By SVERRE BAKKE
A special election to determine whether White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen should be recalled and removed from office has been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 15.
The Klickitat County Auditor's Office set the date for the special election after finding that the recall petition filed by White Salmon Concerned Citizens for the Recall of Mayor Roger Holen had "the required number of signatures of certified legal voters" to go forward. The verification of voter signatures took place Tuesday, June 20.
In accordance with state law, petitioners needed at least 205 signatures of voters residing within White Salmon city limits--35 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for White Salmon mayor in the last election--to validate the petition. (A recall is defined as "the removal of, or right to remove, an official from office by popular vote.")
Petitioners presented 283 signatures, 248 of which were deemed valid by the the auditor's office.
The Aug. 15 special election will be a YES or NO proposition on the question of whether Holen, who was appointed mayor in September 2005 and subsequently elected in November 2005, "shall be recalled and discharged from office." A simple majority (50.1 percent or greater) will decide the issue. Alternatively, Holen could resign before Aug. 15, at which time the recall election would be cancelled.
According to the auditor's office, the petitioners' attorney, Bradley Andersen, and Holen and his attorney, Teunis Wyers, were served notice of the recall election on Wednesday, June 21. Holen had seven days--until Wednesday, June 28--to "submit a response to the charge contained in the ballot synopsis to the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, not to exceed 250 words in length."
That response, according to Mert Scheradella of the county elections division, would appear on the special election ballot.
"His response, if received, will be reviewed by the county prosecutor before printing of the ballot," she added.
The ballot synopsis--a summary of the case against Holen--alleged the mayor "committed misfeasance and/or malfeasance or violated his oath of office" in regard to his January firing of Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Rich Cortese and hiring of Sgt. Bruce Brending as police chief.
A group of White Salmon citizens, angered by Holen's actions and his subsequent refusal to rescind Brending's appointment, among other reasons, started the recall campaign in March. (Brending, whose appointment was part of the group's legal challenge, currently serves as acting chief for the joint Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.)
The matter reached a tipping point in May when a Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the petitioners, finding there was "sufficient factual and legal basis" on five separate charges for the recall effort to go forward.
That ruling set in motion two timetables: first, 15 days for Holen to appeal the judge's decision to the state Supreme Court, and second, 180 days for petitioners to obtain enough valid voter signatures to place the recall question on the ballot.
Holen, for his part, chose not to contest the Superior Court's judgment, while petitioners went ahead with their signature-gathering, which culminated June 12 with delivery of the recall petition to the county auditor's office.
"It's been a long process, but we felt what we did was right. It's just sad that it had to get to this point," said Bob Landgren, a leader of the drive to recall Holen.