Commissioners will fight recall

ASHLAND — Three Ashland Parks and Recreation commissioners say they won't resign after the Jackson County Clerk's Office confirmed Friday that petitioners had gathered enough signatures to initiate a recall election.

Commissioners Jim Lewis, Mike Gardiner and Rick Landt were targeted by residents angry over the commission's unanimous approval in August of a revamping of Ashland Senior Center programs that led to the dismissal of its manager, Chris Dodson.

Reached by phone Friday night, all three said they will fight the recall.

"I am not planning to resign. If I resigned, that would indicate that I did something wrong," Landt said. "I have done nothing to warrant a recall, which is normally reserved for illegality, corruption or unethical behavior. My offense was making a tough decision for what I believe was in the best interest of the community. "

Gardiner said he will file his letter of justification by Feb. 7 — the deadline for getting such a letter included on the ballot.

"There will be more information coming out ... to set the records straight," Gardiner said.

The city of Ashland must pay for the election, which is expected to cost between $25,000 and $30,000, according to information from the Clerk's Office. The election must be held within 35 days after the last day for the public officer to resign, which in this case is March 14.

The petitions, filed by Mary Sundberg, Mary Canfield and Avram Chetron and supported by a group called Ashland Support Our Seniors, must have at least 1,566 verified signatures from Ashland registered voters for each recall.  According to the results, available on the city's website, petitioners collected 1,809 valid signatures for Lewis' petition, 1,812 for Gardiner's and 1,796 for Landt's.

The petitions claim that the parks commissioners mismanaged the parks department's $9 million annual budget, mismanaged personnel, repeatedly failed to follow Oregon Public Meetings Law, approved spending $230,000 on a consultant for Lithia Park with disregard for public concern, and ignored two specific recommendations from a 2016 performance audit regarding making changes within the department.

Lewis disputed the claims in the petition and said he will seek legal action against the statements. Reached by phone Friday night, Lewis said he will be filing a letter of justification.

"There's no smoking gun here," Lewis said, adding that the petitioners are using tactics of "shaming and demeaning" and accusing the commissioners of false claims.

Lewis said the parks commission has passed independent audits for a number of years and that the city recorder is responsible for notifying about public meetings and recording the meetings' minutes.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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