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Council critic calls recall effort 'a mistake'

JACKSONVILLE — The number of targets in a Jan. 18 recall vote has dwindled from three city officials to one City Council member, and a government critic says booting the remaining member, Councilwoman Donna Schatz, would be a mistake.

"I'd say she's pretty bullet-proof," said Art Krueger, who serves on the town's Planning Commission and is also on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

"It's a mistake," added Krueger, who has been critical of city property purchases and other fiscal issues. "She's a solid member of the City Council. She votes prudently in every incident I've seen."

Ballots will go in the mail Monday and need to be returned by Jan 18. Ballots were originally to have been mailed Friday, but postal workers who would normally handle the bulk mailing were off due to the New Year's holiday, said Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker.

Hubert Smith led the recall petition drive to remove Mayor Bruce Garrett, Schatz and Councilman Paul Becker from office. Garrett resigned Dec. 17 after enough valid signatures were submitted to force a vote. Becker's recall was dropped by Smith after he and Becker met privately. There were 295 verified signatures collected to recall Schatz, exceeding the 236 minimum.

Smith claimed in the recall petitions the council didn't pay attention to public desires and did not manage city funds prudently.

A vote by the City Council in June to raise a fire department surcharge by $11 was cited as a key reason for the recall. Voters in May had turned down a more costly hybrid surcharge and levy to fund the department, which city officials said would have run out of money this fiscal year without an increase.

The surcharge increase also allowed the fire department to increase personnel. Smith has claimed a volunteer fire department could be created to reduce costs.

"In terms of Donna Schatz, I feel that that's another knee-jerk reaction on one citizen's part, although I understand where he's coming from," said Krueger, referring to Smith. "I think he's accomplished his mission, he and others, by causing Bruce Garrett to resign. I think (the recall) is a waste of the city's time and money and energy."

City Recorder Jan Garcia said the estimated cost of the recall election will be $1,500 to $2,000. The city must bear the costs incurred by the county clerk's office, which runs the election.

Schatz was preparing a letter Thursday to send to certified voters who signed her recall petition.

"As the recall developed, the issue seemed to be the fire department that this group was unhappy about," said Schatz. She said her letter will lay out what happened chronologically and ask them to reconsider their position.

Schatz said she'd favor putting another measure to support the fire department up for voter consideration.

"I'm not a council person who says, 'OK, you've elected me, I'll make the decisions,' " said Schatz. "You've got to find out what the community wants or is willing to support. It just takes a lot of time."

Schatz has served on the council since 1995 and was elected to four-year terms in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. She has been an advocate for senior-citizen issues.

"Why would she continue to be re-elected if the people didn't care and didn't respect her," said Terri Gieg, a veteran town supporter and event coordinator with the Chamber of Commerce.

"She's served our city for so long and so entirely," said Gieg. "I refused to sign the recall."

Fiscal critic and former Budget Committee member Russ Kennedy said he likely will vote to remove Schatz.

"I think I would vote to have her recalled," said Kennedy. "I want to send a strong message to Jacksonville that major changes have to be made in the City Council and the city government."

Kennedy said he's concerned about increasing employee numbers and salary increases and wants to see more fiscal responsibility.

But Krueger, who himself has often been critical of the council, said he would like to see Smith spend his time on other issues.

"It's a waste of Hubert's energy. I could give him a lot of better directions to go that are more productive," said Krueger.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.