How to Remove a Mayor from Office: Oregon City Residents Spark Change with Grassroots Recall Campaign

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The night of November 10th was a big moment for the Recall Dan Holladay campaign in Oregon City. The results of over four months of work in the Oregon suburb of 37,000 were only minutes away, and though many were confident they would prevail, there was still an air of nervousness.

To kill time while waiting for the final results, the committee–led by volunteer coordinator Dara Kramer–decided to host a Zoom party, complete with a Recall-themed trivia game.

“I was feeling optimistic,” Kramer said. “But I was still guarded because I knew that my feedback was from people I knew, and people I knew in the community were very supportive.”

Luckily, the results came in rather quickly. With 13,600 votes in total, Mayor Dan Holladay became Former-Mayor, with a staggering 68.04 percent in favor of the recall.

Cheers erupted through the online gathering. People leaned into their cameras, their eyes peering at the final numbers on the screen.

Only minutes after the results had been posted, the campaign shared their excitement via their official Facebook page: “We did it, Oregon City! Dan Holladay has been recalled!”

Recalling a mayor from office is no easy task. But in Oregon City, the passion of the community to stand for what’s right came through strong when a group of concerned citizens–led by a local middle school teacher and a college student–managed to remove Dan Holladay from office. Though they prevailed in the end, it was an arduous process for the campaign committee. And even now, it’s all far from over.

The Campaign Begins

Though he is a student first and foremost, studying politics, policy, and law and ethics at Willamette University, 20-year-old Adam Marl has been no stranger to real-world politics. Before serving as campaign manager for the Recall campaign, he previously served on two Oregon state representative campaigns in 2016 and 2018 and acted as campaign manager for Jeff Goodman’s run for Oregon state treasurer in 2020.

Dan Holladay first crossed Marl’s radar back in April of 2020. Without consulting the city commission beforehand, Mayor Holladay had publicly pushed for Oregon City businesses to reopen, despite Governor Kate Brown’s COVID-19 shutdown orders.

“Just like everyone else in Oregon City, I remember seeing those first articles about him wanting to breach the governor’s orders and then the attorney general threatening to take legal action against the entire city,” said Marl. “That was what really brought my attention to his actions.”

Later, in June, Holladay also made public remarks against the Black Lives Matter movement, posting on social media that racism and police brutality is “hardly an epidemic.” 

“I still, to this day, don’t think that those are necessarily grounds for recall,” Marl said. “But then when we began to hear more about his misuse of taxpayer dollars, the way that he treats his fellow commissioners and tried to go behind their back to conduct city business, that was particularly troubling to me.”

On June 17th, Marl addressed the commission at Oregon City’s City Hall for the first time. Alongside dozens of other citizens, Marl delivered his testimony against then sitting-Mayor Holladay.  Holladay was not present at the meeting–a regular occurrence.

Following his remarks, Marl was approached by Dara Kramer, a resident of Oregon City–and Marl’s former middle school English teacher. She and a group of other Oregon City residents were interested in putting together an official campaign to recall Holladay. Impressed with Marl’s comments and his background in politics, they decided he would be an ideal candidate for the position of campaign manager.

“I was still a little leery of joining the recall campaign because it was a volunteer position. As a college student, that’s kind of a big risk,” Marl said. “But in the end, having met all the people that were involved, I knew it was the right step.”

Officially taking on the role of campaign manager, Marl then had to move the rest of the team into high gear. To time the recall as close to the general election as possible, all the paperwork had to be completed in less than a week. From there, the team then only had 90 days to collect signatures to get the recall on the ballot.

There was a lot to get done and very little time to do it. Luckily, the campaign’s volunteer effort was up to the task.

A Change is Made

Dara Kramer, a public school teacher for nearly 20 years, currently works at Gardiner Middle School in Oregon City, teaching language arts, physical education, and health online to her sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students. Her first foray into local politics came through her career as a teacher when Oregon City school board members were fighting against writing an equity policy for the district.

“I was floored by some of the things that they were saying,” Kramer said. With elections coming up, she decided to take action. “I was just supporting [opposing] campaigns in any way I could. Helping with word of mouth and social media. Thankfully, our board changed after that election and they did pass our equity policy. We have a much more forward-looking inclusive board now than we did before.”

Though she had been involved as support before, taking on the Recall campaign was her first time holding an official position. As volunteer coordinator, Kramer oversaw over 100 volunteers. By far the biggest challenge she faced was in the signature-gathering phase of the campaign. 

To qualify for the ballot, the campaign to recall Holladay needed to collect 2,400 certified signatures. For a signature to be valid, the signer had to be a registered voter at the time of signing, their signature had to match the signature on their voter record, and they had to live within the city limits.

“That was a bit complicated,” Kramer said. “Sometimes people are rightfully confused because they have an Oregon City address, but they don’t live inside the city limits.”

With these complications in mind, the campaign aimed above the minimum goal. As a result, they succeeded with flying colors, collecting over 3,000 valid signatures, well above the margin to qualify for the ballot.

With the recall officially locked in for November, all the team had to do was wait and see what the rest of the city had to say. For the most part, they were confident. Most of the public was very supportive, though there were a loud few who directly opposed the recall, including, of course, Dan Holladay.

Early on, Holladay tried to paint the recall as an anti-police campaign. He also frequently had his girlfriend, Betty, speak at meetings on his behalf. Other vocal supporters of Holladay included his brother, Rick, and Victoria Taft, a writer for One America News.

But despite any opposing voices, on November 10th, Oregon City voters made the final decision. Dan Holladay was recalled from office. The city could move forward.

The City’s Future

On March 9th, nearly four months after the recall was made official, Oregon City commissioner Rachel Lyles-Smith was elected Oregon City’s new mayor. 

Like many small towns, Oregon City has a weak mayor system, meaning the mayor cannot act individually without the consensus of the city commission. However, the city commission–including Lyles-Smith–has set specific goals for the next two years that she hopes they will be able to address during her upcoming term, including homelessness, a backlog of parks maintenance, and Oregon City’s aging water infrastructure.

“I’ve enjoyed working on the city commission and that work will continue in the mayoral seat,” Lyles-Smith said. “With the campaign behind me, it will allow me to give my full attention back to the work of the city.”

Even though the recall and special mayoral election are now past, the work for the city in the wake of it all is still far from over. For commissioner Rocky Smith, one of the biggest issues that must be addressed is making sure that those in power will be held accountable for their actions to avoid another Dan Holladay situation.

“This idea that freedom of speech is just the ability to say whatever you want without a consequence, it’s just not reality,” said Smith. “If you said something at school, as a teacher, that was your own right to say, you could say it, but you might lose your job for it. And that should be the same [for the mayor]. The problem is [the commission] can’t fire the mayor. The only people that can do that are the voters themselves.”

According to Smith, there are certain things in the city’s guidelines that state what it takes to remove someone from office. However, according to city investigators, Holladay didn’t officially violate any city policy. Most of this, Smith said, comes down to unclear wording in the city guidelines. He hopes that these rules can be further investigated and cleared up to avoid a similar situation from happening in the future.

For now, though, the city commission will first have to go through another process to fill Lyles-Smith’s seat on the commission. According to Smith, it may not be until May or June until the city once again has a full city commission. But with Lyles-Smith’s two years of experience, Smith feels that the transition should be smooth.

“I think we all felt like after the recall was kind of a restart,” Smith said. “I think we are a solid commission and we’re moving forward.”

Those who worked on the Recall campaign are also hoping that this will be a new start to Oregon City. For Marl, his biggest hope is that the campaign has inspired more people to stay engaged and informed on the issues that affect their local communities the most. 

“It sounds simple,” said Marl. “But before you can advocate, you need to actually know the intricacies of these issues.”

Dara Kramer echoes this sentiment wholeheartedly.

“I admit when I was first living here, I was much more concerned with what was going on at a state level or national level,” said Kramer. “But what we have going on right here is actually where we can make the biggest impact in what we choose to do.” — Bren Swogger

Photo: Campaign manager Adam Marl speaks at the Kickoff Rally for the Recall in July 2020. Photo by Lady and Gent. Courtesy Recall Dan Holladay.


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