Tuesday, November 22, 2011
WESTON -- Ballots are in the mail for a recall of Duane Thul, who is in the third year of a four-year term as mayor. Ballots are due in the Umatilla County Elections Office by 8 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Elections officials earlier this month certified a petition for recall, which bore 30 accepted signatures. A minimum of 28 signatures of registered voters was required to initiate the recall.
A flier citing eight reasons for the recall has been circulated in town.
According to the flier, Thul runs meetings in a dictatorial style, allows departments to spend without accountability, hasn't allowed a current Council vacancy to be advertised and appears to participate in illegal meetings with decisions made outside Council meetings.
Kendra Weber, leader of the petition drive, said in a phone interview Monday that Thul doesn't allow input from citizens during Council meetings. "When people ask him questions he says 'Shut up and sit down,'" she said.
In response to the "dictator" label, Thul said he has at times been compelled to cut off speakers when they become loud and rude and carry on conversations among themselves rather than addressing the Council. "I do at meetings when there is a lot of bickering and a barrage of comments back and forth, I do get short with people, and I apologize for that."
Weber also contends the city is replacing usable equipment with newer and costly equipment, including a snowplow and a lawnmower. A special meeting was called to buy the snowplow and a wood chipper, according to Weber, without adequate notice.
Thul said purchases are part of what may seem to residents as a lot of money presently being spent, but the current Council and Thul are playing catch-up due to neglect in the past.
"We've ignored our town for too long. We've just ignored the needs for the city," he said. For a number of years city crews have managed to keep aging, and in some cases inadequate, equipment running, but "almost everything they (public works) had had passed its useful life," he said.
Thul explained that the accusation of making decisions outside Council meetings, and appearing to participate in illegal quorums, is due to his desire to personally keep Council members informed of issues. Two Council members work in the fire station. While he can't avoid meeting with them while they are both in the building, he takes great care never to meet with both of them at the same time. He meets with another Council member in her home, he said.
The issue of the Council position left vacant when Dennis Snider resigned earlier this fall is "absolutely ridiculous," Thul said.
Snider submitted his resignation after the Council had adjourned, so his resignation was accepted at the next monthly meeting. The matter was prolonged for another month, but "that wasn't done intentionally," Thul said.
The position is now being advertised, with the closing date the first week in December. A new Council member will be appointed at the December meeting, he said.
Another point made by Thul's critics is that he hired a new city attorney from Lake Oswego, Ore., without discussion from council members at a public meeting. Weston has historically used local legal representation, according to the recall committee.
That is not true, Thul said. "The Council wasn't entirely satisfied with what we were getting from our city attorney. I didn't do that on my own. Everybody was expressing frustration with what we were getting, and sometimes how long it took to get answers."
The new attorney only works with special districts and cities in Eastern Oregon, and, although a little bit more expensive "we also get what we're paying for. We seem to be getting excellent advice," Thul said.
The recall committee also contends the mayor allowed the Council to adopt a four-page resolution to support and participate in the creation of a law enforcement service district without the approval of the city attorney or input from citizens.
Two Council members put the matter on the agenda, not Thul, he said. The Council's action has nothing to do with adoption, but is the first step in a multiple-step process to establish a special law enforcement district. County commissioners must review the proposal, and it will undergo several hearings before being taken to voters for approval, Thul said.
As to financial accountability within city departments, no area of the budget has ever been overspent, Thul said.
Thul said he is concerned actions such as the recall will deter younger residents from getting involved. "The 30- and 40-year-olds are the future of our community. The younger generation won't put up with this kind of thing, and will stay away."
The instability created by actions like the recall are a detriment to the community as a whole, and discourage younger residents, such as the new police officers, from sinking their roots in Weston, Thul said.
Carrie Chicken can be reached at email@example.com or 522-5289.