EDITORIAL: Why We're Voting "NO" on Gilliam Co. Recall Elections

Gilliam County voters will receive ballots for the special recall election of Judge Elizabeth Farrar Campbell and Commissioner Pat Shannon on April 10.

We will be voting “No” on both.

There is no doubt that the Gilliam County Court unleashed discord when it passed resolution 2023-01 in December. That order stripped the county court of its judicial functions. The court then held listening sessions and discussed the potential of changing the county’s governing structure to a board of commissioners. The court looked to get a legislative fix and approached lawmakers in Salem.

Ultimately, the county court yielded and rescinded a portion of the order. The judicial function of the county judge was reestablished, and we will continue to have a county judge and two commissioners as our leaders.

Yes, the court’s actions cost months of time and resources that could have been spent on its strategic initiatives. But none of us should panic.

The recall petitioners have stated that 2023-01 was an “illegal order.” That is not true. Only a judge and the State of Oregon can determine this. The county’s legal counsel believed that the order was legal and was prepared to take the issue to court. Other legal opinions, including from Gilliam County’s outgoing District Attorney and an attorney hired by the group Frontier Justice, thought otherwise.

But that’s all in the rearview mirror. The court decided that the legal battle wasn’t worth it and dropped the case. Unfortunately, the recall campaign against Judge Farrar Campbell and Commissioner Shannon failed to follow suit.

While the court’s decisions in December resulted in chaos and division in the county, the recall election has upped the ante with the potential to bring only more chaos.

As far as we can tell, everything that the county court has done in recent months can be undone. A future court could return juvenile court jurisdiction to the county. The strategic initiatives of this court can be changed in the next court. Staffing structures can be modified.

With primary elections just six weeks away, voters should be engaging with candidates and focusing on the issues.

We agree that the court played some questionable cards. Yet we wonder about some of the actions on the recall side as well.

For example, signatures for the recall petitions were gathered from seniors outside of the County Mealsites in Condon and Arlington. Signatures were also collected from county employees on county property.

But more importantly, the recall petition is long on opinions and short on substance. “Failed to show leadership” is an example. Another example amounts to elected officials and department heads getting their feelings hurt. The petitions also reference the “illegal court order,” which again, can only be determined by a judge and the State of Oregon.

We believe that recall elections have an important role to play in our democracy. Should an elected official pose an existential threat, they can be removed by the people. But such actions should be taken as a last resort and only when there is a clear and present danger. Is an elected official cooking the books? Are there documented examples of fraud? Have there been inappropriate workplace relationships? Are they failing to attend required meetings, pass budgets, or the like?

None of the issues presented by the recall petitioners are at that level – most are “almost” and “nearly” – which as we all know only count in horseshoes and hand grenades.

But in all seriousness, there has been enough chaos in the past four months in Gilliam County. We don’t need to double down. Replacing two-thirds of the court, especially during budget season, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Now is the time to return to order and to prepare for the future. Judge Farrar Campbell is leaving office in January. Voters can choose their preferred candidates and decide which way the county goes with the midterm elections for County Judge and County Commissioner #2 next month.

I look forward to the upcoming midterm and general elections and seeing who will become our next Judge and Commissioner in 2025.

But we will be voting “NO” on the recall and urge you to do the same.

 

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