A drive to recall three directors from the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District moved forward Friday when petitions were certified by the Clatsop County Clerk’s Office.
The petitions seek the recall of Linda Beck-Sweeney, Garry Smith and Sharon Clyde.
The three directors have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to either resign or submit a written statement of justification to the Clerk’s Office.
If the directors do not resign, the Clerk’s Office anticipates a recall election on April 5 for voters within the fire district.
The recall drive is motivated by residents who are upset by the fire protection district’s firing of Mike Balzer as fire chief last October.
Cannon Beach resident Susan Neuwirth organized the petition drive and collected letters from current and former volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, which she presented to the board. “They’re obviously not acting on behalf of the community or the volunteers,” Neuwirth said. “Because if they were it wouldn’t have happened how it did, and it shouldn’t have happened at all.”
A volunteer for 30 years before becoming chief, Balzer was locked out of his office, met with a police escort while he gathered his belongings and sent home walking in the rain, Neuwirth said in January.
Balzer filed a civil suit in Clatsop County Court against the fire district, claiming the firing was motivated by “personal animus and did not constitute the good faith sufficient cause under the employment agreement.” He seeks more than $677,000 in damages and relief.
The three directors defended their decision.
“Those who serve on the boards of public agencies, such as Cannon Beach RFPD bear the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of those agencies,” Clyde wrote in a response on behalf of herself, Beck-Sweeney and Smith. “They have a fiduciary responsibility to those who elected them to provide a high level of oversight, particularly in matters of management and administration.
“Failures and shortcomings in these areas can subject an agency to financial loss, sanctions by regulatory agencies, and liability,” they wrote.
“The best athletes don’t always make the best coaches. The termination of Mike Balzer as fire chief had nothing to do with his qualities as a human being, his dedication to the community, or his skills as a firefighter … all of which are unquestioned.
“Mike was let go when the majority of the directors, elected by district voters, became concerned about his ability to perform the administrative skills required of the head of a public agency,” the directors wrote.
Arguing that the chief’s legal action limits the amount of information that can be released, Clyde wrote “Indeed, it could be argued that a recall effort is premature, as the details of the events leading up to the chief’s termination won’t become public knowledge until such time as a civil trial is held.”
A minimum of 125 names were required on each petition to bring the recall to a vote. For each director, 126 signatures were certified, County Clerk Valerie Crafard said.