SALEM — A county commissioner in Grant County, faulted by critics for not demanding an investigation of a wildfire that destroyed almost 150 structures, has emerged from a recall election with a decisive victory.
County Clerk Brenda Percy said on Wednesday that, according to final unofficial results, 65 percent of the 3,115 votes cast said "no" to the recall, keeping County Commissioner Boyd Britton in office. Percy said 35 percent of votes were for the recall.
"The majority of Grant county citizens spoke pretty loudly," Percy told The Associated Press over the phone. "That's a pretty resounding (margin)."
That margin is even greater than the 49 percent of the vote Britton won the last time he ran in a primary, in 2014, Percy said
Britton, whose position is part-time and who also runs a welding and machine shop in John Day, was back working in county court Wednesday morning and was not immediately available for comment. Votes were counted Tuesday night.
Among other things, the recall petition faulted Britton for not calling for an investigation into the 2015 Canyon Creek Fire. U.S. Forest Service firefighters, whose manpower was stretched during the busy 2015 fire season, had been unable to snuff out the two fires early on that merged and became the Canyon Creek Fire.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Britton said he did not support having an investigation because "we need to move forward."
"I didn't think we could afford it," he said. "The fire blew up and it did what it did. Is (an investigation) going to bring anyone's homes back, or belongings? These were all federal employees. Can you sue them? We wouldn't live long enough for it to make it through all the courts, pursuing the litigation line."
Britton also rejected the petition's accusation that he has benefited financially from his position, and that it slants how he votes. He said he had made on average $4,200 gross profit per year from doing business with the Forest Service. Britton estimated that after paying salaries for his four employees and other costs, that net profits from the Forest Service work are about 10 percent, or $420 per year.
Yet another complaint says Britton misrepresented his intentions in attending a planned Jan. 26 meeting in the John Day senior center with other local officials, residents and leaders of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The occupiers never made it. They were intercepted by law enforcement, and arrested. One was shot dead at a roadblock.
Britton said he had gone to the meeting site because some constituents were nervous about attending, and noted that other local leaders were present as well.
To the west in adjacent In Wheeler County, vote counting Monday night resulted in the recall of Wheeler County Judge Patrick C. Perry. A total of 406 ballots were for the recall, with 208 against in Oregon's least populous county, according to County Clerk Barb Sitton.
The recall had cited conflicts of interest. Perry had said the recall was "based on unfounded and vague allegations."
Gov. Kate Brown will appoint a replacement for Perry, whose seat would be added to the ballot for the November election, said Molly Woon, communications director for Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins.
Voters in Oregon either mail in ballots or put them in drop-off boxes.