Vote to recall John Day Mayor Heather Rookstool holds lead

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
Jan. 18, 2024 10:52 p.m.

Removal of the Eastern Oregon mayor, who is facing a criminal complaint from local residents, will be made official Jan. 23

FILE - A ballot drop box outside the Grant County Sheriff's Department, August 29, 2019.

FILE - A ballot drop box outside the Grant County Sheriff's Department, August 29, 2019.

Emily Cureton Cook / OPB

Voters in John Day, Oregon, are on track to oust their mayor a year after she took office.


According to early results posted Tuesday night by the Grant County Clerk’s Office, backers to remove John Day Mayor Heather Rookstool from office are ahead 252-224. Although the county could still receive and process votes that were mailed by Election Day, Grant County Clerk Brenda Percy said it was very unlikely there were enough outstanding votes to change the outcome of the election.

When contacted, Rookstool said she was at work and couldn’t speak. She didn’t return a call requesting comment later.

Related: A mayoral race in John Day heats up, along with questions about city’s future

Savannah Lovell, a city employee and a member of the recall committee, said she was happy with the results, but felt that it was only a “first step” in improving John Day, a city that has been wobbled by political infighting among government officials.

Should the results hold, the John Day City Council will appoint a new mayor to replace Rookstool. But, because of a great deal of turnover on the council, most of the councilors making the appointment were never elected themselves, Lovell said.


“The majority of our council has been appointed to vacant positions,” she said. “Most of our council has been appointed by other members of our council, and that’s concerning because then you have a group of non-elected people choosing their own leader.”

Criminal complaint against Rookstool

Rookstool was elected in November 2022 and almost immediately clashed with city employees and some city councilors when she took office a couple of months later.

Some John Day residents behind the recall effort backed a criminal complaint made against Rookstool in September. The complaint alleges Rookstool falsified documents, violated public meeting laws and interfered with public records requests. It characterizes these actions as her effort to assume the day-to-day responsibilities of the city manager while the position was vacant.

These residents contended that Rookstool’s actions created instability in John Day, leading to resignations on the city council and in city hall. In turn, the instability was affecting the quality and availability of city services.

Related: Former John Day employees file criminal complaint against mayor

Rookstool pushed back against these accusations after her critics pivoted to a recall campaign. In a justification statement, Rookstool wrote that the recall committee’s accusations were both untrue and without evidence.

In the short term, Lovell expects city operations to stabilize with the addition of new city manager Melissa Bethel, who started work earlier this month.

Rookstool’s recall will be made official Jan. 23, when Percy will certify the election results. But Lovell will already be looking ahead to November when John Day holds its next round of municipal elections. Two seats belonging to appointed councilors will be on the ballot, but the next mayor won’t be up for election until 2026.

“I just hope that the success of the recall changes the tone of the city and changes the feelings of the voters towards the city,” she said.