The Morrow County Board of Commissioners could go dark for the last couple of weeks of the year because it doesn’t have enough members.
With only a few days before the county certifies the Nov. 29 special election, Morrow County commissioners Jim Doherty and Melissa Lindsay are in line to be recalled from office, and the gaps have only grown since election night.
County counsel Justin Nelson said he expects the county to certify the election by 5 p.m., Dec. 20, which would lead to the immediate removal of Doherty and Lindsay from office if results hold. With Commissioner Don Russell the only member left on the board, Nelson said the board wouldn’t have a quorum to hold its weekly meetings, where commissioners routinely approve the county’s bills and accounts payable.
In her last weeks in office, Gov. Kate Brown has the authority to appoint a commissioner to restore the quorum, but Nelson said the county hasn’t received confirmation that she will make an appointment before her term expires in January.
In an email, Brown spokesman Charles Boyle didn’t say whether the governor would make an appointment or not.
“Our office is aware of this situation, and we are in conversations with the county about what next steps can potentially be taken after the election is certified,” he wrote.
In the meantime, Nelson said the commissioners are discussing meeting just before the election certification in case the board goes on hiatus.
While the board is at risk of temporary closure, Nelson said county services will otherwise continue uninterrupted since most other departments are managed by independent offices.
The county is also aided by the calendar. With two new commissioners set to start on Jan. 4, the board of commissioners would only shut down for two weeks without an appointment.
Nelson said counties and the state need to prepare for emergencies where multiple elected officials leave office and deny quorum. While the situation will resolve itself in a couple of weeks, Nelson said it would be a lot more difficult if the recall election happened earlier.
“If this happens, what’s your plan?” he said.
Recall petitioners listed a number of reasons they wanted to rid the county government of Lindsay and Doherty, but an ongoing conflict with the Boardman Fire District came to the forefront in the days leading up to the recall. District officials accused the commissioners of blocking their application to expand their services to include ambulance service.
The ongoing issue is also noted in a complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office filed by Lindsey.
Lindsay wrote that fire district employees broke state election law by influencing the recall election.
“The Chief, Board and employees of (the district) have used publicly owned property, their status position and names and Real property as well as public services to solicit and campaign for the recall of County Commissioners using public funds and resources,” she wrote.
In the days leading up to Nov. 29, the fire district displayed a sign on a parked ambulance accusing Doherty and Lindsay of refusing “to let us use our ambulances.”
In the complaint, Lindsay also accuses the district and its board of using its Facebook page to campaign for the recall and making pro-recall signs. During the campaign, several signs featured an ambulance with the message, “Make a stand for safety.”
In an interview, Boardman Fire Chief Mike Hughes maintained that the district only made “neutral statements” and Lindsay’s allegations were incorrect.
“That’s against Oregon state law and that’s just not something we are going to do,” he said.
Secretary of state spokesman Ben Morris wrote that the office is still reviewing the complaint before it decides to investigate.