COTTAGE GROVE – With only 46 more days on chief petitioner Michael Borke’s shot clock to gather every signature needed for the recall petitions against councilors Jon Stinnett, Mike Fleck, and Chalice Savage, tensions are rising in Cottage Grove.
Signatures and speculation
Borke needs 654 verifiable signatures per petition to trigger a special election this winter, which could cost over $15,000, according to Savage. To err on the safe side, he said he is collecting 800 to ensure at least 654 will be verified by city recorder and elections official Mindy Roberts. He said he is about halfway to 800, putting him at about 400 signatures collected.
There has been speculation that the timing of this potential special election is suspicious given city manager Richard Meyers’ quickly-approaching retirement on Sept. 30, which has caused the City to begin recruiting a new city manager.
Although Meyers announced his retirement on July 10, and Borke submitted his paperwork on July 20, Borke denied this theory being anything other than a theory. Borke said his reason for doing so is that Stinnett, Fleck, and Savage are not adequately representing Cottage Grove taxpayers, especially regarding how they vote on issues that concern the unhoused population.
There has also been speculation that Borke is working toward a councilor recall so that he can take one of those three spots, but Borke denied this as well.
“I’m not a political guy, nor do I want to be political. I have no aspirations with anything in city government,” Borke said. “What I’m supporting is a fundamental shift in change with our city – away from what we’ve been doing because it’s not working – and that’s all I’m looking for.”
The City’s response
On Aug. 28, Mayor Candace Solesbee announced that city council is not a united front against Borke’s endeavor to get Stinnett, Fleck, and Savage removed from office. She said some councilors and staff have been pressuring her to condemn this recall effort.
Solesbee stated that she has not been involved with the recall efforts, though she does not denounce them either.
“It’s improper for the mayor to make a public statement opposing or supporting a recall,” Solsebee said. “I believe in the constitutional right of people to choose their elected officials and to recall – even if it was for me, it’s their constitutional right, and in the end, it should always be the constituents that decide.”
Stinnett, Fleck, and Savage declined comment in rebuttal to Solesbee’s statement, but councilor Dana Merryday felt her statement called him out without mentioning him by name when she said: “I also received several phone calls and emails from a councilor urging me to clarify and come out against this so that we could unite the council… and he referred to the citizens that are doing this as ‘misguided’ on Facebook.”
“I regret that I did not have the wherewithal to respond to the mayor that night, and I woke up in the morning kicking myself for failing to address being referred to via innuendo,” Merryday said.
Merryday first reached out to Solesbee on Aug. 10 via email, emphasizing that she should comment on Borke’s statement made on KNND.
“She is a guarded supporter,” Borke said on KNND on Aug. 7. “I think she will be a supporter of any change that has a positive direction, and I’ll leave that at that.” Solesbee did not mention what was said of her on the KNND show in her statement made during the council meeting.
Regarding the “misguided” comment, Merryday said that was taken completely out of context. He started a Facebook group called “Save The Grove,” which started as a satirical site about The Grove Bar & Grill.
In the Aug. 12 Facebook post Solesbee is referencing, “Save The Grove” wrote: “A misguided group of ‘concerned’ citizens is attempting to use the recall process to remove our beloved drinking spot from its legally elected position for no valid reason.” It goes on to use information from Borke’s petition framed in a comical manner that states it’s in poor taste to close down the bar.
Solesbee was unavailable for further comment before the print deadline.
As the clock ticks, Cottage Grove residents await a verdict on if Borke is successful in gathering 654 verifiable signatures per petition, which would trigger the special election. The deadline for Borke to submit the collected signatures is 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23.