Port Orford Mayor Jim Auborn appeared to be on his way to keeping his seat in office — but only by an 11-vote margin — as of press deadline Tuesday night.
Vote counts are not final, but by 9:30 p.m., 204 voters cast their ballots to recall the mayor and 215 voted against the ballot question.
“I’m really surprised it’s that close,” Auborn said earlier in the evening. “And I’m kind of disappointed. That’s the way it is.”
The votes will be certified later this week.
The vote was not only narrow, it attracted a large turnout.
By Monday evening, 374 ballots had been returned; by Tuesday, votes totalled 419, or 64 percent of eligible voters — and just 51 percent of them voting to keep Auborn in office.
Auborn has two years left in this term, his third. He said it is unlikely he’ll run again, but he would like to spend the remainder of his term “healing the bad things” in the city.
“There have been cases where mayors have been recalled and run for election again and won,” he said. “But three terms is an awful lot. I would like to finish this term; there are a lot of things going on I’d like to continue.”
The recall election was spurred by fisherman Brett Webb, who was angered when Auborn suggested last summer that the city form a committee to investigate the feasibility of creating a National Marine Sanctuary off Cape Blanco.
Auborn had learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration intended to change its regulations regarding nominations to encourage communities, rather than federal agencies, to nominate potential sites. He felt the designation would enhance the economic viability of Port Orford and give the city more say in local resource management.
His idea to create a committee, however, was immediately rejected by the city council.
Webb said a sanctuary designation would impose federal regulations that would be more strict than those in place under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the area that assures conservation and responsible use of ocean resources. He maintained that federal regulations not only affect the management of resources in the ocean, but extend upriver into the waterways that feed it, ultimately negatively affecting local economies.
He bases his statements on the controversial marine sanctuary where he used to work, saying any perception of increasing local control is “laughable.”
Bob Bailey, a Salem man who lobbies on behalf of marine sanctuaries, said the designations help fisheries and subsequently, the local economies.
In a statement filed March 3, Auborn justified his position as mayor by his dedication to public service since he moved to Port Orford 14 years ago.
He said he supports fishing and conservation interests through various organizations — and has dropped the marine sanctuary issue since learning the community doesn’t support it.
He refuted other claims that he used city resources for personal projects and not notifying the public to an oil spill that could have contaminated drinking water.
“I am saddened that these petitioners have called for my recall based on false and misleading information,” he said in the statement. “I rededicate myself to serve all the people of Port Orford for the remainder of my present term.”