Morrow County Residents Submit Petition to Recall All Commissioners

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Stuart Dick, of Irrigon, holds the total vote to start a recall petition for Morrow County commissioners Feb. 5, 2024, following a town hall meeting in Boardman. Ten audience members voted against a recall and 29 voted for a recall. Dick on May 9 submitted three completed petitions to recall the county commissioners. (Yasser Marte/East Oregonian file photo)

A recall election could be on the this summer for all three Morrow County commissioner.

Stuart Dick, of Irrigon, is one of the residents leading the recall effort. He said he turned in more than 720 signatures for each petition to Morrow County Clerk Bobbi Childers on Thursday, May 9.

“Our people worked gathering signatures, there was a dozen or more people that just worked their tails off to make this happen,” he said. “It was just a lot of people really working with me all through the county.”

Dick oversees a Facebook group, Morrow County Citizens for Liberty and Justice, on which he posts updates and offers commentary, as do other members of the group. Dick, through the group, also hosted town halls in late January and early February in each city in the county to gauge community interest in a recall.

“I was hoping the meetings were going to resolve the issues and give us some assurance, and that failed miserably,” he said. “So unfortunately the recall process started, and now it’s come to a conclusion, and now the county clerk will verify the signatures.”

The recall process

Dick filed the three prospective recall petitions on Feb. 15, one each for the three county commissioners, David Sykes, Jeff Wenholz and Roy Drago Jr.

Roy Drago Jr.

He then had 90 days to collect at least 613 valid signatures per petition — 15% of voters in the last gubernatorial election — to successfully initiate a county-wide recall vote.

The petition against Sykes had 725, Drago’s had 726 and Wenholz’s had 748, according to Dick’s count.

Childers now has 30 days to verify every signature. With the primary election coming up on May 21, she said it likely will take her until early June to complete the process.

The last recall petition, which occurred in 2022, had approximately 60 or so signatures deemed invalid.

David Sykes

If fewer than 613 signatures are valid, then the recall process stops. But if at least 613 are valid on a given petition, the commissioner named on that petition will have to decide whether to resign within five days or provide a 200-word statement of justification to be printed on the ballot and face a vote.

A recall vote must take place no later than 40 days after the petition signatures are validated, so it’s possible there won’t be a final outcome on the recall process for about two months.

Jeff Wenholz

“For people that love Morrow County and love Eastern Oregon, to me, it’s been a very positive time to be able to commune with people,” Dick said. “I’m not saying I want to do it again, the process was exhausting and time consuming, but it turned out to be very positive.”

The primary election

Complicating matters, Drago is running to keep his seat on the county’s board of commissioners, and may be voted out of office anyway during the May 21 primary. Regardless of the outcome, he could be recalled.

A commissioner candidate needs at least 50% of the vote plus one to win the election. With four candidates running — Kelly Doherty, Richard Drake and Gus Peterson, in addition to Drago — Childers said “hardly ever” would one of them win enough of the vote to have the election decided in the primary. Instead, the two candidates with the most votes will move on to the general election in November.

“The top two vote-getters would, safely, in my brain, go on to November,” Childers said. “This is just breaking the pack up.”

If Drago is not in the top two during this election, he could be recalled for the last few months of his term, which ends in January 2025. If he wins a majority in the primary vote or the general election, then he still could be recalled for the final months of his current term, but would be reinstated again in January 2025, when the new term begins.

A recall is only valid for the current term, so if he wins the election and people want to recall him again, they would have to wait six months and a day to start the process over.

Drago said he would not resign if enough signatures are verified to go to a vote. He wants to maintain his role as commissioner.

“If they’ve got enough valid signatures to take it to a vote, I guess we’ll have to let the people make the decisions,” he said. “I have fears that recalls have become just an avenue for people if they don’t agree with you, but all of the issues that were being petitioned of us are issues that we inherited when we took the position a year and a half ago and we’re in the process of trying to fix these issues.”

Sykes echoed Drago’s position. He and Wenholz keep their seats on the board of commissioners until January 2027. Commissioners serve four-year terms, so a recall would cut their terms short by about two and a half years,.

Wenholz said he will wait to comment until signatures have been verified.

Sykes said there’s not much to say about the petition being turned in for signature verification, since the recall could still stop short of success, but if it does go through, he’s planning to fight for his seat.

“I’m not going to resign,” he said. “I’m going to wait and see what happens, see if he gets the required signatures and go from there.”

1 COMMENT

  1. In this entire article, you didn’t recap the purpose of this. What issues prompted this recall effort? You assume everyone understands the nitrate issues?

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