Yucca Valley Recall Dean Disputing ROV Verdict

(December 5) YUCCA VALLEY—The attempt to recall town council members George Huntington and Robert Lombardo refuses to die, nearly two months after the county registrar of voters made a determination that there were an insufficient number of valid signatures on the petitions for that effort to force a vote on whether to remove the two officials from office.
The Sentinel has learned that lead recall proponent Ron Cohen  has retained legal representation in his effort to overturn the county registrar of voter’s finding that the recall should not proceed.
Ron Cohen led a contingent of some two dozen activists intent on reform at Town Hall whose  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 extension 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, the registrar’s office initially concluded 458 signatures on the Huntington petition were invalid and 448 on the Lombardo petition were invalid. Thus, according to the registrar’s office and Yucca Valley Town Clerk Leslie 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,” Copeland said in October. “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 the processing of the petitions be double-checked. Accordingly, Cohen had sojourned from Yucca Valley to the county seat on October 11, October 15, October 16, October 17 and October 18  to carry out a thorough analysis of all of the petition signatures deemed  “unvalidated.”
Cohen told the Sentinel he had demonstrated to the registrar’s satisfaction that many of the signatures that were disqualified were in fact valid.
After the second count, which Cohen personally monitored, the registrar’s office made changes to the original tally, but that difference was insufficient to overturn the finding that the recall effort had failed. Thirty or more of the signatures on each petition  that were initially disqualified have now been certified as valid. Thus, according to the registrar, the petition targeting Huntington for recall actually had 2,294 valid signatures and the petition to recall Lombardo had 2,310 valid signatures. Both new counts are below the  2,461 valid signatures threshold needed  to trigger a recall question for the ballot.
Of the 2,722 signatures verified on the petition against Huntington, 428 were declared invalid by the registrar of voters. The registrar found 410 of the signatures out of 2,720 on the  Lombardo petition invalid.
Michael Scarpello, the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, said the second count was “very thorough.”
Cohen has not indicated whether he will force the issue with legal action, though his lawyer has notified town officials that he wants all documentation relating to the recall preserved.

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