COTTAGE GROVE — At the center of a recall effort that’s been underway since July, Mike Fleck is the last among a trio of Cottage Grove City Councilors to cast a sigh of relief.
“Lane County election officials conducted signature verification on Nov. 17 and found there to be an insufficient number of signatures to qualify for the ballot … (Fleck’s) recall petition is void,” according to Mindy Roberts, city recorder.
Councilors Chalice Savage and Jon Stinnett were also up for recall, but those petitions were ruled out in late October because they didn’t receive enough signatures by deadline to make it to the elections office for consideration, Roberts said.
Chief petitioner Michael Borke, a Cottage Grove resident, said that he filed the three recall petitions because the councilors had not served the taxpayers of Cottage Grove in their best interests — particularly around the management of the unhoused situation in the city. That opinion propelled him into his recall efforts, tabling in parking lots to gather signatures from other like-minded citizens.
Borke had to gather 15% of the votes from the last gubernatorial election, which was 4,356 votes — or 654 verifiable signatures for each councilor. Fleck’s verifiable signature count fell short by 191 votes.
Borke said he expected as much.
“We knew going into it with only nine signatures above what the threshold was to begin with, that we weren’t going to make (the recall petition stick,)” he said. “Basically, he got off on a technicality, and it’s my fault.”
The technicality, Borke said, is chalked up to copier error on the petition sheets that outlined the parameters for the recall, including who is being recalled and the reason for it.
“Some of those pages didn’t print at all, others printed sideways,” Borke said. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
Instead, he said he used this attempt to learn about the recall process for future attempts, which, according to Borke, “will definitely happen.”
For Fleck, his sigh of relief has been somewhat tarnished with apprehension of what’s still to come.
“I am happy to have this process end, but concerned that there hasn’t actually been a resolution,” Fleck said. “The chief petitioner has said that they will try again. I would rather have discussions about alternatives. I am always open to having discussions and would welcome the dialog.”
While Borke said that the reattempt to recall Savage, Fleck, and Stinnett is “still open for discussion,” he may be switching his attention to other councilors.
“We will probably be going through another recall, but it probably won’t be on the same three (councilors),” Borke said, declining to comment further. “I’m just going to dangle that carrot.”
When it comes to Fleck’s invitation for discussion and dialog, Borke said he’s been there, done that, with no results.
“I went to every single city council meeting that they had for over six months and told (council) what my thoughts were. They took nothing and did nothing,” Borke said. “Only when I said I am going to start a recall that they actually wanted to start talking. I’ve talked to a bunch of (the councilors) and they still have come back with nothing.”
Anyone who is a registered voter in the district where the public officer was elected or appointed can go through the 11-step prospective recall petition process laid out in Oregon’s Secretary of State’s recall manual, though it’s an effort not commonly seen in the Grove — in at least over two decades.
“The recall process is supposed to be used to remove someone from office who has done something wrong, not as a tool to push a political agenda,” Fleck said of this process. “To my knowledge, none of the councilors named in the recalls have done anything wrong and are working hard to find solutions to very difficult situations.”
Borke rejected the statement that this initiative was politically-driven.
“I get a lot of people asking me that, saying (these councilors) have done nothing wrong,” Borke said. “Well, they’re put on council to represent the people. They’re not falling in line with what the residents want. Shame on them.”
He added that the recall process, “has nothing to do with what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s about what they’re doing — the scope of what their job is. You can be a great person and do nothing wrong but be terrible at your job. So then you’ve got to get rid of them. That’s my point.”
Fleck said that, in an unpaid position that receives “a ton of grief,” city councilors like himself serve because they love their town and hope to make decisions that meet the needs of all citizens.
Being a councilor “is not an easy task and one that never receives support from every citizen. I believe we need responsible representatives that serve our city with honor and integrity. I believe I am that representative,” Fleck said. “This is why the recall process has been hard on me.”
Borke is also working with the city attorney to file at least four initiatives that he hopes to bring to council for consideration in the future.
“The initiatives are typically changing either the bylaws at the city or basic laws within the City of Cottage Grove,” he said.
Those initiatives, in short, include:
• Barring drug use on public property;
• Changing the voting process as it relates to councilors’ wards;
• Changing the process to fill council vacancies, which would prompt an election to fill any vacant positions on council, rather than candidates being appointed by council to fill the position;
• And addressing the homeless situation as it relates to dusk-to-dawn camping.
If council declines his initiatives, he said he’ll be gunning to get them on the ballot for the next election cycle.