King City recall petitions lead to legal wrangling with State of Oregon

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FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL ANTONELLI
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Petitions filed to recall six members of the King City City Council have led to the Oregon Department of Justice poised to file a suit against the city over its revocation of the petitions and refusal to reinstate them.

On Sept. 13, the King City Recall Committee’s Chief Petitioner Randall Olsen filed six prospective petitions to remove Councilors Kate Mohr, Micah Paulsen, Smart Ocholi, Laurie Petrie and Marc Manelis plus Mayor Jaimie Fender from office.

The reasons given for the recall in the petitions were that the councilors and mayor voted against their “King City constituency for the Extension of Fischer Road in the Kingston Terrace Master Plan,” which would increase traffic through existing neighborhoods, making them less safe and desirable, and provide “a direct connection between Roy Rogers Road and 99W that will attract a high volume of regional cut-through traffic.”

The petitions also allege that the environment, including the Tualatin River, and wildlife habitat would be harmed and that the road would cross the Bankston Nature Preserve, harming a “vital connective natural space.”

Furthermore, the petitions allege that “the King City Comprehensive Plan prevented a future Fischer Road extension from being anything more than a local street” and that the five councilors and mayor voted to remove this protection. The petitions also state that each of the five City Council members and mayor “voted for this (Master Plan) despite overwhelming public opposition to the Fischer Road extension.”

The petitions conclude by saying, “City council can change this plan. We deserve council members who represent their constituents. Please sign the petition now to take action.”

(No recall petition was filed against Councilor Shawna Thompson, who abstained from voting on the Kingston Terrace Master Plan and voted against the Kingston Terrace Transportation System Plan.)

Kingston Terrace, 528 acres of rural properties, farms and natural areas, is located between the western boundary of the city, the Tualatin River, and Beef Bend and Roy Rogers roads. King City added the area to its urban growth boundary in 2018 after getting approval from the Metro Council. For 4 ½ years, city officials and planning consultants worked to come up with a plan to deal with the area’s natural topography while planning for transportation routes, a town center, 3,300 to 3,600 housing units of different types, and park and recreation opportunities within about 318 acres.

At multiple meetings and public hearings seeking public input over the years, many residents of Edgewater on the Tualatin, the subdivision on the western edge of King City where Fischer Road dead-ends, plus those who live in the rural area to the west, spoke against a proposal for the major transportation route through the UGB area to be closer to the Tualatin River than to Beef Bend Road.

Three months after the council approved the Kingston Terrace Transportation System Plan on June 14, the first recall petitions were filed with the city, but then the complications started. The city elections official revoked them due to errors, including the misspelling of some councilors’ names, according to City Attorney Ed Trompke.

The petitions were resubmitted to the city Oct. 5 and again revoked due to errors; on Oct. 11 the city elections official received a letter from the Secretary of State asserting that he had no authority to revoke or amend a recall petition based on false information. 

The city issued a statement Oct. 19 that stated the revocation “was made in good faith in an effort to prevent election fraud and ensure a fair and honest election,” in compliance with the Secretary of State’s Recall Manual and advice from the city attorney.

The press release additionally said that the City Council did not vote on the extension of Fischer Road but on land-use issues including the Kingston Terrace Master Plan and the city’s first Transportation System Plan. It further stated that the “Bankston Nature Preserve” is a private easement on private property and not a designated nature preserve.

The city’s press release added that “the city’s action was motivated by a commitment to transparency and integrity in our civic processes” and “was not an attempt to shield elected officials from public scrutiny.”

The press release concluded that the city had been working with the Secretary of State’s office to resolve the issue, but “given the gravity of the issue and our firm belief in the integrity of the electoral process, we intend to challenge the Secretary of State’s position in court.”

King City City Manager Mike Weston said in an Oct. 21 email to Tigard Life, “In the (Secretary of State’s) recall manual there is some written directions that indicate the public official and petitioner are responsible for the factuality of the statements and that false statements are subject to felony charges with a fine up to $125,000 and 5 years in prison.

“The city and our attorneys identified multiple instances of misleading and false statements in the petitions, and felt it was our responsibility to request the petitioners to correct the statements to ensure a fair and honest process free from fraudulent or misleading information.

“It would appear the Secretary of State’s office is taking a position contrary to their own manual. Their statement would suggest that the public official has no review authority.”

Chief Petitioner Randall Olsen on Oct. 22 submitted a statement to Tigard Life on behalf of the King City Recall Committee.

It stated in part, “the primary concern from the beginning of this process was the planned Fischer Road extension that directly links Roy Rogers Road to 99W, through the Bankston Nature Preserve (a conservation easement), within several hundred feet of the Tualatin River, and through the heart of established communities to include Edgewater. The city’s consultants project an average of 8,600 vehicles per day west of 131st and 12,900 east of 131st on this planned extension (projections are for the year 2040), (with) 40 percent cut-through. For a comparison, the Washington County 2022 traffic count for Beef Bend Road at 119th Avenue measured 9,476 vehicles.

“The citizens did not have the opportunity to vote on doubling the size of King City with the Kingston Terrace expansion and the resultant impacts. The Council had the opportunity to listen to and vote in response to the concerns of the community. Councilor Thompson listened. A recall election will provide an opportunity for all King City voters to be heard.”

City Attorney Trompke told Tigard Life on Oct. 21 that the city had been informed that the Secretary of State had asked the Oregon Department of Justice to file a suit against the city for revoking the petitions.

“Cities need to have autonomy over their own elections,” he said, adding that he expected the city would be served the week of Oct. 23.

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