(October 17) YUCCA VALLEY— Yucca Valley Town Clerk Lesley Copeland has declared the recall effort against town councilmen Robert Lombardo and George Huntington unsuccessful, citing an insufficient number of valid signatures on the filed recall petitions seeking a vote to remove the two from office.
Nevertheless, the leader of the recall drive has contested that finding and is now working with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters to ascertain whether Copeland acted properly in disqualifying over 450 of the signatures endorsing Huntington’s removal from office and just under 450 signatures calling for Lombardo’s recall.
Ron Cohen led a contingent of some two dozen activists intent on reform at Town Hall. There zeal hit a critical mass after the council voted in February to increase then-town manager Mark Nuaimi’s salary and benefit package to just under $300,000 per year and extend that contract to 2016. All four of those who voted for Nuaimi’s contract came in for criticism, including the mayor, Merle Abel, and councilwoman Dawn Rowe, Lombardo and Huntington. Cohen and his cohorts decided to concentrate their recall efforts against Lombardo and Huntington, who had been reelected to the council without opposition in November 2012, and seek to remove Abel and Rowe when they come up for reelection in 2014.
The recall committee began gathering signatures for the Lomabardo and Huntington recalls in late April. That drive entailed door-to-door canvassing, as well as signature gathering in public areas such as in retail centers and on street corners.
In the case of both Huntington and Lombardo, the recall petitions had to be endorsed with the valid signatures of 2,461 voters residing within the town of Yucca Valley to force the recall vote. Recall proponents insist they carefully screened the signees and, in the case of Huntington, turned in petitions containing 2,712 signatures, and in the case of Lombardo 2,720.
Upon examining the petitions and the signatures, Copeland concluded 458 signatures on the Huntington petition were invalid and 448 on the Lombardo petition were invalid. Thus, according to Copeland, the Huntington petition contained 2,264 valid signatures and the Lombardo petition contained 2,272 valid signatures.
“Each petition needed 2,461 valid signatures to qualify for a recall election,” according to Copeland. “Because of the insufficient number of valid signatures, the current recall process of Robert Lombardo and George Huntington is considered complete.”
Cohen, however, did not take that lying down and he approached County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello to demand that Copeland’s processing of the petitions be double-checked. Accordingly, Cohen had sojourned from Yucca Valley to the county seat on October 11 and, after a three day hiatus over the weekend and the Columbus Day Holiday, again on October 15 to carry out a thorough analysis of all of the petition signatures deemed by Copeland as “unvalidated.” When he spoke with the Sentinel on the evening of October 15, Cohen said he intended to return to the registrar’s office in San Bernardino on October 16, 17 and 18.
“I am working every day, from 8 to 5, going over every single unvalidated signature, making sure they are in fact unvalidated,” Cohen said. He said that he has demonstrated to the registrar’s satisfaction that many of the signatures Copeland had disqualified were in fact valid.
“I would rather not disclose at this point how many,” Cohen said. “The ROV has already admitted there are some anomalies. We won’t know how many until we’re done. We will be completed on George tomorrow [Wednesday, October 16] and then we will move on to Dr. Lombardo.”
Cohen told the Sentinel that Copeland, in her original consultation with the registrar, had invalidated the 458 signatures on the Huntington petitions and the 448 signatures on the Lombardo petitions on multiple grounds, including claims that the signees either were not registered to vote, were registered improperly or the addresses at which they were registered were misreported; discrepancies with regard to whether signees actually lived within the Yucca Valley town limits or whether they resided in the unincorporated county area just outside town, a confusion that came about because both areas share the 92284 zip code; that some signers signed more than once; that some signers signed without an address or used a post office box as opposed to a physical address; that some signers’ signatures did not match the signature on the voters’ registration cards; and that some of the signers had withdrawn or rescinded their signatures.
Cohen said that as he has steadily gone through the rejected signature petitions with the registrar staff, previously unvalidated signatures have been proven to be valid.
For example, he said, some of the signers determined by Copeland to not be properly registered or at addresses not recognized actually lived in newly constructed homes where previously addresses for them had not existed and were thus not recognized by the town even though they were valid. Another example he gave were signatures discarded because Copeland had deemed them to be repeat signatures from the same person when in fact they were different signatures of different individuals living at the same address.
Cohen told the Sentinel that there were not a significant number of signatures that were thrown out because they did not match the signatures on file with the registrar.
The issue of recissions or withdrawals is not a major one, Cohen said. “In each case it is 26 or less,” Cohen said. On September 9, prior to Cohen’s group turning the petitions over to Copeland, a court action he had previously filed, M. Ronald Cohen v. Town of Yucca Valley, San Bernardino Superior Court Case No. CIVDS1310686, had a hearing before Judge Bryan Foster. Cohen, who had anticipated that the town would seek to invalidate large numbers of the petitions because anti-recall advocates were out actively seeking recissions from those who had signed the recall petitions, was represented by attorneys Cristyl Meyers and Matthew Pappas. Meyers and Pappas obtained an emergency court order from Foster that the town of Yucca Valley was to immediately provide Cohen with the total number of written requests received by the town to remove signatures from the recall petitions.
Cohen said he believed it possible that Copeland’s disqualification of the recall will be overturned.
“We do not have to prove that every one of the signatures thrown out are valid,” Cohen said. “In the case of George Huntington, we need to reverse the town clerk’s finding on 197 of the signatures. In Dr. Lombardo’s case, we need to reverse the town clerk’s finding on 189 of the signatures. The recall is not over and it will not be over until the amounts of signatures that are truly unvalidated are determined.”