Oregon’s Morrow County sets recall date for commissioners

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
Nov. 12, 2022 1 p.m.

Motives behind recall include city administrator firing and ambulance dispute

Election Day was Tuesday, but election season won’t end in Morrow County until the end of November.

On Nov. 29, Morrow County voters will decide whether to recall two out of their three commissioners. If Commissioner Jim Doherty is recalled, it will shave two years off his term. If voters also oust Commissioner Melissa Lindsay, it will only cut down her political career by about one month.


Recall supporters are trying to remove Lindsay and Doherty for a wide variety of reasons, including the controversial firing of the county administrator, ambulance service in the Boardman area and their response to nitrate contamination in the north end of the county.

With the third commissioner retiring at the end of the year, Morrow County could see an entirely new board of commissioners in January should the recalls succeed.

The case for recall

Both ranchers by trade, Doherty and Lindsay were elected in 2016.

Doherty narrowly beat an incumbent to take his seat and then easily won a second term in 2020. Lindsay was elected county judge right as the county’s top elected body was transitioning from a court, where an elected judge acted as chief executive and governed with two commissioners, to a three-person board of commissioners that delegates day-to-day management to a county administrator.

Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty is showing Silvia Hernandez her well water test results for nitrates which exceeded the federal safe drinking water limits by nearly five times on April 15, 2022.

FILE: Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty is shown here with resident Silvia Hernandez on April 15, 2022.

Monica Samayoa / OPB

As a part of that transition, Lindsay was elected to a special six-year term in a landslide. Lindsay was less fortunate when she returned to the ballot for the first time in May, losing by a handful of votes to Planning Commissioner Jeff Wenholz.

While Doherty and Lindsay had plenty of time to build up political records, recall petitioner Ann Spicer said she became motivated to change the board over the summer. In an interview, the chief petitioner for the Doherty recall said Morrow County couldn’t wait any longer to replace them.

“The motivating factor for me was realizing how much damage is being done to the county, by the two people who are subject to the recall,” she said.

Spicer also has a political history in Morrow County, having served as the county’s district attorney and justice of the peace before retiring at the end of 2018.

In her latter role, Spicer said she sometimes came into conflict with the commissioners over their desire to have the court increase revenue from the cases it hears. But that didn’t seem to be the primary factor for the recall petitioners or their supporters.

In the two recall petitions, supporters criticize Lindsay and Doherty for a lack of transparency, unprofessional behavior and not acting in the best interest of the county. The only specific instance mentioned in the Lindsay petition referenced the firing of county administrator Darrell Green in June.

At that meeting, Doherty and Lindsay formed the majority needed to terminate Green.

“The action of firing the Morrow County Administrator, with no transparency, refusing to let the public speak, or answer the Administrators (sic) questions about why he was sitting there, made it clear that in the remaining time of her tenure, this behavior would continue and could cause added financial burdens to our county,” the petition states. “To prevent irreversible damage, an immediate recall is the only answer.”

Green followed up by suing Morrow County for wrongful termination in August. According to Green’s lawsuit, the firing came down to a case of mistaken nepotism.

In May 2021, he signed a nepotism agreement with the county promising that he would not be involved in any personnel matters involving his wife, who worked as an office assistant in the public health department, according to the complaint.


Less than three months later, the public health director filed a complaint with the county alleging Green retaliated against him for reprimanding Green’s wife. Green claims in the lawsuit that he was instead expressing concern about unrelated issues involving falsified health charts and lapsed COVID-19 protocols.

An investigation into Green followed over the next few months, a period Green alleges the commissioners met illegally to discuss it. In May, he was notified that he had violated the nepotism agreement and in June, Doherty and Lindsay voted to fire him.

In its response, the county denied Green’s claims about his talk with the public health director and the commissioners meeting illegally. Through his attorney, Loren Collins, Green declined to comment about the lawsuit and the recall.

Spicer said Green’s termination was hypocritical because the commissioners turned a blind eye to nepotism in other departments where supervisors oversaw their significant others. She declined to name which county departments where that was a problem.

“If they were consistent, I wouldn’t consider it a problem. But they’re not,” she said. “They enforce it when they want to get rid of somebody. If they don’t care, then they don’t do anything.”

Green’s firing wasn’t Spicer’s only complaint.

She said the commissioners have failed to act on permitting more ambulances in the north end of the county, an issue she said is partially related to an ongoing dispute between the Morrow County Health District and the Boardman Fire District over who gets to provide ambulance service to the Boardman area.

Spicer also critiqued Doherty’s response to Morrow County’s nitrate emergency, which left many residents without safe drinking water. While Doherty has been front and center in testing wells and speaking out about the issue, Spicer said he’s doing it opportunistically to build political support with the county’s Latino community.

“I don’t have a problem with the Hispanic citizens being treated appropriately, but he’s not following through and solving the problem for them,” she said.

Spicer said she was less involved in the effort to recall Lindsay, who is set to leave office in early January. Corol Mitchell, the chief petitioner on the Lindsay recall, could not be reached for comment.

The commissioners’ defense

In their statements justifying why they shouldn’t be recalled, Doherty and Lindsay defended their records and took a defiant tone against the recall campaign.

“Vote NO on recall – reject the divisive silencing elitism that is turning us against one another,” Lindsay wrote.

In an interview, Lindsay explained why she decided to face the recall with only a few months left in her term.

“It’s disheartening to spend taxpayer money for something that may only change my situation by a few weeks, but I think I have to stand up for my reputation,” she said. “It’s my reputation at stake and six years of really, really hard work.”

Doherty said recalls should be reserved for “unspeakable things” and the campaign to remove him from office was a response to his political stances.

“There’s no place in this county for greed and corruption and racism and some of the things that I’ve had to call out, and if I had to do it over again, frankly, I’d have done it sooner and stronger,” he said.

Doherty said he was getting especially strong opposition from the boards and commissions for the Boardman Fire District and Port of Morrow. The petition signatures reflect that: Signers include members of the fire district board and the port commission.

Should Morrow County voters recall both commissioners, it could create a situation where Don Russell would be the only commissioner left standing. Russell declined to run for reelection and will retire from the board when his term ends in early January.

County counsel Justin Nelson said the county needs at least two commissioners to maintain a quorum, and that quorum is necessary to approve expenses and payroll. While two new commissioners will take office in January, the board would be unable to operate in December if only Russell remained.

Nelson said he still needs to complete research on the issue, but he anticipates that Gov. Kate Brown will be responsible for filling one of the empty seats. After that, it would be at the discretion of the commissioners on whether to fill the third seat immediately or wait until 2023 when the newcomers are sworn in.