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Special city election April 10 to determine recallDiana Jorgenson
A single December meeting, a long agenda and a recall item of community interest combined to fill council chambers to capacity at the Dec. 14 meeting of Portola’s City Council.
About a dozen signers of the petition for a special election to recall Mayor Dan Wilson were present and mingled with those expressing support for Wilson. Although emotions, both pro and con, were palpable, discussion was restrained during most of the commentary that took up the better part of an hour.
Mayor Pro Tem Juliana Mark led off discussion by asking Jeanne Rowden-Dansby, official filer of the petition, to explain her reasons for wanting to recall Wilson.
“First reason: Proposition 218 requires a proactive citizenry to say no. When the Prop. 218 process disenfranchised all the renters in this town and did not give voice to the renters of this town, it disenfranchised the people of Portola.
“Second, when we asked you to, please, put together an ad hoc committee, we wrote our notes and we had our say, and you shut down our committee twice, sir (speaking to Wilson). Twice.
“You called us disgruntled citizens who were not facing fact or reason. We had facts. We had our reasons, but you shut us down.”
Rowden-Dansby also held Wilson accountable for the 3-2 vote that passed the proposed water and sewer rate increases.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she said.
Dansby recounted a special meeting, attended by Realtor Earl Morrison, city staff and Wilson where she felt Wilson’s attempt to understand their position came several months too late in the process.
She told Mark that these were the main reasons.
Mark, who along with council member William Weaver comprised the ad hoc committee, then asked Rowden-Dansby what the citizens group had been doing since then.
Rowden-Dansby replied that they had put their questions and concerns on hold and were “working on getting a council that is responsive to its constituency.”
Mark felt that the citizens of Portola were looking for change, and commented that they needed to feel heard but …
“I don’t believe that the recall is necessary under the circumstances because we are coming up for a changeover anyway,” she finished.
Citizen Mike Rush said, “I think the recall sends a clear message to people … that we don’t have a council that works for the constituency of Portola.”
Portola resident for the past year David White questioned the value of spending $8,000 – $10,000 on a special election to relieve a six-month term. “I can feel the pain around this room, but do we really want to spend $10,000?”
He suggested that the petitioners donate money toward the special election.
“It’s nonsense. We don’t have that kind of money to throw at political whims. If the (voters) don’t want you, Mr. Wilson, then they should de-elect you when the time comes,” White concluded.
He received a round of applause for his sentiments.
Citizen Michelle Galt commented that she felt people had lost hope and were running on empty and that the recall effort was a way of regaining hope. She also elicited applause.
Lorrie White said she had been told that the special election was a “done deal” and asked for clarification of the recall situation.
“The recall petitions have been filed. This is moving forward, no matter what anyone does — even if Mr. Wilson were to resign today. We are having a special election,” City Manager Leslie Tigan explained.
“Pathetic,” Lorrie White responded.
Tigan went on to say that if the council were to not adopt the resolution authorizing the special election, election code would require the county clerk to hold the election. It would save the city money to hold the election themselves.
She said that April 10 was established as Election Day and ballots had to be received by that day, whether by mail or by drop-off at City Hall. Voters will receive their ballots in the mail and their votes will be counted by a ballot counting board at City Hall.
The ballot would consist of two questions: 1) Do you wish to recall Dan Wilson from the City Council — yes or no? and 2) In the event of a successful recall, which of these candidates do you wish as replacement?
The resolution also set the filing period for candidates wishing to replace Wilson, in the event that the recall is successful. Registered voters wishing to file for candidacy can do so between Dec. 21 and Jan. 12 at City Hall. Election packets can be picked up at City Hall and require 20 signatures for nomination.
David White then asked where were the 300 people who had signed the petition, noting that the opinions of those in the room were very divided. He was of the opinion that, especially in a small community, people should attend their council meetings and participate in local government. Although this was the first time he had attended a Portola council meeting, he had attended many other council meetings in other places.
He was impressed that all his questions to the city were answered quickly and well and his comments were not restricted by a time limit. So where were the 300?
Rowden-Dansby, who has not attended recent council meetings, responded that for every person who attended the meeting that evening, another 10 people stood behind him or her.
She said they were targeting Wilson, not for malfeasance or nonfeasance, but for misfeasance — not being responsive to constituents.
Citizen Carolyn Szczerby asked Rowden-Dansby, “What about the other four? What did they do? How did they vote? You are picking on one person and one vote.”
Rowden-Dansby replied that the question of who should be recalled came up and was discussed (by the citizens group), “It was Mr. Wilson who unilaterally made the decision to end the ad hoc committee, called it a ‘witch hunt,’ told us we were disgruntled citizens, and he made a unilateral decision. That, to me, says he’s the leader of the gang.”
Wilson responded that he was barred from communication with council and ad hoc committee members Weaver and Mark by the Brown Act and after the one meeting set up by county supervisors Terry Swofford with Rowden-Dansby in attendance, no more meetings were forthcoming so his only knowledge of the group’s activities were through Rowden-Dansby’s website.
He interpreted plans on the website to “grill” Todd Roberts, of Public Works, and Susan Scarlett, the city financial officer, as “a witch hunt.”
“I thought you misunderstood and thought you were on the Grand Jury,” Wilson said.
Rowden-Dansby said that the information on her website was an effort to be totally transparent and she had even asked Jon Galt, who was filming that night’s council proceedings, if he might film the interviews (with Scarlett and Roberts) for public viewing, but others had been upset with the idea. She countered by asking Wilson why he had not come to her for clarification.
Wilson replied that, between an operation and attending his daughter’s wedding in Spain, he had been dependent upon emails and Internet, and after a month’s absence he found no progress made by the ad hoc committee.
The 13 questions presented to the council by the citizens group July 13, Wilson said, seemed to him to be “very unfair and subjective.”
“The assumption was that Susan Scarlett was hiding something and the information was inflated,” said Wilson.
“You’re right,” said Rowden-Dansby and became angry about Wilson not contacting her prior to leaving for Spain.
At that, the dialogue became incomprehensible as each of them spoke over the other and thought the other should have taken the initiative in communicating.
“Why didn’t you come and speak to me; we live only a block apart,” said Wilson.
“Because you’re the mayor,” said Rowden-Dansby.
Larry Douglas interjected at that point, saying that Wilson had once left a message on his phone: “‘Don’t come over to my house, or I’ll have you arrested. I don’t like your politics.’ Remember that?”
“You threatened to sue me,” Wilson shot back. “If you’re going to threaten to sue me, I don’t want to talk to you.”
Discussion on how to solve the water and sewer deficits degenerated into discussions of who caused the $187,000 deficit — a discussion with so many voices that none were intelligible, although David White had the floor.
Citizen Larry Gruber ended the public comment with a teary voice: “I’ve been a resident of Plumas County for over 21 years and my children graduated from Portola High School. I have to agree with Mr. White. There’s an abundance of misinformation here. My opinion of Dan Wilson, well, he’s a stand-up guy.”
At this, his voice broke completely, and the audience clapped while he mastered his emotions and continued, “People are frustrated because of the economic situation, just as Mr. White has pointed out, and they are taking it out on Mr. Wilson. My feeling is that this is not going to go away if Dan Wilson is not here. I charge everyone who is against him to inform yourself. Please find out the information. It is freely available here.”
Swofford wrapped up discussion by saying that he had hoped for more from the ad hoc meetings he had attended and had even brought Brian Morris, of the Plumas County Flood Control District, to answer questions.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said.
“I’m concerned that we are going to spend this money and we going to do it no matter what and it’s going to fail. I honestly think that once people realize that this is to recall Mr. Wilson, I think it won’t happen. I think people will not recall him. That’s my opinion.
“People that signed this petition have told me that they never would have signed it if they had known it was really to recall Mr. Wilson. Not just a few; I’ve had numerous people tell me that.”
The council then approved the resolution, Wilson abstaining.