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Commissioners stand ground as recall moves forward

Three Ashland Parks and Recreation commissioners said they won't be resigning after Jackson County Clerk officials confirmed Friday afternoon a sufficient number of signatures were collected to initiate a recall.

Commissioners Jim Lewis, Mike Gardiner and Rick Landt are subjects of a recall effort after parks commission unanimously approved in August a reorganization that resulted in the dismissal of former Senior Center manager, Chris Dodson.

Reached by phone Friday night, they said they will enter the recall elections.

"I am not planning to resign. If I resigned, that would indicate that I did something wrong," Landt said. "I have done nothing to warrant a recall, which is normally reserved for illegality, corruption or unethical behavior. My offense was making a tough decision for what I believe was in the best interest of the community. "

Gardiner said he will file his letter of justification by Feb. 7 — the deadline to submit a letter of justification to be included on the ballot.

"There will be more information coming out ... to set the records straight," Gardiner said.

The city of Ashland is responsible to pay for the election that has been estimated between $25,000 and $30,000, according to information from the Jackson County Clerk's office. The deadline to hold the special election is March 14.

The petitions, filed by Mary Sundberg, Mary Canfield and Avram Chetron and supported by a group called Ashland Support Our Seniors, are required to collect at least 1,566 verified signatures from Ashland registered voters for each recall.  According to the results, available on the city's website, petitioners collected 1,809 accepted signatures for Lewis' petition, 1,812 for Gardiner's, and 1,796 for Landt's.

The petitions claim that the parks commissioners mismanaged parks’ $9 million annual budget, mismanaged personnel, repeatedly failed to follow Oregon Public Meetings Law, approved spending $230,000 on a consultant for Lithia Park with disregard for public concern, and ignored two specific recommendations from a 2016 performance audit regarding making changes within the department.

Lewis disputed the claims in the petition and said he will seek legal action against the statements. Reached by phone Friday night, Lewis said he will be filing a letter of justification.

"There's no smoking gun here," Lewis said, adding that the petitioners are using tactic of "shaming and demeaning" and accused the commissioners of false claims.

Lewis said parks commission has passed independent audits for a number of years and that the city recorder is responsible for notifying about public meetings and recording the meetings' minutes.

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