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Rainier voters oust two councilmen in recall election

Rainier voters oust two councilmen in recall election

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Rainier City Councilmen Russ Moon and Dave Langford are headed out of office as initial returns released Tuesday night by the Columbia County Elections Office show more than 70 percent of voters in favor of their recall.

"The people have made their decision and thoughts known," Moon said. "You just have to go along with it."

Langford did not return calls or offer comment Tuesday night.

Moon said he was not invested in the decision one way or the other, but was proud of how he served the city.

The council will now seek for replacements for the two suddenly vacant seats. Mayor Jerry Cole said he will advertise both positions soon in hopes to have the seats filled in January.

Current tallies show 351 voters (74.6 percent) in favor of Moon's recall and 119 opposed. Langford's recall is being supported by 355 voters (72.6 percent) with 119 opposed.

The other council members had been split on the issue, with Bill Vilardi and Scott Cooper have supporting the recall and Phil Butcher and Mike Avent opposed, calling the recall effort divisive.

"The city lost a couple of good men," Butcher said. "Hopefully, the council will be unified and we can pick up the pieces and move forward."

Avent said he's still unsure how Moon and Langford's absence will impact the council and the city.

"I think it remains to be seen. I don't know where it goes from here," he said. "Hopefully we'll learn something from this and learn how to work together."

The council has faced increased internal friction within the last couple months with Cole admonishing the seven members to be civil and polite to one another during an October meeting.

Vilardi said the council's dynamic would improve due to the success of the recall.

"I'm pleased with the recall. I'd like to see us get some things done," he said. "I think it'll be less contentious, and we'll actually be able to get more things done for the city."

Langford and Moon's supporters on the council attributed the one-sidedness of the outcome on the lack of other measures on the ballot as well as national voter antipathy toward incumbents. Preliminary numbers show 49.2 percent of the city's 1,000 registered voters returned their ballots.

Mike Kinsman, who said he's lived in Rainier for 15 years, didn't vote and said he didn't follow town politics too closely.

Others were unaware there was even an election.

"I truthfully didn't know about it," said Rainier resident Cheryl Pitts on Tuesday. "I have no idea why they're even being recalled."

Rainier resident Don Puckett started the recall effort, filing a petition to remove both councilmen in late November. It took him less than a week to get more than the 110 signatures required to force the election. Puckett's petition accused both councilors of making "back-door agreements" and bullying city staff and fellow council members. Puckett admitted he gained most of his information from an unnamed "prominent citizen" and didn't attend council meetings.

Langford and Moon lodged separate complaints against Puckett with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office shortly after the petition was filed calling his statements in the petition "fabrications" and alleging Puckett knowingly gave false statements. However the agency concluded last week that Puckett, acting as a proxy for someone else, did not knowingly give bad information.

"In order to constitute a false statement ... , the statement must not be capable of being reasonably interpreted as an opinion or as truth," the Secretary of State's final report read. "The majority of the statements on the recall petitions were opinions. ... It is not an election law violation to include opinions on a recall petition. It is also not an election law violation to rely on information from other people to make statements, so long as the chief petitioner does not know that the statements are false."

In the final weeks leading up to the election, both sides tried to rally support. Puckett mailed out pro-recall flyers to 570 Rainier households, while the anti-recall contingent sent out an unattributed postcard in response to Puckett's initial mailer. Langford and Moon supporters also commissioned three separate robocall messages to city residents.

Puckett declined to name the mystery man or woman behind his petition Tuesday night, but said he wasn't surprised efforts on behalf of Moon and Langford didn't result in a closer election.

"I knew it was coming," he said. "It turned out for the best. Now the city can do something instead of being in limbo all the time. ... The city council can't do anything when they're bickering all the time."

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