Gearhart resident circulating petition to recall mayor Widdop

Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop

A local resident is seeking signatures on a petition to recall Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop.

For a recall election to be held, chief petitioner Harold Gable must collect about 100 signatures from registered voters within the next three months.

Gable initiated the recall process by filing a prospective petition with city administrator Chad Sweet, who also acts as the city elections official, Nov. 26. Gable started circulating his petition Monday, after his prospective petition form was approved.

On the form, the chief petitioner must state in 200 words or less why a recall is being demanded. No specific grounds for recall are required under Oregon’s constitution. On his form, Gable listed Widdop’s alleged offenses, which revolve around an incident that occurred prior to the Nov. 4 election.

“Because of her abuse of leadership, lack of transparency and strong personal bias, vote yes to recall Mayor Widdop,” the petition urges. “Restore honesty and trust to Gearhart’s government.”

Widdop said Tuesday she would address the allegations during the Gearhart City Council meeting that starts at 6:30 tonight.

Gable must submit the signatures to Sweet for verification no later than 90 days after the prospective petition was filed. Sweet will work with the county elections office to verify the signatures within 10 days of receiving the petition or within 100 days of the prospective petition being filed, whichever is earlier.

The number of signatures required to qualify a recall election is 15 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the public officer’s district during the most recent election, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

Oregon voted for a governor during the Nov. 4 general election. In Gearhart, 679 registered voters cast ballots for a gubernatorial candidate in the election, which means the petition requires 102 signatures.

If the required number of verified signatures is collected, Widdop would have five days to resign or to submit a statement of justification to be printed on the ballot. If she did not resign in five days, an election would be required within the next 35 days.

Once the election is held, Widdop would continue to perform her duties as mayor, until the city elections official declares the election result. If she is successfully recalled, the position would become vacant.

According to Gearhart’s local charter, the City Council president would serve the remainder of the mayor’s term, and then the city would hold an election for a new mayor, Sweet said.

Jane Gable, Harold Gable’s wife and a Gearhart resident, said they have collected some signatures, but she would not say how many.

“We are going to do our very best to keep the signatures private, and we are not letting anyone know how many we collect,” she said.

Once the county verifies the signatures, they become public record. Jane Gable’s hope is that Widdop will resign before then so the signatories can remain anonymous. She is worried some people in the community are afraid of retaliation from City Hall.

“This is not Nazi Germany, this is not North Korea. We in Gearhart have the right to freedom of speech without retaliation from the mayor,” Jane Gable said.

In his statement on the prospective petition explaining why he is demanding a recall, Gable claimed Widdop has “consistently misrepresented her opinion as that of the City Council using the term ‘we’ without the knowledge or approval of the City Council.”

He also described three incidents and what he believes are their implications:

• On Oct. 17, Widdop “asked a Gearhart business owner to remove a lawfully posted campaign sign, abusing her position as an elected official and misrepresenting Gearhart ordinances. Further, she abused her office by acting as an ordinance enforcement officer, violating the rights of free speech and by encumbering a candidate’s right to campaign for public office.”

• On Oct. 29, a conversation between Widdop and then-City Councilor Joy Sigler “was recorded on a hidden device during ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ without (Sigler’s) knowledge or authorization. Mayor Widdop attempted to distribute this recording, contrary to Fourth Amendment privacy rights, contrary to City Council rules and against Oregon law.”

Widdop makes herself available at the City Hall for informal conversations with local residents over coffee and cookies every Wednesday. The recording occurred at one of these Wednesday sessions.

• On Nov. 5, Widdop “denounced a candidate’s ability to serve in public office, citing his ‘alleged’ temper,” although Widdop in a March 2013 article in The Daily Astorian “admitted to her own ‘temper,’ thus disqualifying herself as fit to serve in public office.”

Widdop said she did not “ask” the business owner, Linda Goldfarb, to remove the sign but rather talked to her as a friend and told her “it is a no-win situation” to put a campaign sign at her place of business, regardless of the candidate. She apologized to Goldfarb at the Nov. 5 council meeting.

At “Coffee with the Mayor,” Sigler asked to record the conversation and did so. The conversation took place in the City Council chambers, which are “an open, public setting and people are free to come and go as they please,” Widdop said. The recording that Sigler is objecting to is one that Sweet recorded during the conversation, unbeknownst to Sigler. Widdop said Sweet wanted to have an unedited recording of the proceedings. Widdop said she did not distribute the recording.

Widdop said she does not believe having a temper disqualifies anyone from being fit to serve in public office.

“Everyone has a temper; the problem arises when a person is unable to control their temper,” she said. She also explained the context of The Daily Astorian quote.

The article, which described the Wednesday coffee sessions, quoted Widdop as saying, “I’m Irish, I’m from Philadelphia and New York. I have a temper. You learn. Maybe this comes with age. You learn to swallow and not be confrontational.”

Lastly, she said has used the term “we” only while describing the job of serving on City Council or when saying things like “we don’t get paid” or “we’re volunteers.”

“I have never attempted to speak for the council except in situations when the council has already made a majority decision,” she said.

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