With the election to recall two Banks Fire District board members approaching Tuesday, April 12, the two elected officials facing the recall sat down with the Banks Post to push back against what they said were false accusations.
Banks Fire District 13 Board Chair Mark Schmidlin and board member Ed Ewing are each the targets of a recall election triggered after petitioners exceeded the 449-signature threshold earlier in March, according to the Washington County Elections Division.
Accompanied by Scott Adams, volunteering personally to fight the recall, the Banks Post discussed the recall with the two board members.
Adams serves as a volunteer for the fire district, and is one of two volunteer public information officers at Banks Fire, a district covering 136 square miles in Washington County’s rural far northwestern region including the city of Banks and the unincorporated communities of Buxton, Timber, and Manning. Adams stressed that his volunteer role in the district was distinct from his political efforts in aiding the newly-created Friends of Banks Fire Political Action Committee (PAC), which opposes the recall of Schmidlin and Ewing. Adams noted he holds no official role in the PAC.
Separately, Adams noted that the policy of the district was simply to say that voters be educated on the matter and participate in the election.
Unlock all stories and support the independent Banks Post newsroom with a digital subscription.
In a press release issued by Adams on March 17 outlining a statement regarding the allegations against Linz, the fire board authorized the previous day, Adams said that the district—volunteers, staff, and board members—wanted to thank the community for what he described as an “outpouring of support.”
“We are aware of concerns that have been raised and have addressed those concerns in action and in multiple statements, including the one issued last night,” he wrote. “We ask the community to carefully consider all of the information available, including the sources of that information.”
Adams pointed those seeking further information to the district’s website, or to the district’s public information officer, a role he serves in along with fellow volunteer Mitch Ward.
When facing a recall election, candidates are given two options after signatures are validated by the county, according to the Oregon Secretary of State: Resign within five days, or face the will of the voters. WIthin five days, an official facing a recall can submit a statement of 200 words or less justifying their course of action in office, but if they do not resign or file a statement (both Schmidlin and Ewing filed a statement), an election will be scheduled to ask voters if the official should be recalled from office.
Both candidates are fighting to retain their seats on the board, pushing back against a number of allegations made against them in the fallout of allegations that Banks Fire Chief Rodney Linz sexually harassed a minor, among a number of other allegations against the chief.
The reason for demanding the recall and Schmidlin and Ewing’s statements of justification can be found directly on the ballot mailed to registered voters in the bounds of Banks Fire District 13, and can be read here for Schmidlin and here for Ewing.
Schmidlin, who said he has served on the fire board for 23 years, laid the blame for the recall election at the feet of people within the Banks Fire District who oppose change in the district.
The district employs just a handful of staff, with the rest of the ranks of firefighters and EMTs filled by volunteers.
“Some people just don’t like change, and their jobs, their responsibilities at the department got changed. And their feelings got hurt,” Schmidlin said.
Schmidlin believes that there’s a push to go back to “where the district [was].”
“We’re never going back to where we were. Change is constant,” Schmidlin said.
“You always have to try to get better,” Ewing said. “You always have to try to improve, you always have to keep up. You all have to be modernized, with people, equipment, everything.”
“I think a lot of people just- it’s not what it was before, so they don’t like it,” he added.
As reported first by the News-Times, in the recall petition, chief petitioner and Banks resident Jacoba Kemper laid out a number of allegations against Schmidlin and Ewing, which are printed in the ballot voters were sent March 23.
The recall demands charge that Schmidlin and Ewing both violated board policy in their handling of investigations regarding allegations brought to the board, allowing harassment to “run rampant” in the district, and by extending Chief Linz’ contract by five years.
Board policies can be read here.
The recall demand for Schmidlin also claimed that he had violated decorum and belittled and interrupted speakers. While the recall demand did not claim in what context those interruptions occurred, Schmidlin has interrupted people speaking during public comment portions of regular board meetings.
The recall demand also claims that Schmidlin has refused to “reveal actual and potential conflicts of interest.”
In a complaint to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, Schmidlin was alleged to have violated Oregon government ethics laws by failing to disclose his financial interests surrounding land his family leased in the course of their farming activities on property that was eventually acquired by the district to house the district’s newest station in Buxton, Hornshuh Creek Fire Station #14.
Ultimately, following a preliminary report prepared by state-employed staff tasked with investigating the matter, the commission’s legal council advised that, based on the report’s findings, Schmidlin did not appear to have violated Oregon ethics laws and recommended that the matter should be dismissed. On January 14, the commission considered the matter and voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.
Schmidlin said there had been no instances when the board had not initiated an investigation when it was brought to their body, noting that such investigations were not conducted by board members, but rather through the work of hired legal counsel.
Schmidlin expressed that not being able to disclose what he said were personnel issues had hampered the public’s view of what actions the board was or was not taking in regards to investigations surrounding Linz’ alleged remarks.
“People think that nothing was done because we couldn’t tell what decisions were made, but there were decisions made,” he said.
“And that seems to be a recurring theme in this whole recall,” Schmidlin, who’s served on the board for 23 years, said.
“All issues that are brought to the board are looked into. We have never have never swept anything under the rug. We take all complaints very seriously,” Schmidlin said.
Schmidlin dismissed the claim that hiring Linz under a five year contract was a violation of policy.
“Just because the chief has a five-year contract doesn’t mean that he is hired for five years,” Schmidlin said. “He’s an at-will employee. He can be fired by the board tomorrow.”
Ewing said that the recall had taken a personal note, attacking him in ways he felt were unfair.
“Three of my kids went through the fire science program (the fire science program is a Banks High School and Portland Community College program that works with the district to provide hands-on training to students interested in related career paths),” Ewing said, noting that his connection to the district has been around for a long time.
The accusations levied in the recall have affected him deeply, Ewing said, especially accusations printed in the ballot that he put personal relationships ahead of his oath of office.
“If somebody ran against me in an election, that’s fair game,” Ewing said.
“The untruths that have gone out there… I take real personally. It cuts bad. Where do they come up with this stuff?” Ewing said.
For the election, the ballot drop site at the Banks Public Library is open, and voters can also visit county offices to drop off a ballot at a drop box and inside the office by 8 p.m. April 12, or mail a ballot through Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. A new Oregon law that went into effect January 1 allows mail-in ballots to be counted on Election Day as long as they are in the mail and postmarked by 8:00 p.m.
The Banks Fire District can be reached by dialing 503-324-6262 or by filling out a form on the district website’s contact page.
This story has been updated to clarify Adams’ role as a supporter of the Friends of Banks Fire PAC.