Wheeler County Judge Patrick C. Perry is the latest elected official in Eastern Oregon to face a recall.
A petition to recall Perry received 169 valid signatures, which were more than enough to place it on the ballot in rural Wheeler County — population 1,381. Perry has indicated he will not resign, and a special recall election will be held Monday, Aug. 15.
Seven county officials already called on Perry to resign in April: Treasurer Sandra Speer; Clerk Barbara Sitton; Assessor Donald Cossitt; Justice of the Peace Robin Ordway; Commissioners Lynn Morley and Robert Ordway; and Sheriff Chris Humphreys. They cited “serious allegations” that have tainted Perry’s leadership, but did not go into details.
The Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office forwarded allegations to the Oregon Department of Justice on April 29. A spokeswoman for the DOJ confirmed there is an investigation into Perry, but could not provide additional information.
The recall petition was filed by Steve Speer, husband of Sandra Speer. It sheds some light on the allegations, among them that Perry had an inappropriate relationship with a county employee he supervised earlier this year. Both Perry and the employee, Economic Development Director Patti Jaeger, deny that happened.
The petition also claims there have been “excessive situations needing litigation” under Perry’s watch as the head of human resources, resulting in “thousands (of dollars) in fees and settlements.” A third complaint alleges that Perry ordered a raise for another county employee by garnishing his own wages, but never followed through on reducing his salary.
Perry, who was elected county judge in 2012, filed a response to the allegations describing them as vague and unfounded. He said his job is to oversee and make decisions in the best interest of the county, which isn’t always easy.
In his statement for justification, Perry said he is trying to provide as much service as possible with the few resources.
“Trying to provide services with very limited funding does create controversy among elected officials, but I continuously work through these fiscal issues,” the statement reads.
As county judge, Perry handles both juvenile and probate cases while also serving as chairman of the Board of Commissioners. He addressed some of the allegations with the East Oregonian, including his relationship with Jaeger, which he said was never inappropriate.
Jaeger, 20, was hired in February, and was initially supervised by Commissioner Morley before being reassigned to Perry. She was assigned back to Morley at a special meeting April 27 — the same meeting where county officials submitted their letters asking for Perry’s resignation.
Perry, who is 50, said he worked closely with Jaeger and helped her to develop professional connections. They also play cards and golf together, but there was never anything inappropriate under his supervision.
Jaeger also denied any inappropriate activity between the two.
“He’s a great friend and a good person, too,” Jaeger said. “I’ve never had any inappropriate relations with him.”
Jaeger’s mother, Corrina, said she believes the relationship went beyond that.
“Our concern is that he has taken a young, innocent individual with her whole career and life ahead of her, and twisted that by using his position and authority, and encouraging her to do things she would never do and knows are morally incorrect,” she said.
As for other allegations in the petition, Perry said he has been left to speculate.
In his defense, Perry said he has been active in bringing in state dollars to help the county develop its infrastructure. He said he hopes voters will weigh his accomplishments.
“We’ll let the voters decide whether they want me to stay here or not,” he said.
Perry is the third Eastern Oregon official to face a recall in recent months. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty retained his seat by an overwhelming margin earlier this month, while a recall election is scheduled for Aug. 16 against Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.