10:00 PM PST on Friday, January 1, 2010

By GENE GHIOTTO
The Press-Enterprise

A group of San Jacinto residents seeking to recall four of the city’s five council members may be facing an uphill battle if other efforts to oust Inland politicians in recent years are any indication.

In the past 10 years or so, there have been at least 16 recall attempts in the region with less than a third resulting in a recall election. Only one council member, Murrieta’s Jack van Haaster, was ousted from office.

“It’s just hard to do,” said Cindy Ashenfelter, who led the unsuccessful effort to recall Noreen Considine, a member of the Jurupa Unified School District board.

Ashenfelter was unable to gather enough signatures to have the recall question put on a ballot. Similarly, a bid to recall Moreno Valley Councilwoman Robin Hastings fell short in the signature drive.

Lake Elsinore Councilman Thomas Buckley faces a Feb. 23 recall election. He has been accused of profiting from a land deal the city made while he was chairman of the city’s Redevelopment Agency. He denies any wrongdoing.

Another group has targeted Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley for recall, saying he caters to developers. Ashley has described the recall as frivolous.

Martin Johnson, an associate professor of political science at UC Riverside, said most recalls are motivated by something that prompts someone or a group to believe a politician needs to be removed from office. The event needs to be significant enough for the proponents to believe they can be successful.

Once started, proponents must notify the official of the intent to recall and then collect valid signatures from a percentage of the registered voters in the jurisdiction where the person is in office.

The number of signatures varies from 10 percent to 30 percent, depending on the number of registered voters in the district where the recall is attempted. In statewide recall attempts, signatures from 12 percent of the registered voters in at least five counties must be obtained.

In the effort in San Jacinto, 2,933 valid signatures of registered voters, or 20 percent, must be gathered. If the proponents don’t get enough signatures, the issue doesn’t make the ballot.

Finding support among the voters can be difficult, because the event that angered proponents may not trigger the same feelings in other people, Johnson said. The official also may be well-liked among the constituency.

“We tend to think other people are going to be as upset as us,” Johnson said. “They may not be. Everybody’s not like you.”

Whether successful or not, any recall attempt can make a politician look bad among voters, he said.

“It behooves the politician trying to stay in office to take any recall rumblings seriously,” Johnson said.

In San Jacinto, several residents formed the recall group after council members Dale Stubblefield, John Mansperger, James Potts and Jim Ayres were indicted. They are accused of money laundering, tax fraud, bribery, perjury and filing false government documents.

Steve Di Memmo is the only San Jacinto council member who was not indicted.

Darrell Connerton, a consultant leading the San Jacinto recall, said the seriousness of the situation prompted the residents to act. The indictment put a black eye on the community, he said, and the council members should have resigned.

“But they refused to step down, and the only other option was to recall them,” Connerton said.

A VARIETY OF MISDEEDS

Not all recalls are motivated by accusations of criminal activity.

In 2003, California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled 11 months after he was elected to a second term. The effort had its origins in how Davis handled the crisis involving the state’s electricity industry.

In Murrieta, van Haaster was targeted for recall after he met individually with several planning commission members in 2004 to talk about his daughter’s proposed day care center. He abstained from discussing the project when it came before the council, but voters were upset about the perceived conflict of interest.

In Jurupa Unified, Ashenfelter said there was rumbling in the community and schools about the way the board was running the district, including the trading of lawsuits involving board members.

“It was like suing yourself for not doing your job,” Ashenfelter recalled.

Considine, who served in the U.S. Navy, also triggered a furor when she threatened to sue the district and her board colleagues if she was not called “Capt. Considine” because of her military service.

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