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Editorial: Recall Mayor Sara Bristol

It’s being claimed that “Mayor Bristol has no power to fix the problem of homeless people living in our parks.” Really? Her influence inside city government proves otherwise and is a power unto itself.

Mayor Bristol was not a political neophyte when she became mayor. Her father is former Grants Pass Mayor Mike Murphy. He controversially appointed five city councilors in 2009 when five of eight councilors were recalled in a special election. Unlike the subsequent recall effort against Mayor Murphy, the recall effort against Mayor Bristol successfully collected enough signatures to hold a special election.

Now Grants Pass voters will decide whether to recall Bristol now and get a new mayor or wait to elect a new mayor later.

Does Mayor Bristol have any power to change things? In our “weak mayor” form of government, the mayor has the direct power to veto council ordinances and break tie votes. She also has perceived power in the public square and behind the scenes, which gives her a lot of influence within city government. This influence and power should be used to promote the general good in our community.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bristol advocated giving $100 gift cards to people who took the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine injections. She is not a doctor and should have known better than to promote a novel medical injection in her role as mayor.

The homelessness and addiction “pandemic” in our public parks became much worse over the past two and a half years. Mayor Bristol’s primary solution to the homelessness problem has been to advocate getting state and federal taxpayer funding so nonprofit organizations can operate homeless campgrounds, shelters and navigation centers. What has failed in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco was her preferred solution to the homeless situation in Grants Pass.

A new mayor can bring a more balanced approach, which includes promoting non-taxpayer  supported resources such as the Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. According to Mission Executive Director Brian Bouteller, Mayor Bristol has never toured the Mission, although he’d be happy to show her around any time. A new mayor can also support efforts to stop the distribution of needles, camping equipment and medical services in our city parks.

Measure 110 decriminalized hard drugs and made Oregon a destination for drug abusers. Yet Measure 110 did not decriminalize bad behavior in our parks such as shooting up drugs in front of children. It took a murder in Riverside Park, closing Riverside Park for a month, and 350 outraged citizens for the mayor and city council to approve “tough love” Park and Nuisance Ordinances that could have been put in place two years ago.

Normally, we wait for elections to make political changes. Yet Grants Pass has a drug addiction and homeless crisis in our parks and streets now. We cannot wait until January 2025 for new leadership at City Hall. Leadership starts at the top, and that means the mayor. We need to make changes now and not later.

A new mayor can build community support to fund police and fire services first and the rest of city government second. This might involve hard decisions such as a hiring freeze for all departments other than police and fire and outsourcing nonessential services to get the job done for less. For families and governments, rising inflation means adjusting budget priorities and thinking outside the box. The mayor needs to lead the charge to fund law enforcement first.

The mayor vetoed the City Council’s 2023 strategic goals, which passed with a 5-3 majority. Her veto was not overridden because it lacked six votes. That’s real power – and it resulted in “Facilitate Homeless Shelter Site” being the No. 2 priority and “Explore Unhoused Vehicle Program” being the No. 6 priority for 2023. This pushed law enforcement funding down from No. 5 to No. 7 at the very time we need more police officers in our parks.

City Manager Aaron Cubic recently interviewed for a position in Benton County. He did not get it, but what happens if he leaves for greener pastures? The mayor would advise the city council on replacement candidates.

By the city losing the homeless class action lawsuit at the 9th Circuit Court, the process of getting our case heard before our conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court got speeded up. The Supreme Court could overturn the case in a year. Without the weight of the federal injunction, a new mayor working with the city council can take a fresh look at tackling the problem of drug addicts and mentally ill people living in our city parks.

We need a new direction in Grants Pass for dealing with homelessness and setting priorities that reflect the needs of all the residents of the city. A new mayor can lead the cause and work with the majority of the city council, which now leans conservative.

It’s time to make Grants Pass a better place to live for everybody. Vote Yes to recall Mayor Bristol.

Richard Emmons