Fire causes setback for recall effort
School board recall has been delayed about three weeks, spokeswoman says
(Updated Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 12:41 p.m.)
When the Cajon Fire closed down Interstate 15 on Monday, it did more than interfere with commuters traveling to and from work. It also sent the effort to recall three Hesperia Unified School District school board members back to square one.
At the July 23 school board meeting, board members Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers were served with a notice of an intention to file a recall petition. But before recall proponents could begin gathering signatures, they had to have their petitions -- including responses from Black, Kirk and Rogers -- officially certified by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters.
Recall proponents turned in three different drafts of their petitions and were rejected three different times for various typographical errors, including failure to italicize words or getting the number of one board member's great-grandchildren wrong. At each go-round, the registrar's office had 10 days to approve or reject the draft petitions, and then the recall group then had 10 days to submit a revised draft.
"I've been working as a registrar for 15 years, and I've been involved in several recalls, and it's not easy," said San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil. "It's normal for petitions to go back and forth in the proof-reading process."
"We always turned it in on the 10th day," said recall spokeswoman Lori Nielson, herself a school board member from 1991 through 2003, "They always turned it back on the 10th day."
Monday, October 22, was the 10th day -- and deadline -- for the recall group to submit their fourth draft. And that's when the Cajon Fire got involved.
"I had the petitions in my hand, ready to go," Nielson said Wednesday. Then she got word that the California Department of Transportation had shut off I-15 going both ways. Fire and gusting winds repeatedly closed traffic going in one or both directions on Monday.
Nielson faxed and e-mailed the documents to the registrar's office. But after consulting with the county's legal counsel, the registrar's office came back with the bad news: The recall proponents had missed their deadline and would have to start over from scratch.
"According to the elections code, the proponents must turn in the original petition," Verjil said. "They have to be proofread carefully, down to the margin size, the font size. It's unfortunate that they missed that."
And so the recall effort is over, at least for the moment.
"I have been notified today that the effort to recall three Hesperia Board of Education members is dead," Rogers said in a written statement on Wednesday. "I am grateful I will not have to be distracted fighting to keep my position on the board and can focus on the many decisions that need to be made for the district."
(Rogers' full written response can be found online here.)
"I guess they could start over again, but how many times do they have to fail before they decide it's a failure?" asked Mark Kirk on Wednesday. Kirk, the son of board vice-president Robert Kirk, is also the chief of staff for 4th District Supervisor Gary Ovitt. "The voice of the public was heard last November, and I think it's clear that if this were a community outpouring, [the petitions] would have been out on the street a long time ago."
"They collected money, I'm pretty sure, based on that they were going to have a recall, and I wonder if they're going to return it," said Jim Pace, president of the Hesperia Teachers Association, the union that supported Black, Kirk and Rogers, all retired or current teachers, in the last election. "The recall was based on falsehoods to begin with."
The recall committee's stated reasons for the recall can be found at their Web site, HesperiaEducationFirst.com.
There's no legally mandated cooling-off period required before the recall proponents can start over again -- if they failed to collect all the signatures required to get the question put on the ballot, they would have to wait 60 days before restarting -- but what comes next will still have to be decided by the proponents.
"Before any decision is made," Nielson said, "The committee needs to get together."
In theory, the proponents could re-serve Black, Kirk and Rogers at the November 5 school board meeting. The three would then have seven days to respond and then the process of submitting the petitions, including the responses, to the registrar for approval would begin again.
"I figure we've lost about three weeks," Nielson said.
She believes the recall has strong community support, despite the delays.
"What we're hearing is 'where are the petitions, where are the petitions?'" Nielson said.
She acknowledges the recall committee could have done things differently.
"We're not experts," Nielson said. "This is not a political machine. This is a grass-roots effort."
"It's a complicated process," Verjil said, "And that's probably why you don't see many recalls."
The Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency held a recall election in August, but before that, she said, the last successful one in San Bernardino County was took place in Highland in 2004.
Nielson said the group is still committed to removing Black, Kirk and Rogers from the school board.
"I believe in this school district and these three people are going to ruin it," she said. "They probably think this is a win for them, and it's not."
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.