Recall petitions for four Hermiston City Council members and Mayor Bob Severson were turned in to City Recorder Robert Irby on Wednesday.
Hermiston Governmental Reform Committee spokesperson Cindy Littlefield said the five petitions each had approximately 700 signatures, far more than the 508 valid signatures that will be required to send the issue to an election.
Council members named on the petitions are Rod Hardin, Frank Harkenrider, Joe Harn and Jackie Myers.
Wednesday was the deadline for the petitions to be submitted.
“It’s now in the citizens’ hands,” Littlefield said. “They will now have the opportunity to vote on it in the privacy of their homes.”
There are several more steps in the process, however, that must be taken before an election is held.
Irby will review the documents to make sure they have been correctly signed and dated by the chief petitioner (Littlefield) before forwarding them to the Umatilla County Elections office. Irby said he planned to get the petitions to Pendleton today or Friday.
County Elections Manager Patty Chapman said once her office receives the petitions, she has 10 days to validate signatures. Signatures must be from Hermiston residents who were registered voters on the day they signed the petitions.
If the petitions have enough valid signatures, Chapman said the next step is to notify the chief petitioner and the officials who have been targeted for recall. The elected officials then have five days to either offer their resignation or submit a rebuttal that will be printed on the ballot.
After that, the city must schedule an election within the next 35 days. A successful recall requires a simple majority of the ballots cast.
Chapman said the elections would likely be held in early June.
Late Wednesday afternoon, City Attorney Gary Luisi said those targeted in the recall would be notified, but he added, “I don’t know if they’ve been notified yet.”
Severson’s term expires at the end of 2012 and he is not running for re-election. Hardin and Harn are both at-large councilmen whose terms also end this year. Myers and Harkenrider both represent wards and are slated to serve through 2014.
The recall is the first of its kind in Hermiston history. Citizen discontent rose last fall over City Hall’s handling of complaints from police department employees about then-Police Chief Dan Coulombe, and there was more controversy later in the year when the council chose to extend the contract of City Manager Ed Brookshier.
The petitions were filed in January. In a letter to the Hermiston Herald, HGRC members said the recall occurred because of council members’ “negligence regarding the oversight of the Hermiston Police Department, dishonesty when denying they know about the problems at the police department, violating the public’s trust, refusing to take responsibility or admit mistakes, practicing cronyism and rewarding bad behavior, being dismissive of valid public opinions, and being disrespectful towards Hermiston citizens.”
Littlefield said she believes the petitions will “send a message” to City Hall.
“People on the council and the mayor have referred to us as ill-informed and narrow-minded,” she said. “We were called a small group of agitators. I think the number of signatures proves that a significant number of people aren’t happy with the way the city council has conducted business.”
Littlefield did say some people questioned why Severson was targeted, as he will be out of office at the end of the year regardless of the recall outcome.
“Our response has been that we believe our city government must be held accountable,” she said. “We hope it sets an example and standard for our city government in the future.”