Montclair Recall Effort Against Mayor & Two Council Members Fails

The effort to remove a quorem of the Montclair City Council from office met a quiet demise last month.
Sean Brunske, who has become something of an institution representing the political opposition in the city of 36,664 at the county’s West End, began circulating petitions against Mayor Paul Eaton and council members Trisha Martinez and Bill Ruh in July. He failed though, to garner a sufficient number of signatures on those petitions to force the recall matter to be put on the ballot.
In a city the size of Montclair, recall proponents must collect signatures of 20 percent of the registered voters. Montclair is listed by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters as having 12,605 registered voters. Thus Brunske and his cohorts needed to collect 2,561 valid signatures.
Brunske is a political creature who grew, at least partially, out of the economic downturn of 2007 to 2013. That recession led to the city engaging in a series of economies, including employee layoffs and salary and benefit cuts. Brunske became a mouthpiece for displaced and disgruntled employees or ones who were otherwise displeased with the pay cuts. He, along with Richard Beltran, a city resident and former city employee, received the backing of the city’s public safety unions. And while in several other San Bernardino County cities, support from fire and police unions has proved instrumental in getting council member elected, that support did not resonate the same way in Montclair in 2012 or 2014.
In launching the recall, Brunske charged city staff, led by city manager Ed Starr, with incompetence and derilection. He called Starr overpaid and he faulted the entire city council, and Eaton, Ruh and Martinez in particular, with failing to monitor Starr properly. Martinez, however, had only been on the city council for seven months when Brunske initiated the recall. Martinez bested him in the 2014 election.
Eaton has been mayor for 21 years in a city that has evinced the greatest degree of political stability in all of the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities over the last two decades.
Brunske, something of a firebrand, has sought to enliven things. From time to time, he has mixed it up with councilwoman Carolyn Raft. Significantly, however, he did not target her in the just-concluded effort.
When he initiated the recall, Brunske asserted that “The citizens of Montclair have had it” with the council. He intimated that he was working in conjunction with a committee of like-minded residents determined to assist in gathering signatures. But the committee proved inadequate to the task and Brunske did not turn any petitions into the city clerk’s office by the early January deadline.
While Brunske has claimed the backing of the police and fire unions in the past and they previously came through with a modicum of financial support of his candidacies, those were not successful and the public safety unions now seem to have distanced themselves from him, perhaps having concluded that indirectly challenging the incumbent council through him is ineffective and potentially counterproductive from the standpoint of their interests. There is nothing to indicate those union’s assisted Brunske in the recall effort.
That lack of financial wherewithal may been crucial to the recall’s failure.
While he seemed to recognize that the drive would have fared better if he had access to the roughly $10,000 to $20,000 estimated it would take to hire professional signature gatherers, it appears Brunske does not full appreciate how formidable the task can be. He gave indication that, having fallen off the recall horse, he intends to remount it. That is, he said he is preparing to submit papers once more to initiate another recall. He did not say which council members he will target in the upcoming effort.

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