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Recalling tax assessor not an easy process

Why does it seem an elected official such as county tax assessor can make a huge mistake of hundreds of thousands of dollars with seemingly no consequences? Private industry would have some kind of consequence.

― Sheri, Medford

If one were interested in launching a recall petition against an elected official in Jackson County (say the tax assessor), what is the process for doing so?

― Anonymous in Ashland

Jackson County Tax Assessor David Arrasmith has been in the news this month after missing an error on Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors’ tax bills that caused them to underpay their taxes by $466,000.

County workers will have to recalculate all their bills and contact fire survivors to tell them they owe money. The amount could be reduced by about $100,000 if a bill passes in the Oregon Legislature that’s meant to aid survivors of fires that swept the state in September 2020.

The latest tax error comes on top of two errors Arrasmith missed in 2018 that affected tens of thousands of tax accounts, causing frustration for taxpayers and massive amounts of additional work for county staff.

In 2018, the Jackson County Budget Committee withheld a raise from Arrasmith because of the 2018 errors.

Voters elected Arrasmith in 2016, and then again in 2020. With the second election, they had their chance to punish him for the 2018 mistakes by choosing a different candidate, but he was reelected.

The error affecting fire survivors’ tax bills hadn’t yet come to light this year when the Jackson County Budget Committee approved a cost-of-living raise for Arrasmith that takes effect this summer plus a raise for gaining experience on the job that takes effect in January 2022.

His annual salary of $116,646 will grow to $124,966 in January 2022.

The Oregon Department of Revenue discovered the billing error affecting fire survivors in Jackson County.

Because Arrasmith is an elected official he’s not under the control of the county administrator or the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Years ago, voters rejected a proposal to turn the tax assessor, county clerk and county surveyor into appointed positions. An elected tax assessor is more beholden to members of the public who have to pay taxes, but an unqualified person could win office.

Recalling the tax assessor wouldn’t be an easy task.

In response to the Since You Asked questions, Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker outlined the process for recalling any non-federal public office holder in Oregon before the expiration of the person’s term.

A prospective recall petition can be filed only after the public-office holder has actually served at least six months of his or her current term, except for an elected state senator or state representative.

Arrasmith took the oath of office for his current term in January of this year.

A recall has one chief petitioner who is the individual responsible for the preparation and organization of the petition.

The recall process begins with the chief petitioner filing Form SEL 350 Prospective Petition-Recall with the filing office, which would be Walker’s office in the tax assessor’s case. The form must be completed and signed by the chief petitioner designating circulator pay status and stating in 200 words or fewer the reasons for demanding the recall.

The next steps are to establish a campaign account and file a Statement of Organization designating a treasurer with the Elections Division. This must be done before the prospective petition can be approved to circulate. Then begins the signature sheet approval process (for local recall petitions only).

After receiving the prospective recall petition, an elections official reviews the forms for the required information; dates and time stamps the prospective petition if the form is complete; assigns the petition an identification number; and scans and emails a date-stamped copy of the SEL 350 form to orestar-support.sos@oregon.gov.

Cover and signature sheets for a prospective recall petition must be approved in writing by the elections official before the chief petitioner may begin circulating the petition. The required number of valid signatures is 15% of the votes cast for governor in the public officer’s district during the last gubernatorial election at which a candidate for governor was elected to a full term. Votes cast include miscellaneous write-in votes, but not over votes or under votes.

Currently, this means people wanting to recall a Jackson County public office holder would need to collect 15,286 valid signatures.

Signatures are due no later than 5 p.m. 90 days after a prospective petition is filed with the elections official. The 90th day is calculated from the date stamp on the SEL 350 form if required information is complete and correct.

If the recall petition contains the required number of valid signatures, the public office holder who is the subject of the recall may submit a written resignation. Or the public office-holder can submit Form SEL 352 Statement of Justification and write a justification of his or her term in office in 200 words or fewer.

If the public office-holder does not resign within five days after the petition qualifies for the ballot, the election must be held no later than the 35th day after the last day for the person to resign.

For more details, view the Oregon Secretary of State’s 19-page recall manual at sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/RecallManual.pdf.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.