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What the city charter has to say about initiatives, ethics and recall elections

Tue, Jun 16, 2009

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The city charter is not exactly a pleasure to read.

Unlike the United States Constitution, its words were not composed by highly literate, profoundly intelligent men who were deeply conscious of the weight of history and who together deliberated at length over each phrase, each word and each article.

The Constitution was written by our founding fathers-the charter, by lawyers and politicians. Enough said.

Yet the charter makes interesting reading, especially as the Independent Ethics Commission investigates (or pretends to investigate) the mayor’s alleged ethical breaches.

Here are some salient sections.

“The Council shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its own members and of the grounds for the forfeiture of the office of Mayor or Councilmember subject to review by the courts in case of contest.”

So council may, upon the vote of a majority of its members, kick out the mayor or any other member of council, and let him/her sue for reinstatement.

“Any three (3) electors may commence recall, initiative, or referendum proceedings by filing with the City Clerk an affidavit stating they will constitute a Petitioner’s Committee and be responsible for circulating the petition and filing it in proper form, stating their names and addresses and specifying the address to which all notices to the Committee are to be sent, and setting out either:

(a) The name of the officer or officers sought to be removed and a general statement in not more than two hundred (200) words on the ground or grounds upon which removal is sought;

(i) For the recall of Mayor or a Councilmember at large, the petition must be signed by electors entitled to vote for a successor of the incumbent sought to be recalled and such signatures must be equal in number to at least twenty-five percent (25%) of the total ballots cast for the office of Mayor in the last preceding election for such office.”

It’s easy to take out a recall petition – but you’ve got to get a ton of signatures.

(1)  Recall . All petitions shall be returned and filed with the Clerk within sixty (60) days from the issuance of such blank petition forms. (1979; 1985)

And you have almost no time to do it, especially compared to the time granted to collect signatures for an initiative.

(3)  Initiative . All petitions shall be returned and filed with the Clerk within one hundred eighty (180) days from the issuance of such blank petition forms. (1979; 1985)

The charter has some pretty stern words about the penalties that would be incurred by any “city officer” who failed to reveal any “substantial financial interest” in a city contract.

“Any City officer, employee, or appointee who has a substantial financial interest, direct or indirect or by reason of ownership of stock in any corporation, in any contract with the City or in the sale of any land, material, supplies, or services to the City or to a contractor supplying the City shall make known that interest and shall refrain from voting upon or otherwise participating in their capacity as a City officer or employee in the making of such sale or in the making or performance of such contract. Any City officer or employee who willfully conceals such a substantial financial interest or willfully violates the requirements of this section shall be guilty of malfeasance in office or position and shall forfeit said office or position…”

Conclusion: there’s a lot riding on this little contretemps. If council finds that the mayor has “willfully violated the (disclosure) requirements of this section,” then they would have little alternative other than expulsion.

But that won’t happen. The Ethics Commission, which now consists of two retired white guys, is toothless by design, and torpid by nature. They’ll have a genteel interview with the mayor, who’ll claim he did nothing wrong. Absent delivering a subpoena to UBS, they’ll have no evidence of any possible wrongdoing, so they’ll just pass along their non-findings to Council. They don’t want to rock the boat-just pass the buck.

And Council, far from saying “The buck stops here,” will most likely say “Buck? What buck? All is well…”

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Dick Burns Says:

    Looks like the city’s Charter needs some serious tweaking. 25 percent of voters is a major threshold to get in 60 days. They ought to just throw out the recall provision, since it’s unrealistic to think that many signatures could be gathered without a massive, well-financed effort. While we’re at it, a new ethics commission should be arranged…

  2. Dick Burns Says:

    It is estimated that over 15,000 signatures would be needed to force a recall election. At $2 per sig, someone with deep pockets would have to fund the effort. But, there is no guarantee that the recall vote would succeed in ousting Rivera. Best bet: get five City Council members to vote for expulsion, thereby eliminating the need for an expensive special election. Or, if he had any sense of honor, Rivera would just resign.