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Tim Myers: The hard road to recall

Myers' Musing

Posted: July 24, 2010 5:40 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Well, it is official. The people who voted for the challengers in the recent Santa Clarita City Council election — where one David Gauny came painfully close to unseating incumbent Councilman Frank Ferry, who particularly upsets the loyal opposition — are really upset.

To compound the problem, four of the five sitting council members took action recently to perfect the sinecure of their incumbency by nearly tripling individual campaign contribution limits, the farm equivalent of sticking a garden hose into the chicken coop and completely opening the valve.

This now leaves the leaders of the loyal opposition, primarily Gauny and TimBen Boydston, in a very tough spot. They and their followers’ strident opposition to the increased campaign contributions effectively constitutes an admission that any future challenge to incumbents under the current circumstances and rules cannot succeed.

Luckily, the leaders of the opposition at least boast marginal coherence, so they now will shift their attention to the two “Rs”: recall and reform.

This column starts a series of three that will evaluate the recall process and reform strategies of term limits and district representation.
We begin with the recall process.

Local elected officials I know tell me that not a week goes by that they do not receive an e-mail threatening to recall them from office due to upset over some situation at the entity they lead. These threats get particularly voluminous when a particularly unpopular decision is made, like the cancellation of eighth-grade promotion ceremonies.

How seriously should elected officials take these threats? Not very, it turns out.

According to my research, utilizing inaugaral Councilman Carl Boyer’s book on Santa Clarita for primary material, the last (partially) successful recall effort in the SCV occurred 40 years ago in 1970, when an “incensed” population achieved a 25.7 percent turnout to narrowly recall two of four targeted William S. Hart Union High School District board members.

The complaint? Four of the five board members terminated the superintendent for refusing to fire the principal of Canyon High School for some vague dereliction of duty relating to the occurrence of anti-Vietnam War protests on that campus. (As to why this would be a big issue, Boyer also relates how the Hart district refused to lower flags to half staff after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which provides about all the information one needs to know about the political makeup of the Board of Education.)

Boyer led that effort, and he also showed up at City Council recently to protest the raising of contribution limits. Disappointed at the result, he told certain media outlets about a push to form a sinister and mysterious “Committee to Take Back our City,” a fantastic name for a recall effort.

But how feasible is a recall effort? According to California law, a person or group can file a notice of recall with 10 signatures or the number required to file for the local office — in the case of Santa Clarita, an extremely modest amount.

Do a Google search on “California City Council recall” and one will find that this low threshold results in dozens of active recall campaigns at any particular time. But what about actually qualifying a recall for the ballot?

Well, with Santa Clarita’s 89,000 registered voters, the recall advocates must obtain signatures of 15 percent of the registered voters, or around 13,000. That’s no big deal, except this number equals more than 85 percent of the folks who actually cast ballots in the 2010 elections, most of whom voted for the incumbents, since they still hold the office.

No problem. One can easily meet the requirement by gathering the signatures from the population at large during the approximate 23 weeks allowed for gathering. So station your anti-incumbent posse for 23 weekends at the various Wal-Marts in the city (two) and gather your qualified signatures at the rate of just under 600 per weekend.

A problem exists. Experience shows that up to 30 percent of signatures gathered at retail locations don’t qualify. So for safety’s sake, our intrepid reformers must gather a total of about 19,000 signatures, or a rate of 800 per week. They man — or woman — the card table eight hours per day on Saturday and Sunday, and to get to the safe 19,000 must obtain a signature every two minutes and 24 seconds. Take Sunday off and get a signature every one minute and 12 seconds to succeed.

Well, so much for our nascent recall effort. Next week we talk about the first form of electoral change mooted by our wet friends in the chicken coop: Term limits for City Council members.

    Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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