Oregon City residents are casting their votes this week for a new mayor to replace Rachel Lyles Smith, who resigned earlier this year.
Lyles Smith, a former city commissioner whom voters picked in a special election last March to replace recalled former Mayor Dan Holladay, stepped down in April 2022 after moving out of state to be closer to family.
The four candidates in the special election include Allen Bedore, Dan Berge, Leslie Wright Jr., who appeared on the ballot despite being ruled ineligible due to a failure to establish required residency, and Denyse McGriff, a current commissioner who has served as interim mayor since Lyles Smith’s resignation.
Wright, who mistakenly wrote in his application that he was seeking the position of Oregon City “mirror” rather than mayor, provided a Washington state license when he filed for the election and was living in Wilsonville as recently as December, according to sworn statements from a former employee.
Oregon City charter requires mayoral candidates to have been residents of the city for at least 12 months prior to the election date.
McGriff, Oregon City’s first-ever Black city commissioner and the only candidate to submit a statement for the voters’ pamphlet, stands to make more history as the city’s first Black mayor should she emerge triumphant in Tuesday’s special election.
Whoever is elected will serve only a few months, as the office of Oregon City mayor will also be on the ballot in November for a full four-year term.
Two mayoral elections are being held in the span of three months because Lyles Smith resigned prior to the end of her term, and the city charter calls for voters to fill the seat as soon as an election can be held.
Early, unofficial results will be released after the polls close at 8 p.m.
Ballots will be counted as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive at the Clackamas County elections office within seven days.
Ballots may be returned through the mail or at official drop boxes, including Clackamas County Elections, Oregon City City Hall, Gladstone Civic Center or Oak Lodge Library.
An already confusing election cycle for Oregon City residents was not helped by another gaffe from embattled Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall, who mistakenly sent the wrong voters’ pamphlets to an estimated 4,000 Oregon City and Gladstone-area voters.
Thousands of households in precinct 600, which includes the McLoughlin and Park Place neighborhoods of historic Oregon City, got Oak Lodge inserts in their voters’ pamphlets rather than the ones for the mayoral race that they should have received — forcing Hall to send out corrected information the following week.
The costly mistake came less than three months after overseeing one of the worst elections fiascos in state history.
In May, Hall was the subject of negative news coverage across the nation for mishandling a printing issue affecting more than 100,000 Clackamas County primary voters — mainly registered Democrats — and for failing to address the problems in a timely manner.
Less than 10% of the results from the state’s third-most populous county were tallied on Election Night, leaving the results of critical federal, state and local races in limbo for days and even weeks.
When state and other county officials essentially forced Hall to accept offers of help she had declined weeks earlier, an unprecedented influx of temporary workers and resources descended on the Clackamas County Elections Office.
It took an estimated 6,700 additional hours and more than $600,000 in public funds to rectify the situation, but Hall’s office was ultimately able to certify the results of the May primary election before the deadline — barely.
Earlier this month, Hall appeared before county commissioners and continued to deflect blame for the unprecedented vote-tallying failure, telling the board “everything with this election was done correctly and on time.”
“It’s humans,” she said. “Things happen.”
This was despite Hall’s earlier admissions that she hadn’t acted quickly enough after learning about the issue impacting primary ballots. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and commissioners also chastised Hall for her apparent lack of urgency, while media outlets on both sides of the aisle called on her to resign.
In both cases — the primary election snafu and the more recent issue involving the special elections in Oregon City and the Oak Lodge Water Services District — Hall insisted the blame belonged to third-party businesses handling the county’s ballot printing and mailing.
“Things happen,” she repeated. “We try to correct it, but we don’t control everybody’s work ethic or the way they do their job.”
Hall’s tenure as a public official has been marked by several such gaffes, though she has rarely faced any trouble in her repeated re-election bids.
In 2004, one year after first taking office, Hall mailed ballots to some 300 voters in Sandy that excluded three questions about land annexation. Hall discovered the error 10 days before the election but failed to alert the public
In 2012, the county had to spend $118,000 to reprint primary ballots after Hall included a measure that wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot until the November election.
The very next year, the state had to oversee how the county was verifying signatures after it was discovered that the county had verified signatures that turned out to be invalid.
And the year after that, in perhaps the most serious indiscretion before now, a worker under Hall’s supervision was discovered filling in choices for Republican candidates on ballots that voters had left blank. The worker was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
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