Drive to recall commissioners gets ugly
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
August 06, 2013 09:36 pm

Port Orford resident Paul Mohlin plans to file paperwork to get a restraining order against County Commissioner David Brock Smith, alleging that the elected official is harassing him and his son by spreading rumors about them.

The request for the order comes amid petitions Mohlin is circulating to have Smith and County Commissioner David Itzen recalled.

“It’s everywhere now,” Mohlin said of the rumor. “It’s all over the community. How does that affect a child? It’s sad when a full grown man like that takes that avenue.”

Mohlin said he has no criminal record other than a speeding ticket in Iowa 10 years ago.

“I’ve never made such comments about Mr. Mohlin,” Smith said. “I’ve never even met the man.”

Smith has pointed out that the recall’s treasurer, David Darnell, was convicted 10 years ago for sexual abuse on a child. Court records show that Darnell was convicted in 2003 of two counts of sex abuse and served 13 months in prison.

Mohlin believes Smith’s comment about Darnell’s criminal history is a personal attack on his work to get the commissioner recalled.

Mohlin is not the only one Smith has talked to about recall petitions.

The commissioner recently asked Wedderburn Store owner Tori Belangie to remove recall petitions from her establishment, which she refused.

“He didn’t say, ‘Take them out, or I’ll kill you,’” Belangie said. “He just said take them out. I don’t intimidate well. I feel I’m doing a community service. We have the Constitutional right to do what we’re doing; that’s why we don’t shoot each other anymore.”

“I was upset about it,” said a man who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “He wasn’t so much threatening her as pressuring her. It infuriates me that someone would try to infringe upon the citizen’s right to petition the government.”

Belangie said she hasn’t kept up with the issues surrounding the recall, and doesn’t know if she’ll even sign the petition herself.

“I’m staying neutral on the whole thing,” she said. “I thought about taking it down. But we all have to stand for something sometimes.”

Smith said he merely mentioned his concerns to Belangie because, as a fellow business owner, any kind of petition or even election sign can affect one’s business.

He also noted that posting petitions without having someone there to verify each signature is illegal.

“Circulators must witness the signing of signature by each individual and believe each individual is an elector,” Smith said. “I didn’t want her to get in trouble.”

Indeed, the petitions state “Each circulator must personally witness all signatures the circulator collects,” and the person collecting signatures must also sign the sheet certifying that, “I witnessed the signing of the signature sheet by each individual … Falsely signing this statement may result in conviction of a felony with a fine of up to $125,000 and/or prison for up to five years.”

The petitions in Belangie’s store have about 40 signatures each, and because she’s not involved in the recall, Belangie said she’s not verifying voter registration status, residency or other requirements to ensure they’re valid.

“If people want to sign it, they sign it,” she said. “If not, they don’t.”

Mohlin said petitioners have gathered about 750 of the 1,542 signatures needed to get the recall questions on the ballot. They have until Sept. 8 to submit them to the County Clerk’s Office.

“I feel it could go better,” he said of the effort. “It’s not bad, but it could go better. I expected more from people. All the outcry and complaining and whining is what got me started in the first place. Some of the loudest whiners haven’t even signed. But we’re still plugging away. We’re going to get them. All Smith is doing is putting a fire under my butt.”

Misinformation

Recall petitioners seem to be facing challenges from within their own group, as well.

Steve Braun of KURY Radio, said a petitioner from Gold Beach gave him a flyer to post, but he refused to after reading it.

In part, it reads: “Public notice: 11.2 percent employment tax increase; Stop the 11.2 percent tax by recalling County Commissioners Smith and Itzen.”

“I was keeping quiet, but I saw this; I couldn’t believe it,” Braun said. “I said (on the air) they need to put out true information; this is all false information. I don’t like it. I see it as an injustice.”

The flyer further indicates that if the two aren’t recalled, the tax with “automatically take effect in October without voter consent. We need 1,500 signatures by Sept. 1 to recall (the commissioners) who are sponsoring this new tax.”

“This is an outright lie; we’ve taken stands against it,” Itzen said. “We would rather craft a Curry County solution.”

The “income tax” to which the fliers refer is related to House Bill 3453, which was passed in the last legislative session. It would allow the state, at the request of county leaders, to take over the duties of certain departments of O&C counties in fiscal distress.

To pay for those services, the state would then bill the counties through an income tax surcharge; in Curry County that would be a 22.4 percent. An amendment to the house bill requires the state to pay half those costs, reducing the surcharge to 11.2 percent.

The 11.2 percent is not an increase to the state’s existing 9.9 percent income tax. It is applied to the amount of tax paid on original taxable wages. For instance, if someone makes $10,000 a year in taxable income and pays $990 in state income taxes, the 11.2 percent surcharge is applied to that $990 — $111.89, for a total tax bill of $1,101.89.

A myriad of steps must take place before the state government can even step in to help.

“Let the recall stand on its own merit,” Braun said. “Everyone needs to come together and come up with something that works.”

He believes the recall — and the misinformation connecting the commissioners to a tax surcharge — is “a smokescreen to keep the county board off their game. I can’t understand why they’re doing this.”

Smith, who owns a restaurant in Port Orford, said, “Being a business owner myself, I’m used to having people wanting to post things in my business all the time. These are flat-out lies and tie your business to that (when they’re posted).”

Braun also said he thinks the commissioners shouldn’t rise to the bait and fight it.

“If they battle it overtly, get down in the dirt … they’ll besmirch their good name by responding,” he said. “It’s like you’re back in grade school and defending your honor. They should not respond to any of this stuff. They’ll get you right where they want you. It’s crazy; it’s just crazy.”