City needs a new recall law

City needs a new recall law

September 14th, 2012 in Opinion Times

It's been clearly evident for two years that the fringe attempt to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield was groundless to a fault, and fatally flawed under legal guidelines. The recall's chief supporter, Jim Folkner, has refused to give up, however. We hope Wednesday's appeals court verdict, upholding most of the trial court's findings, will finally be acknowledged as the last word.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling on the recall's key deficiencies: the city's two-step recall statute failed to meet the state's superior mandate for a three-step recall process, and there were too few qualified and dated signatures to meet recall petition requirements.

The former will absolutely require the City Council to adopt a revised recall charter to meet state guidelines. The latter should shame the Election Commission, and the majority Republic bloc that ap proved the petitions.

Commission workers allegedly told recall organizers that signatures on their petitions didn't have to be dated -- a requirement under state law to allow signers to change their mind and retract their signatures within 10 days. The partisan Republican Election Commissioners, who hold a 3-2 majority edge, negligently approved undated signatures to be counted anyway. Then they rushed to approve the recall petitions and put the question on the ballot despite warnings of flaws by the panel's two Democrats -- one of whom is Jerry Summers, a highly successful trial lawyer who formerly served as the Election Commission's attorney.

In fact, the Republicans' excessive partisanship seemed apparent at every turn. They also supported their attorney, Chris Clem, in the filing of lengthy petitions supporting the recall process and futilely challenging the constitutionality of the state's recall statute. Clem's fees pushed the Election Commission's $25,000 annual legal budget up to $35,000 by the end of the last fiscal year on June 30. His final bills for the last appeal, Election Commission administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan confirmed Thursday, have yet to be tallied.

There's a good argument to be made that the commission's members and Clem didn't have to get so heavily involved in the legal tangle over the recall petition. All they really had to do was acknowledge the court's authority and await the ruling in the legal contest between Folkner and Mayor Littlefield, who properly challenged the recall petition's flaws.

City officials must now move promptly to adopt a recall process that overrides their illogical two-step recall. Because of an exceedingly low turnout of 18,000 voters in the last mayoral election, it would have allowed the mayor's opponents to effectively accomplish a recall of the mayor with just 9,000 valid signatures on the petitions; that's less than 10 percent of the city's registered voters. Had the petitions and signatures been found adequate, the mayor automatically would have been removed, and a new election would have held.

State law prevents such an exceedingly low recall vote by requiring a three-step process: a successful petition, then a vote on whether to recall the mayor, and, then, if needed, a new election. That's a far fairer process. A revised charter is in order.