RAINIER — The Oregon Secretary of State Office is investigating the recall petition against Rainier City Councilwoman Judith Taylor, who is accused of harassing members of the city’s senior center following a year-long feud involving the city’s oversight of the organization’s finances.
The recall petition, filed by Senior Center Board President Bill Dias, states Taylor threatened some senior center members and “displays conduct not becoming a public servant.” Taylor called the petition’s allegations “unsubstantiated” and “without merit” in a complaint letter to the secretary of state filed Nov. 26.
The Secretary of State Office spokesman Tony Green confirmed in an email that the office is investigating Taylor’s complaint. The state must determine if the petition violated Oregon election laws by making false statements of harassment, Green said.
If a violation is found, Dias could be prosecuted under a Class C felony, according to the Oregon Department of Justice.
Taylor, the city’s liaison to the center, said she was initially accused of harassment when she questioned the senior center’s financial stability after the previous board president, Gard Wold, could not provide an operating budget. The organization has since improved its financial reporting to the city, Mayor Jerry Cole said.
“It just depends on what you think is harassment. If you think asking questions and sitting in meetings being composed is harassment, that is false,” Taylor said Thursday. “I didn’t harass anybody.”
Dias, who was appointed to the board in July, acknowledged Wold’s shortcomings running the nonprofit’s finances, but said Wold did not misspend funds.
“He was doing the best he could. He did not understand the necessity of keeping records,” Dias said.
Since last December, the senior center board and Taylor have disagreed on the city’s oversight for the senior center, which is a private nonprofit organization.
“We are doing fine running (the organization), we don’t need her to run it,” Dias said.
The Rainier Senior Center leases its building at 48 W. Seventh St. rent-free from the city, which acquired the land through a $600,000 community development block grant. The city also pays for the building’s water and sewer.
Under the lease agreement, the nonprofit must provide the city a copy of its operating budget every six months and an annual audit. The senior center also must maintain the building’s interior and inform the city of any repairs or alterations.
Dias admitted last week that he has not reviewed the lease agreement. He was unaware of some of the organization’s obligations to the city.
Dias said the board is working on its finances and rebuilding its general fund, which has about $2,500. The senior center has 300 members and receives money through fundraisers, donations and the anti-poverty nonprofit Community Action Team, which pays for its Meals on Wheels program.
Taylor said she still doubted the senior center’s financial stability and its ability to keep the building running. However, Cole said the center’s current board is in compliance and has provided monthly statements and budgets to the city.
“The new executive directors and board are learning what they need to do,” he said. “They are doing a really good job currently.”
More arguments erupted as Taylor asked questions about the building’s maintenance, eventually leading her to unofficially step down as liaison. City Councilman Steve Massey is now the primary liaison and attends the senior center’s membership meetings.
Dias said Taylor overstepped her responsibilities as liaison.
“A liaison is a go-between. It’s not her job to tell us how to run (the senior center),” he said. “There’s so much misinformation that we cannot financially take care of ourselves, (but) we keep accumulating more (money) each month.”
Taylor said she fulfilled her duties as liaison and will continue working to bring attention to the senior center’s financial problems.
“This recall does bring attention to any concerning issues down there,” she said. “We all need to be aware, so we can find a solution and move forward.”