Recall Repercussions

If the recall election against City Councilor Claire Syrett succeeds, it could have effects beyond River Road

Former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury looked at the recall petition filed against Eugene City Councilor Claire Syrett and was not impressed. “It really kind of offends me,” he says. “It’s not truthful.”

Bradbury was secretary of state from 1999 to 2009 and is known for ushering in Oregon’s vote by mail system and more recently for his work to combat climate change. He was attending a political fundraiser and started talking to Syrett about the petition triggering the recall election against her. 

Bradbury speaks with quiet force in a phone interview. “I think if it doesn’t get stopped — and we will see what the court does,” he says, “it starts to raise a red flag about recalls where they make claims that are not true under the recall system.” 

Syrett and her political candidate committee, Claire Syrett for Eugene City Council, filed a complaint with the Lane County Circuit Court seeking an injunction to halt the recall and alleging that the recall petitions made false statements in the recall’s support. State law bars the use of false information on recall petition forms. If the lawsuit is not successful, ballots, which are out for Ward 7 residents, are due Sept. 6.

Syrett represents Ward 7 on the City Council, an area containing Santa Clara, River Road, Trainsong and the Whiteaker neighborhood. The recall centers on Syrett’s March 14 vote on the city and Lane Transit District’s MovingAhead project. MovingAhead addresses community goals on efficient transportation options, reducing greenhouse gasses, road safety and active transportation options such as cycling, according to materials from the March 14 City Council work session.

The petition’s claims include that MovingAhead will remove two car lanes on River Road and replace them with dedicated bus lanes, leaving only one lane for cars each way, and that property will be taken from homes and businesses. What the City Council, LTD and the Metropolitan Policy Committee actually voted on was adopting the “recommended locally preferred alternatives.” The City Council materials say the “locally preferred alternative is a key milestone in the environmental review process that provides staff with direction on which alternative to pursue on each corridor.” River Road is one of five corridors in the project. Other corridors include Coburg Road and Highway 99.

Bradbury says, “It really struck me reading the petition for the recall — it’s really clear that it’s not legal to lie in a petition calling for a recall.” Because the city of Eugene doesn’t have its own recall language, the election operates under Oregon law. 

The petition, Bradbury points out, states that the project “will” take out a lane and “will” leave only one lane each direction for cars. “Will, will, will, it’s not correct,” he says. “It ‘could,’ and if the recall petition said ‘could,’ that would be accurate. It is not truthful to say it ‘will’ do those things.” 

Mark Osterloh, who has been one of the faces of the petition and avidly working to get Syrett recalled, speaks with the verve of a minister trying to convert sinners. He does not live in Ward 7. When asked about Bradbury’s concerns about the repercussions of the petition, he says, “We felt that these were extraordinary circumstances.” 

He alleges Syrett refused to answer the concerns of her constituents and when the first round of petitions were delivered to her “she ignored those.” He also says Syrett lied when she said she didn’t get any letters about MovingAhead. 

The petition, he says, is “about the right to redress grievances in our government.”

He switches topics from legal and ethical concerns about the petition to the MovingAhead EmX proposal for River Road itself, comparing the effects of moving from two lanes of traffic to one to “an L.A. traffic jam.”

He says MovingAhead’s EmX proposal doesn’t take into account new technology, and he advocates for using electric vehicles such as locally produced Arcimotos, self-driving technology and point-to-point services rather than hub-and-spoke systems such as buses that rely on passengers getting to a bus stop and perhaps later changing buses. 

Asked to address concerns about the petition process, Osterloh says “95 percent” of people he spoke to “had no idea what the plans were.” And that one person told him she was told it was “a done deal.”

A quick search for outreach on MovingAhead shows the River Road Community Organization’s Facebook page has recent posts about MovingAhead as well as requests for input posted in 2015 and 2019. A 2015 LTD press release says 200 people attended MovingAhead workshops in May of that year. Documents show that notices of meetings about MovingAhead were posted in The Register-Guard.

Ward 7 resident Daniel Isaacson is Syrett’s volunteer campaign coordinator and vice chair of the Eugene Planning Commission. He is zealous in Syrett’s defense and in his concerns about democracy, saying, “Somewhere along the way we forgot that sometimes in a democracy you lose, and when you do that doesn’t mean you weren’t listened to or that you should lie to voters to fraudulently obtain through a recall what you could not in a general election.”

Iasscson says, “Those behind the recall petition used the election calendar against the voters of Ward 7. They timed this reckless recall so that it would fall next to Labor Day in the hope that fewer people would be paying attention.”

He asks, “How can a campaign supposedly centering on transparency have at its core a hope for as few people to chime in on their argument?” 

Bradbury says if the courts don’t stop the recall from proceeding, “any time an elected official does something that might lead to something, they then could be potentially recalled over it.”

He adds, “I don’t think the voters will go for it.”

If the Sept. 6 recall election happens and Syrett loses, the Eugene City Council must appoint someone within 90 days. That individual, according to the City Charter, would serve until a special election is held, as the vacancy filling would have occurred more than 100 days before the 2023 May election.