Another elected official in rural Eastern Oregon is facing a recall by local voters.
This time, it’s Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton up against a campaign to remove him from office. County Clerk Brenda Percy said she certified 505 signatures as of Thursday to place a recall on the ballot for Aug. 16. At least 490 signatures were needed for the petition to move forward.
The effort to recall Britton comes a little more than a week after residents in neighboring Harney County voted overwhelmingly to keep Judge Steve Grasty, who earlier this year denied Ammon Bundy and other members of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation from meeting at a county fairgrounds building.
A prospective petition to recall Britton was filed March 28. It accuses him of failing to represent constituents on road and access issues; refusing to call for an investigation into the handling of the 2015 Canyon Creek wildfires; failing to recuse himself in decisions with agencies where he benefited both personally and financially; and deliberately misrepresenting his intentions at a town hall meeting Jan. 26, where Bundy and his fellow occupiers were scheduled to appear.
Britton has until 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 12 to file his statement of justification against the allegations. Britton, now in his fourth term as a commissioner, said he plans to fight the recall and will not resign.
Julie Carr, of Dayville, was the chief petitioner for recalling Britton. She said she could not discuss it in depth on Thursday, but was pleased to see it move ahead to the ballot.
“I’m glad, because a lot of folks were afraid to sign the petition,” Carr said. “I’m glad enough people want to find positive change.”
Frances Preston, of Prairie City, also volunteered to circulate the petition and gather signatures. She said most people she talked to were excited to sign, and spur additional change in county government after incumbent Commissioner Chris Labhart lost his bid for reelection against Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher in May.
“I think with a change in the two new commissioners, that will bring about a big difference in the way the county is run,” Preston said.
But Britton, who has served nearly 14 years, said he will defend himself vigorously. In February, he voted along with Commissioner Labhart and Judge Scott Myers against funding an investigation into the Canyon Creek Complex, which burned more than 110,000 acres and destroyed nearly 40 homes.
Five months later, Britton said he still feels that was the right decision.
“We needed to move on and start healing,” he said. “It’s a tragedy, but I really felt it was in the best interest of Grant County.”
The Malheur National Forest previously detailed its response to the blaze, which started as two smaller fires that merged and spread amid dry and windy weather. The Grizzly Bear Complex and Cornet-Windy Ridge fires also made big runs on the same day, Aug. 14, of last year.
Britton said he did what he could in the immediate aftermath to help residents start rebuilding their homes by reaching out to agencies and streamlining regulations.
“We were really able to help all those people out,” he said.
The petition also claims that Britton violated a 2013 county ordinance requiring all roads, trails and byways across public lands remain open unless authorized by the county court and sheriff’s office. That ordinance was passed in order for the Forest Service to heed county input on road closures, Britton said.
Steve Beverlin, supervisor on the Malheur National Forest, said he consulted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the General Counsel last year, which determined the ordinance is illegal and unenforceable. However, he said the forest continues to consult with the county court on all projects where access might be impacted.
“Particularly, Commissioner Britton has been very willing to sit down and have those discussions,” Beverlin said.
On the other hand, Beverlin said Sheriff Glenn Palmer has never agreed to be a part of those meetings. A letter from Beverlin to Palmer on Feb. 17, 2015 shows the sheriff was previously invited to discuss emergency protocol on the forest, and attend county court sessions where forest projects were considered. Palmer declined to discuss the issue any further when contacted last week.
Britton said he doesn’t recall the court ever denying permission for the Forest Service to close any roads, which are done on a project-by-project basis.
The third complaint in the petition argues that Britton failed to recuse himself “in decisions with agencies and individuals of which he has not only benefited personally, but financially.” Britton, who owns a welding shop in John Day, said he works on Forest Service trucks and rigs from time to time, averaging $4,200 in payments each of the last five years — far from his largest account.
Britton said he doesn’t understand how he stands to benefit by being involved in county government and reviewing projects.
“That, to me, is baseless,” he said.
Finally, the petition alleges Britton misrepresented his intentions at a community meeting Jan. 26 where Bundy and refuge occupiers were scheduled to make an appearance. That was the same night officers arrested Bundy and four others on Highway 395, and shot and killed Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
Britton said he attended that meeting at the request of others in the community who were uneasy about attending themselves. Commissioner Labhart and Judge Myers also attended the meeting, during which none of them addressed the crowd.
Judge Myers said he prepared a statement in case he was asked to speak, but otherwise isn’t sure what people expected them to do. Myers said he feels the recall against Britton is unfounded, and believes it will fail as Grasty’s did.
Britton said he feels there are similar issues at heart between the two efforts, and said he hopes Grant County residents will feel the same way as Harney County.
“Everything I do ... is about what’s in the best interest of the people of Grant County,” he said.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.