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Recall fails, commissioners retain their seats

Ashland citizens have voted to retain all three parks commissioners targeted in a special recall election Tuesday, a drive prompted by backlash over a decision to reorganize the Senior Center, discharge its longtime director, and how the transition was handled.

Three commissioners, Jim Lewis, Mike Gardiner and Rick Landt, will keep their seats after each won handily Tuesday evening.

According to unofficial results at 7:52 p.m., 4,986 Ashland voters — or 32.81 percent of voters registered — had cast their ballots. Lewis received 3,502 votes in his favor and 1,476 votes for the recall. Gardiner got 3,496 votes in his favor and 1,477 votes for the recall. Landt received 3,506 votes saying "no" on the recall and 1,469 votes for the recall.

“It’s a very good thing for the city and for Ashland Parks and Recreation,” Gardiner said after learning about the election result from the Tidings. “We have a lot of important things and decisions going on.”

“I’m also planning to reach out to the opposition,” Gardiner added. “I want to try to be more inclusive and accepting of our community. I thought we have been, but there’s a number of people in the community who don’t think that. I want to change that.”

Landt and Lewis didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from the Tidings about the results.

Ashland Support Our Seniors, a group supporting and organizing the recall effort, sent out a press release stating the group is “not going away and will continue to shine the spotlight on actions that affect citizens.”

“We will be watching what the elected officials do, rather than what they say,” the release reads. “We have reminded the public of what the Parks Commissioners are elected to do. … We will not be ignored.”

The recall election was launched in November after the parks commission voted last year to reorganize the Senior Center and oust the center’s manager of 10 years, Chris Dodson.

Dodson has sent a tort claim notice to the city, claiming that she was wrongfully dismissed. Four part-time employees resigned in protest of the decision. The city hasn’t received any lawsuit as of Tuesday evening.

Ashland Support Our Seniors quickly formed after the August vote to organize rallies, collect information and gather signatures from voters to launch the recall.

The petitions, filed by Mary Sundberg, Avram Chetron and Mary Canfield, claim parks commissioners mismanaged funds and personnel, violated public meetings law and disregarded public input and audit recommendations.

Lewis, claiming the petitions included false statements, filed a formal complaint in February to the secretary of state, alleging the petition claims were untrue. Lewis said he expected to see progress of his complaint after the election.

Several City Councilors — and many community members — have spoken out in support of the parks commissioners.

“This outcome is a resounding repudiation of mean-spirited local politics," Councilor Rich Rosenthal, who is also Medford parks and recreation director, said in a written statement. "This is a powerful signal that working for change through the traditional public process is the preferred manner to have civic discourse on important matters facing the community.”

The failed recall allows the parks commissioners to retain its quorum for a regular meeting on March 26, where the commission is scheduled to vote on the full list of recommendations that will fully reorganize the Senior Center.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.