutral and detached county chairs or vice chairs” from outside the county under the leadership of Grant County Republican Party Chair Frances Preston.
This committee will investigate a Feb. 9 letter that former Oregon GOP Chair Dallas Heard wrote to Jones detailing the complaints that Baker County precinct committee persons had made concerning Jones.
According to the letter, Baker County PCPs have complained that Jones had a conflict of interest involving her daughter, Kerry McQuisten (the Baker City mayor, who also attended the meeting), and that Jones didn’t properly inform the party about meetings.
The public meeting came after two separate incidents at GOP gatherings earlier this year.
On March 25, police responded to a complaint about audience behavior during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum at the Baker Elks Lodge, when Rick Rienks, a PCP who also attended the July 28 meeting, was escorted from the building.
A little over two months later, a Baker City couple received a letter they called “harassing” from county party officials, accusing them of disrupting a private meeting of the executive committee on June 7.
And for roughly the first hour of Thursday night’s three-hour affair, there was some question as to whether or not the party would even be allowed to vote on the scheduled agenda.
Jones, acting as chair, called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. and immediately appointed Vance Day, a former Marion County judge and a former Oregon Republican Party chairman, as the temporary chair for that meeting.
After a few minutes of disagreement between Day and Johnson as to who would run the meeting, Kenny Hackett, a central committee member, motioned to vote on the meeting’s proposed agenda. Day then informed the meeting that they had to verify a quorum was present before any official business was conducted, per the Baker County Republican committee bylaws.
The bylaws state that a quorum of three executive officers must be present at a meeting to conduct any official business.
Day identified Jones and Tom Van Diepen as the only two executive members — out of six total — present at the meeting and said, because of the lack of a quorum, that the meeting could proceed only as an informal discussion and not official business.
At the time, Jones said she didn’t know where the other four executive members were.
Several party members said the absence of the executive committee was a deliberate attempt to prevent the central committee from voting on the scheduled agenda, which involved suspending the executives.
Jake Brown, another PCP at the meeting, said that in eight years of attending county Republican meetings, he couldn’t think of another time when a quorum wasn’t present.
“I don’t think people came here to be played by the executive committee,” Brown said.
The four missing executives were Vice Chair Julie McKinney, Treasurer Joanna Dixon (who is also the treasurer for McQuisten’s campaign committee and, along with McQuisten, on the Baker City Council), Keith Jones, who is married to Suzan Ellis Jones, and Secretary Justin Langan.
Jones did not respond by press time to several attempts by the Herald to reach her via phone.
Several meeting attendees suggested that another executive could be reached electronically and that Jones should attempt to contact them, but she never did.
The committee had still not addressed any official business by 7:30, an hour after the meeting’s start.
Doni Bruland, a PCP who was nominated and confirmed as vice chair for the duration of the suspension, then questioned Day’s right to lead the meeting.
In 2018, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended Day, then a Marion County judge, for three years, citing ethics violations. At the time he was also under investigation for gun law violations, which were later dismissed.
After serving the suspension, he lost a bid for Oregon State Court of Appeals earlier this year.
Day did not respond by press time after multiple phone calls from the Herald on Friday morning.
Day warned the central committee multiple times Thursday evening against proceeding with the vote to suspend the executive committee.
“Why do you want to burn down the house to control the ashes?” he said.
Johnson then pointed out that since the meeting was duly called, meaning attendees were given proper notice, they could remove and replace the temporary chair, Day, with a two-thirds vote, even without a quorum.
The vote passed, and Day stepped down as temporary chair.
Jones and McQuisten then left the building — along with a handful of other meeting attendees — carrying the meeting’s attendance sheet, which she refused to give back after requests from PCPs. Day left shortly after that.
The rest of the attendees moved on with the scheduled agenda shortly after 8 p.m., passing each motion — including suspension of the board and investigation of Jones — and appointing the temporary executive board, with Johnson as chair.
“I’m so proud of the people last night to see through what was going on. Now they have the opportunity to help our Republican candidates,” Johnson said.
The proposed recall meeting does not have a scheduled date.