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CL council stays at three, for now

Emotional transition as recalled mayor, council members exit

CASCADE LOCKS - An emotional moment of transition took place Monday in Cascade Locks.

"We were here for a very short period of time. One should always take that into account," George Fischer said during closing remarks in what is likely his last meeting as mayor.

By turns a shouting match and poignant summing up, Monday's City Council meeting included loud arguments between council members and citizens, typical of council meetings in the past six months.

Much of the focus of the night's discussion concerned or involved "the three," as councilors Tom Cramblett, Eva Zerfing and Lance Masters have come to be known.

Fischer and council members Don Haight, Tiffany Pruit and Kevin Benson were voted out of office Sept. 20 in a close recall election among Cascade Locks voters, meaning "the three" will be the total seated council at the next scheduled meeting, Oct. 10.

That is also the date when the county Elections Department is scheduled to certify the Sept. 20 ballot.

The recall effort was led by the organization Five Alarm Recall; the vote was at or about 53 in favor to 47 percent opposed in all four cases forwarded by the group. (A separate recall effort against Masters failed, 60 percent against to 40 percent for removing Masters.)

An effort led by Fischer Monday to fill a new vacancy on the council, created by Haight's resignation on Friday, ended with no action.

Masters protested Fischer's efforts to make an appointment to fill Haight's seat, telling Fischer, "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves for suggesting this.

"This is not legal and it won't hold up," Masters said.

Moments after a tense face-to-face with Masters in which Cramblett told Masters, "You're the one who should be ashamed for the way you have conducted yourself," Cramblett changed his mind about the appointment and joined Masters and Zerfing in voting against filling Haight's seat.

Monday's drama ensued when Fischer announced that Haight had submitted his letter of resignation Friday. Early in the meeting, Fischer added to the agenda the business of filling Haight's vacant seat, and Benson moved to appoint longtime Cascade Locks resident Bobby Walker to the seat.

What followed were protests by Masters, Zerfing and members of the community on two points: first, that the Sept. 20 vote meant that the citizens did not want recalled members of the current council to be making major decisions; and, second, that there had been no public notice of the vacancy and the opportunity to apply, giving Walker apparent special treatment.

"It's not reasonable and it's not necessary," Masters said.

A shouting match developed that was quelled by Fischer's gavel accompanied by a loud shout of "That's enough!" voiced by Chief Deputy Jerry Brown of Hood River County Sheriff's Department, who was there in uniform.

When things cooled, Walker stated that the letter he wrote to the council was specifically addressed to Zerfing, Masters and Cramblett, and not to the council as a whole. He later read aloud the letter, in which he offered to serve the city, without mentioning serving on council.

Walker said he declined to be appointed at this time, but urged the city to schedule a town meeting to hear from all interested applicants.

The motion to make the appointment had passed 4-2, with Masters and Zerfing opposing. Cramblett later voted against making an appointment, so the matter died.

Submitting a letter of application Monday was Rick Randall. Jeff Helfrich, who ran for council in 2010, and Tina Tarani, a member of Five Alarm, said they had not known Haight had resigned and would also like to be considered.

Benson repeatedly stated that "there won't be any town meeting," and that the appointment "is up to the council."

Benson had earlier stated, "I think it's been decided by Mr. Helfrich and the Five Alarm group. These folks have already teamed up on this."

Zerfing told Benson, "I have no intention of deciding that way," and then asked City Attorney Alex Sosnkowski, "Can we determine our own process?"

Sosnkowski said the council has leeway to do so; she and interim city administrator Paul Koch will present a list of options to the remaining council members, either at the Oct. 10 meeting or at a special meeting to be announced. According to Sosnkowski, there is nothing in the statute or charter prohibiting the council from interviewing the applicants in a public meeting.

Fischer defended his attempt to fill Haight's vacancy, saying "I have always been a mayor who believed in looking into things and doing what is the reasonable thing and what is the legal thing. I believe we are correct in the law in making sure we fill a vacancy that did happen.

"As mayor, I should try to fill vacancies when they occur," he said. "I believe it is my role, taking care of business and bringing things along as long as I am mayor."

It was the apparent swansong for Fischer, Pruit and Benson, who each had the chance for a final say at the end of the meeting, along with "the three."

Zerfing thanked the departing officials "because you're all here because you wanted to make a difference. I like you all and I respect you all."

Cramblett said, "I am saddened (council) is changing and I do appreciate all you do for the community and will continue to do."

Cramblett had earlier stated, "We're stuck with the election, but I accept it."

Benson declined to comment, but Fischer and Pruit took their turns.

Fischer said "I ran for mayor to help the city of Cascade Locks and that has always been my goal.

"It has been a pleasure to serve and a burden to serve," Fischer said, adding that "a lesson I learned the hard way was 'don't believe what you read in the newspaper.'"

Pruit, who had her own comments on the Hood River News, started off by asserting a long list of actions taken by the recall supporters, including shouting and name calling, filing fake police reports, and even "putting bags of dog poop on porches.

"This council stood above and beyond and behaved in the most professional way," Pruit said.

She then criticized the Hood River News as "not a real newspaper" and stated Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea lacks professional ethics, had taken sides, did not report facts from both sides, and had refused to publish three press releases from the city along with letters to the editor.

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