A group of White Salmon citizens have begun an effort to recall Mayor Roger Holen.
On Friday, an affidavit was filed with the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, the first step required to begin a formal recall process. The affidavit cites the Jan. 12 move by Mayor Holen to remove Police Chief Rich Cortese and put Sgt. Bruce Brending in Cortese's place.
Bradley W. Andersen, a Vancouver attorney representing the recall group, prepared the affidavit. It contends Holen "should be recalled because he violated the law and has failed to protect the public interest."
"Holen removed Mr. Cortese as police chief without any cause," read an excerpt from the affidavit. "He then appointed Mr. Brending to assume the duties of police chief. Mr. Holen admitted he had no real basis to remove Mr. Cortese. Mr. Holen simply stated that he believed Mr. Brending should have been given the appointment in the first place over Mr. Cortese."
Robert Landgren, owner of Vanguard Nursery in White Salmon, is among those organizing the recall campaign. Landgren, who has attended recent meetings of the White Salmon City Council to object to the mayor's removal of Cortese, said the mayor needs to listen to his constituents.
"We showed up in great numbers and feel we were not heard," Landgren explained. "If the mayor is of and for the people, he would have listened."
Landgren added that the mayor's move to change the city's police chief raises doubts about other aspects of city government.
"I think a lot of people in town don't feel the mayor is looking out for their best interests. With the police chief situation, what other things are going on? A lot of people are real hesitant about how the city is being run," Landgren said.
The recall group's affidavit pointed out that Brending had been convicted of the crime of driving under the influence of intoxicants in Hood River County Circuit Court on March 29, 2001.
"RCW 35.21.333 prohibits a mayor from appointing a person who has been convicted of a gross misdemeanor within the past five years as chief of police," read an excerpt. "Accordingly, Mr. Brending is not eligible to be appointed to act as chief of police until March 30, 2006. The mayor therefore violated the law by appointing someone who was statutorily disqualified. Mayor Holen also acted outside the law, and the public's best interest, by termination a qualified police chief for no legitimate reason in favor of one who was disqualified under the law to serve in the position."
Mike Zitur, owner of the Elkhorn Bar & Grill and a member of the committee organizing the recall, said the recall effort was sparked solely by the police chief issue.
"I feel I had to get involved because I saw what I perceived to be an injustice done to Rich Cortese. It's a matter of what's right and what's wrong," Zitur said.
Zitur added that the mayor is not listening to the public regarding his handling of the police chief position.
"I don't believe he's following the public's concerns. He was given a petition with over 400 signatures from citizens, and he chose to ignore it," Zitur said.
"We feel as a committee that when you do this to the city, you have to listen to the citizens," Landgren said. "We hope the will of the public is what prevails. This is a town of and for the people, it's not a one-mayor town. The mayor and City Council have to listen to the people who voted them in."
By law, the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney, Tim O'Neill, has 15 days to draft a ballot synopsis that outlines the allegations against Holen. This synopsis then goes to Klickitat County Superior Court. The court has 15 days to determine whether the charges against Holen are "legally sufficient."
If the judge determines the allegations are valid, then petitioners have 180 days "to obtain and file a sufficient number of signatures to place the recall petition on an upcoming ballot."
To hold a special recall election, the petitions must be signed by at least 35 percent of the total number of votes that were cast in the last election for mayor, which took place in November 2005.
According to the Auditor's Office, there were a total of 585 votes cast in the mayor's race last fall, meaning that a total of 205 valid signatures will be required to place the recall measure before the voters. Those signing the petition must reside within the city limits of White Salmon and be registered voters.
Landgren said he had little doubt the committee seeking to recall Mayor Holen would be able to obtain the required number of signatures.
"I think we'll triple it," Landgren said.
Landgren added that he intends to urge the City Council not to allow Mayor Holen to use city funds to defend his office.
"He got himself into this. He can use his own money to get out," Landgren said. "The City Council can't allow public funds to be used for fighting this recall."
Mayor Holen said he did not believe a recall attempt was justified.
"The only grounds for recall are malfeasance or misfeasance," Holen explained. "I have a very difficult time figuring how that could be established in my case. To the best of my knowledge, I have acted totally within the law and carried out my oath of office. I can't conceive of anything I've done that's illegal."
Holen said the issue of the hiring of Brending is "moot," because Brending has not yet been hired as chief.
"He's still wearing sergeant stripes," Holen said.