The defeat of Grants Pass Mayor was fully expected by those running the recall effort against her. The drubbing was not. Voters soundly rejected the recall by a no vote of 64.3 percent to a 35.7 percent yes vote.
“Under the circumstances, with the number of people that stormed the office to discuss this and plead for help, you know, you woulda thought more people would’ve come out in support of their needs, But they didn’t. They just didn’t. It was a shock,” said Josephine County Republican Party Chair Holli Morton on KMED Radio’s Bill Meyer Show the day after the election.
Morton blamed the defeat on Gov. Tina Kotek’s visit August 16, nearly a month before the election.
“It looks like about 36 percent of Republicans turned out….and 42 percent of the Democrats so you know, uhhh, Governor Kotek came down a couple of weeks ago and I think she weighed in on this very heavily. And also, we just found out last night that they’re allocating $2 million dollars, it looks like to UCON (UCAN) or something like that in support of the homeless problem….” said Morton. Meyer interrupted her by saying, “Yeah, I got a note from Grants Pass Councilor Dwayne Yunker. And he told me this money is going straight to UCAN, straight to the non-profit and the city will have no say in what happens to it. The homeless lobbyists win again.”
Yunker was wrong. The money is not going to United Community Action Network – UCAN. It is going to a tiny house project in Cave Junction. UCAN has become a target of the right in Josephine County. Meyer called UCAN a “homeless racket,” while Morton blamed UCAN for the tents and propane tanks she says end up in the river.
The recall was supposedly about how the Mayor handled homelessness in Grants Pass. Yunker and Morton tried hard to convince voters that Mayor Bristol is far more powerful and responsible for homelessness than she actually is, with articles in The Eagle (a right-wing quarterly tabloid) and pre-election appearances on Meyer’s conservative talk show. (Under the City’s charter the Mayor runs the meetings, does not participate in setting policy and only votes when the eight-member council is tied.
However, Morton said after the election what the recall was really about.
“I’m the chair of the party and I know if you have a certain voice, just having that position you can go somewhere and people are going to listen to you, whether you make any sense or not. I think she (Mayor Bristol) has benefitted from that a lot. She’s involved in a lot of organizations where she can influence people and a lot of those people just listen to her and read the Courier, her husband’s paper essentially, he’s the city editor, and so they get ideas in their head over a long period of time that probably the vast majority of people in our county would not subscribe to,” Morton told Meyer.
Ideas in their head? That a majority in this county wouldn’t subscribe to? Like working for a low-barrier shelter so police can enforce the law in city parks again? Morton didn’t elaborate on what dangerous ideas the Mayor is forcing on unsuspecting citizens in Josephine County. Nor did she see the irony in complaining about the Mayor’s Courier connection while talking on a radio program that reaches thousands. The real purpose of the recall was to stifle voices Morton’s Republican Party doesn’t agree with. And the voters got it.
In the weeks before the election Morton and Yunker were on the radio, getting free air time to push the recall. After citing statistics showing a rise in overdose deaths, Yunker tried to link those to the Mayor’s tenure on Meyer’s show.
“I can’t say she influences the deaths but the people that she associates with and want to do the shelter are all in this realm of the Soros thing you’re talking about. It’s harm reduction, not a stop using drugs kind of thing, you know, she’s going toward,” said Yunker. (Meyer made a reference earlier to the “George Soros backed people pushing Measure 110.” There is no evidence George Soros backs Oregonians in favor of Measure 110, a voter-approved initiative that decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs, but Soros is one of Meyer’s favorite boogeymen.)
Yunker also admitted he used his City Council vote to bolster his contention that the Mayor is a powerful force in the community. The vote at the Sept. 6 meeting was to decide whether or not to set in motion the structure, with zero funding attached, needed to eventually add a public safety fee to city utility bills.
“I don’t know if people know I tied up the water fee and the Mayor had to vote and the Mayor had power last night. Everyone needs to understand the Mayor had the power to vote last night and she voted no, so there’ll be no zero water bill thing starting yet,” said Yunker.
“Yeah, yeah, and so it was tied, four to four and the Mayor voted no. I think she was pretty much put on pressure because…the recall. If she would’ve voted yes that would have just put a nail in her coffin, you know, so without the voter’s input, I think, she was forced to do that. That’s just my feeling on that,” said Yunker.
Before the vote Yunker, who had been supportive of the utility fee, said this….
“I’ve already voiced my opinion on this thing but I don’t like the process right now. That’s my problem with this. I hate the levy thing that we’re doing so, I mean, that’s where I’m going on the whole thing, with this is the process, the levy, the taxes, it doesn’t sound like we’re all in unity. So, that’s kinda where my thoughts are gonna be on when I vote. But um, you know, I been quoted many times by every source in this town it seems like, ‘I’m for the fifty dollars.’ (Bangs his hand down) That’s what everybody’s put…so I never even got to vote yet and they already told me I’m fifty dollars so it was just a discussion. So, I’ve been quoted several times in the Daily Courier and the Democrat Party ‘it’s fifty dollars’ so just because of a discussion I said and yeah, I do like the fee, I’m ok with it….” (Yunker is running in the Republican primary against Oregon Rep. Lily Morgan so he’s backtracking on his comment saying instead of a $30 public safety fee the city should ask for $50)
The vote was called for: yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes – four yes votes with two votes to go, Yunker and Councilor Brian DeLaGrange. Everyone knew DeLaGrange’s opinion. He was a no. So just before DeLaGrange voted, Yunker voted no, tying the council.
The vote completed, Bristol said, “As luck would have it, I had a feeling this would happen.”
Did the recallers use Yunker to set a trap for the Mayor? If so, she didn’t fall into it.
“You’ve all said a lot of good things here tonight. Public safety is a priority. I also don’t like the process. This action would put the train on the tracks. It’s a blank check. It’s a stealth tax. We’re not asking the public to vote on it. And I’m going to vote no,” said Bristol.
You could almost hear Yunker’s coffin nail clattering to the floor after Bristol’s vote.
Later in that meeting a county ordinance prohibiting the possession and use of alcohol, marijuana and illegal drugs on public property was on the Council’s agenda. County Commissioners were asking the city to sign on to Ordinance 2023-004, but City Attorney Augustus Ogu explained to the Council the county’s ordinance was a basically a duplicate of what the city had already passed last June.
Was this another trap? Is it possible County Commissioners did not know the City of Grants Pass had already passed in June what was in Ordinance 2023-004?
Councilor Vanessa Ogier asked why the matter was on the agenda. Councilor Lovelace explained that during a Council workshop Yunker thought it should be on the agenda and she had questions she’d like answered about the Ordinance. Meanwhile Yunker had taken off, saying he had to attend one of his children’s ball games. Councilor D.J. Faszer said “I find this not only duplicative, but superfluous and arguably unenforceable.”
After a presentation by Ogu, comments from Police Chief Warren Hensman and a lengthy discussion by Council members, all those present, including Lovelace, voted against signing on to the county’s ordinance because the city had already covered the issues addressed in the county’s ordinance. The whole exercise was deemed a waste of time by several Council members. During the vote, Councilor Rick Riker said Yunker texted him saying he would vote to sign on to the ordinance. Bristol quickly noted that he didn’t have a vote because he wasn’t present.
Mayor Bristol said the matter skirted the normal process for putting items on the agenda, and if Commissioners had not cancelled the standing monthly meeting with the Council, the discussion could have taken place there. Lovelace argued that the Commission wanted the Council’s buy-in by Sept. 15, before the Council would meet again, so she worked to get it on the agenda quickly. She said because of the sometimes contentious relationship with the county, she believed a discussion about the Ordinance would at least show good will.
It didn’t. At the next Commission meeting Sept 13, even though the recall had been defeated, Commissioner West said this, “I am appalled that the City of Grants Pass chose not to tag on to the Ordinance of 110 (the county wanted to counter Measure 110 with the ordinance) that the county is moving forward with. That was free to the city. It was no cost. It would have given them another tool in their toolbox to help control the drugs and some of those issues on public property. But I’ve heard the terms. We’re playing politics and there’s no playing politics here…”
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said this, “I am disgusted with that Council. Absolutely disgusted. I challenge those people on the City Council to go have a conversation with a parent who has lost their child to overdose.”
Commissioners had a week to figure out why the City Council didn’t vote to sign on to their Ordinance 2023-004. Instead, they chose to play politics.