What to Do about the Mayor? OC Commission Mulls Limited Options

The Oregon City Commission continues to mull its options for addressing comments made by Mayor Dan Holladay about police brutality and the Black Lives Matters protests that residents criticized as insensitive and “embarrassing.”

There aren’t many. Though commissioners said they have received a number of emails from constituents demanding Holladay be removed from office, that’s not something that lies within their power.

“The Charter does not provide any means for the Commission to remove a member of the Commission from his or her position,” a memo from the city attorney’s office informed commissioners this week.

The charter does provide a number of circumstances under which an elected office could be declared vacant, including in the event of a member’s death, adjudicated incompetence, resignation or extended and unexcused absence. But, the city attorney opined, none of these criteria have been met.

Holladay has been under fire for his comments on social media, which seemed to downplay instances of excessive force by police against unarmed black people, and questioned why protests about the murder of George Floyd would be allowed, but not municipal celebrations of the Fourth of July.

That same week, he angered his fellow commissioners by abruptly ending a city meeting without allowing other members the opportunity to speak, something he allegedly arranged beforehand with city staff, and for meeting with local businesses to raise funds for an unsanctioned fireworks show.

The incidents came barely a month after commissioners reprimanded Mayor Holladay for his loose talk about allowing local businesses to reopen in defiance of the governor’s order, which prompted a threatening letter from the state’s attorney general.

Oregon City commissioners may not be able to remove the mayor, but voters could. A recall effort is reportedly underway, including a Facebook group that has amassed more than 500 members as of this week.

Their challenge is a daunting one, however. They would need to gather at least 2,400 verified signatures from registered voters in Oregon City, within 90 days of filing their petition. A successful petition would place the issue of Holladay’s recall on the ballot for November.

In the meantime, the commission does have a few (limited) options. According to the city attorney’s memo, the commission does have the authority to take action against the mayor if it wishes, short of removing him from office — not through the city charter, but Robert’s Rules of Order, which governs parliamentary procedure.

“In particular, Robert’s Rules note that, ‘whether the bylaws make mention of it or not,’ an organization has the right to take action against a member for conduct ‘tending to injure the good name of the organization, disturb its well-being or hamper it in its work,'” the memo reads in part.

Click to access City-Attorney-Memorandum-June-11-2020.pdf

If the commission wants to go easy on him, they could “admonish” or “reproach” the mayor, the city attorney said, which denote mild disapproval. A more formal and public disapproval would rise to “censure” or “reprimand,” or even a “scolding,” if commissioners wish to express their disapproval “quite harshly and at some

Harshest of all would be a “rebuke,” meaning to “criticize sharply or sternly, often in the midst of some action,” according to the city memo.

However, Robert’s Rules also provide that a member accused of such a transgression has the right to due process, i.e., to be informed of the charge, be given time to prepare a defense, appear and defend himself, and to be treated fairly.

The accused party need not be granted a formal trial, but should be allowed to defend themselves.

Commissioners will discuss their options at their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 17, at 7 p.m.

Commissioners previously aired their grievances at the emergency meeting on June 7 but, though Holladay read a statement explaining his comments and clarifying his beliefs about the murder of George Floyd and people’s right to protest, he was not in attendance for most of it.

He left after about 30 minutes of public comment, citing poor health. He told one commissioner he would hear their comments “on the recording,” but it’s not clear if he did so.

Two nights later, the Commission passed a detailed resolution affirming the city’s stance against racism, discrimination and social injustice in Oregon City and the United States.

“To all our residents, especially of color, know that we respect you, we hear you, and we acknowledge your pain,” the resolution states. “We affirm that racism and violence against Black lives and all People of Color has no place in our institutions, our policies, our practices, or our behaviors.”

All commissioners voted in favor of it, including Mayor Holladay.

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