Residents in Ward 7 may be voting in two more elections before the year is over: the November general and a possible special election in September.
Meta Maxwell and Mark Osterloh, who led efforts to collect signatures for the recall, say the catalyst for the effort is because of Syrett’s support for the MovingAhead transit plan as a councilor and council president. And while they collected signatures, they say Ward 7 residents felt uninformed about MovingAhead and were upset with her leadership in addressing the city’s other issues.
Syrett, who is undergoing cancer treatments that can slow her ability to respond quickly, says that she has heard from constituents who support the EmX expansion. She says the recall campaign is a misuse of a tool that is meant for dereliction of duty, guilty of crime or committing unethical practices. “I don’t think those things apply to me,” she says.
MovingAhead is a partnership with the city of Eugene, Lane Transit District and other groups, according to its website. The plan’s intent is to find ways to invest in transit options to get around Eugene and explore “what transportation investments are needed in some of our most important streets over the next 10 years.”
MovingAhead identifies LTD’s EmX route as a way to improve transit options on River Road.
After years of forums and outreach, a Feb. 28 joint Eugene City Council and LTD joint meeting, discussed feedback on the transit plan, and at a March 15 work session, council voted to move forward with “locally preferred alternatives,” which included expanding EmX to River Road.
But Maxwell claims the decision was made while ignoring hundreds of concerns about the project. EmX, she says, isn’t a popular transit option for River Road residents, who prefer to use cars. And to allow the EmX expansion, she says River Road will become a one-lane road, the area will lose more than 100 trees and it will create greenhouse gas emissions in laying the concrete on the road for the route.
“Ninety-five percent of people hadn’t heard about the plans,” Osterloh says of MovingAhead.
Syrett says there were forums held by the River Road neighborhood group before COVID-19 about the proposal. And the projected loss of 100 trees is because planners often take a larger number when planning projects, she adds. “It has to be scoped for the biggest build,” she says.
The recall organizers are so focused on opposing MovingAhead, Syrett says, that she thinks they might have filed one against Councilor Jennifer Yeh if the transit plan had called for an EmX line on Coburg Road.
As recall organizers gathered signatures along the River Road corridor, Osterloh says organizers heard even more concerns from residents about Syrett’s and the rest of council’s leadership. But he says he heard complaints about the potential costs of an expanded EmX line on River Road, which he estimates could be higher than the $100 million west Eugene expansion with inflation and supply chain impacting construction.
“We heard a lot of stories that ‘Claire Syrett never returns my calls,’” Maxwell says. She says residents spoke out about their concerns with housing density, landlord-tenant laws and crime. “They never felt like they had any input and council was running with its own agenda.”
Syrett says statements about her lack of response are unfair. She says she answers her emails to constituents, though it may take more than a day to respond. She’s also undergoing treatment for stage IV rectal cancer, so that is impacting her ability to respond immediately. But, Syrett points out, Maxwell and her team haven’t reached out to her to meet despite leading the recall campaign.
According to the timeline set forth by the city recorder, Syrett can resign from her office by August 8, or a recall election will take place 35 days later in September. The cost of a special election ballot will cost the city of Eugene between $17,000 and $23,000, according to an official with the Lane County Clerk’s office, which oversees elections.
Maxwell says she would like to see the council reverse its vote on MovingAhead. There is precedent on reversing a decision, she adds, pointing to Springfield City Council’s recent decision to delay action on an Oregon Department of Transportation plan to implement several roundabouts on Main Street.
Ward 7 includes the Whiteaker neighborhood, River Road and Highway 99. Syrett was re-elected in the May 2020 primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote, facing two other candidates. She was first elected to the Eugene City Council in May 2016.
Supporters of recalling Syrett formed a committee with the Oregon Secretary of State. The committee has raised more than $10,000 since May 3. Among the contributions are $1,000 from J.P. Hammer real estate agency, $500 from Kelly’s Home Center furniture store and $500 from Bret Laing co-president at Industrial Source gas and welding supply store.
The largest donation is $4,750 from Eugene Business Alliance, listed as an unregistered committee, according to OreStar. Maxwell says the recently formed committee is an organization representing 200 local businesses.
As president, Syrett’s duties are to serve as mayor if the mayor is absent. With the council president facing a recall election, Maxwell says she hopes the rest of council takes notice of its direction. “We trust that they’ll be able to see the writing on the wall,” she says. “That doesn’t happen unless people are upset.”
But if Syrett does get recalled, she says she would have to step down and council would appoint a replacement for her — someone who wouldn’t be too far off from the council’s current direction. “Why choose this tool when you could find a candidate who you can run next year?” she wonders.