Six months after first announcing their intention to recall three Hesperia Unified School District school board members, proponents began collecting signatures outside local grocery stores this weekend.


Recall spokeswoman Lori Nielson was one of two people working the doors at Vons grocery store on Saturday morning, attempting to collect the signatures needed to call a special election that would put Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers up for recall.


"Are you a registered voter in Hesperia?" Nielson asked a man emerging from the grocery store.


"I sure am."


"Would you like to sign a petition to recall three school board members?"


"Are they right-wing wackos?" he asked. Nielson, herself a conservative, focused instead of on the trio's actions, rather than ideology.


Each of the three petitions on the clipboards Nielson clutched to her chest contained an identical set of accusations against Black, Kirk and Rogers, along with responses from each board member.


Proponents allege the three, who constitute a controlling majority on the five-member board, forced former Superintendent Hank Richardson into retirement in the summer of 2007, "costing taxpayers over three hundred thousand dollars" and spent thousands on "unnecessary attorney fees" in the wrangling over who would build Oak Hills High School, among other allegations. The full list of proponents' grievances can be found online at HesperiaStar.com.


All three board members have repeatedly said the recall is without merit and is the product of "sour grapes" on behalf of former board members like Nielson, who served on the HUSD school board from 1991 to 2003. The full text of their written responses can be found online at HesperiaStar.com.


The attempt to recall Black, Kirk and Rogers briefly stalled out in late 2007. The first attempt, which began on July 23, ended on October 22, when the group failed to turn in a revised draft of the petitions back to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters in time to meet a deadline. The registrar approved the petitions in early December.


"I've already signed it," an older woman said, as she emerged from the grocery store.


"You have?" Nielson asked, surprised. Copies of the petition have circulated among proponents for several weeks, but have not been distributed to the general public until now.


"I sign everything my son-in-law gives me," the woman replied.


According to Nielson, recall proponents held off on collecting signatures from the public until after the school holidays ended, so that they could get off to a running start without irritating already harried holiday shoppers.


On Saturday morning at Vons, Nielson was batting .500 with the shoppers leaving the grocery store.


A man mumbled something as he shuffles past Nielson without stopping.


"He said he won't vote for anyone in California," she laughed. "We don't want you to vote for them, we want you to recall them!"


The group has less than 120 days remaining to collect approximately 6,919 signatures for each of the board members -- or 20 percent of the 34,596 registered voters living in the Hesperia Unified School District. That means gathering more signatures than the number of votes cast in 2006 for Rogers, who received 5,946, and only 45 signatures fewer than votes were cast for Black. The signatures, if gathered, would amount to just over 85 percent of the votes cast for Kirk, the top vote getter in the 2006 school board election, with 8,057 votes.


"There's three of them?" a shopper asks, as he emerges from the grocery store.


"Three of them," Nielson said, moving smoothly to intercept him. "But it'll go fast."


Recall proponents will also be collecting signatures outside other grocery stores and the Hesperia post office, as volunteers have time. The group also hopes to have two signature-collection rallies later in the spring. The completed petitions must be turned in to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters by April 7.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.