Paso Robles city officials manipulate election?

August 13, 2012

Meg Williamson

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

EDITOR’S NOTE: See both versions of City Council candidate Jim Reed’s campaign statement at the bottom of this story.

Jim Reed wanted to help initiate major changes in the way Paso Robles’ government is being managed, and that’s why the independent designer and draftsman said he filed city council election papers late last week along with a brief campaign statement outlining his reasons for seeking office.

But city administrators reading his statement didn’t like two references to “the current city council,” and ordered that editing alterations be made. That demand appears to have been prohibited by state law which only allows city officials to reject a statement because of an excessive word count.

For example, city officials objected to Reed’s statements about city spending.

“The current city council claim they are fiscally responsible, yet in fiscal year 2002-03 our city council spent about $32,000,000, ” Reed said in his original statement. “This year they will spend over $53,000,000 and provide less services, all while our roads are in dangerous disrepair and we lose access to city facilities such as the Centennial Park pool.”

Assistant City Manager Meg Williamson said she “made the call” to require the changes. She also said she sees no conflict in her actions even though Reed has made no secret of his desire to work for a change in the council lineup, one that would vote to dismiss Williamson’s boss, City Manager James App.

Reed was one of many Paso Robles residents who responded with a display of public indignation earlier this year following several controversial municipal decisions by App and the present council. One particular action widely perceived as exacerbating the city’s perilous fiscal situation was a unanimous decision by the present council to authorize a $250,000 payout to former police chief Lisa Solomon-Chitty, who left her post in March under allegations she mismanaged the department and sexually assaulted several of her officers.

App, the city’s top administrator for 16 years, was quickly conjoined with the mayor and council as a target of the civic unrest.

Yet, despite the months-long hue and cry in Paso Robles, only Reed, a political newcomer, and one-time council member Steve Martin filed for a shot at two council seats, which will be defended by incumbents Fred Strong and Nick Gilman. Mayor Duane Picanco will run unchallenged, as will Treasurer Mike Compton and City Clerk Dennis Fansler.

Reed filed his papers as required with Fansler, the elected official whose job it is to receive and ascertain the papers are correctly done. For the city’s examination of Reed’s submission, Williamson joined Fansler, who doubles as a Public Works Department maintenance supervisor, and another Public Works employee, Sherri Scott. Williamson referred to this as “the elections group.” All three answer directly to App.

“When one pulls candidacy papers,” Williamson said, “we are very careful we go through a check, to make sure we cover all the information for a candidate.”

Reed’s brief statement was produced in accordance with a provision of the California Elections Code authorizing candidates to state their qualifications for the ballot.

San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins said neither Williamson nor the city clerk should have involved themselves in requiring changes in Reed’s statement.

“While a city clerk receives these candidate statements, the clerk is not authorized to make any changes or refuse to take the candidate’s statement beyond determining if the word limitations are exceeded,” said Jenkins. “The clerk does not serve as a gate keeper to determine if the candidate’s statement is accurate, fair, or even if it contains matters that criticize or libel the candidate’s opponents.”

Jenkins noted there is good reason for this policy.

“To make those determinations would necessarily draw the city elections clerks out of the neutrality they must maintain to fairly conduct an election,” he said. “Only the court may change or delete materials from a candidate’s sample ballot statement and only then on a limited basis.”

County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald disagrees with that contention.

“The cities make their own decision as to what to accept,” she wrote in an email. “If I were presented with Reed’s first statement, I would discuss with my counsel whether it violated state code before accepting it.”

That’s way off base, according to attorney Jenkins.

The law and subsequent court rulings, he said, “make it clear that the no one other than the court may amend or delete portions of a candidate’s sample ballot statement. Even the candidate may not amend the ballot statement once it has been submitted to the clerk – even if it was submitted earlier than the deadline. If the candidate has second thoughts, the candidate is limited during a very short window to withdrawing the statement.  And there is no ability of the candidate to resubmit a new or different statement provided by the Elections Code.”

The clerk is limited to determining if a candidate’s statement fits into the required 200-word limit.

Within a 10-day window, “any citizen can bring a challenge to the candidate statement, and the challenge may only be made in a court,” Jenkins said.

Williamson said the elections group is the result of “some work duties of the city clerk’s position which have been spread around to others.

“Fansler  has different areas of focus, so we give support and guidance, handled through the city manager’s office. If there’s a call to be made on the elections code, then Dennis Fansler and I go through that together. I might run it past legal counsel, too.

“But specifically, I would be making that call.”

Williamson explained Scott’s role in the process: “Her skill set is applicable to the needs for election support, so she’s pulled in (to the elections process),” Williamson said. “So we have multiple bodies in there. It’s not to intimidate. It’s just to get the work done. It’s administrative support.”

She declined to discuss specifics of Reed’s statements, noting that App was out of town.

“I don’t feel comfortable discussing the statement because they are confidential until the end of the day (Friday),” Williamson said.

According to state law, a candidate’s statement “may not include references to other candidates or to another candidate’s character, qualities or activities,” Williamson said, noting she based her decision on the fact that “there are incumbents sitting on the council. That’s where the discussion came from.”

The other new council candidate, Martin, did not return phone calls from CalCoastNews.

 

Jim Reed’s first campaign statement which city officials rejected:

For 25 years I’ve called Paso Robles my home. Sadly, Paso Robles has changed from a small town with a responsive city council attuned to the needs of its residents into a community with an overbearing City Government engrossed in its own bureaucratic regulations and increased costs.

The current City Council claim they are fiscally responsible, yet in the fiscal year 2002-03 our City council spent about $32,000,000. This year they will spend over $53,000,000 and provide less services, all while our roads are in dangerous disrepair and we lose access to city facilities such as the Centennial Park pool.

Rather than taking more money out of our pockets with a proposed ballot measure to increase our sales tax, the City Council should restore fiscal oversight and ease the burden of unnecessary regulations so that our businesses can prosper. We need creative solutions to cut administrative overhead and above all, we need leadership that will again focus on serving the public and rebuilding our infrastructure.

I ask for your vote and support as it is time for a change that will allow Paso Robles to once again flourish.

Jim Reed’s second statement written with three city employees giving suggestions. The city approved this version:

For 25 years I’ve called Paso Robes my home. Sadly, Paso Robles has changed from a small town with a responsive city council attuned to the need of its residents into a community with an overbearing bureaucracy engrossed in its own increased regulations and related costs.

In the fiscal year 2002-03 our city budget was approximately $32,000,000, this year’s budget is over $53,000,000 and provides less services, all while our roads are in dangerous disrepair and we have lost access to city facilities such as the Centennial Park pool.

Rather than taking more money out of our pockets with a proposed ballot measure to increase our sales tax, I would work to restore responsible fiscal oversight and ease the burden of unnecessary regulations so our businesses can prosper. We need creative solutions to cut administrative overhead and above all, we need leadership that will focus on serving the public and rebuilding Paso Robles deteriorated infrastructure.

As a first time candidate for any elected office, I am running for city council out of concern for our future. I ask for your vote as it is time for a change that will allow Paso Robles to once again flourish under common sense solutions.


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Paso_citizen

This actin by Meg Williamson is just one more example of how the current city management does whatever it wants, with no real regard to the law.

But a more striking conclusion to be made is that the city government of Paso Robles has a very low regard of its citizens, expecially those who attempt to stand up to them.

This smacks of an authoritarian or even a dictatorial government – one that interprets the law to their own benefit or protection. One that does what they want, how they want, and when they want.

They are extremely confident that the upcoming election will result in no changes to their rule, and unfortunately, they are probably correct in that assumption.

With only 2 citizens brave enough to run against them, why should they be concerned? Where did all the people that were so voiciferous about how bad our current city council was go? Where did CPRN2012 go? What happened to that seemingly huge groundswell of residents rising up against

this city?

Hopefully good things will yet happen, but the chances ain’t good if you are looking for real and major changes in how this city is governed.


pasoman

Great post, spot on.


danika

CPRN2012 is still here are repositioned to focus on the placement of new city councilmembers. We have some exciting events planned and look to the community to assist and attend.


Paso_citizen

Sorry, Danika, this doesn’t hack it. CPRN2012 promised so much 6 months ago, but has not come through. Yes, you may be having ‘exciting’ events planned; like somekind of candidate debate. Here this city is with only 2 new challengers for city council, after 6 months (or more) of what has been shown to be a tightly controlled clique in this city. Police chief debacle, lawsuits, water and sewer issues, street conditions, living off of grants (bicycle paths to nowhere or libraries not needed), failure to maintain parks (Centennial), outrageous salaries and benefits for many city employees, proposed sales tax increase for general use – not specfic, using TOT for tourism (not our infrastructure), bloated and unnecessay spending, and on and on and on.


And only 2 city council challengers!!. Nobody running against Picanco, nobody running against Fansler, nobody running against Compton. And everyone somehow wants to believe that the city government is ‘afraid’ of CPRN2012 and will be more than ready and willing to listen to new ideas and to change their ways. Not in 14 blue moons.


They have absoultely no reason to be concerned about anything or anybody. The city government we have after the election will be so indistinguishable from the one we have had for the past 4 or more years, that even the best DNA testing can find no differences


viamagnolia1

Paso_Citizen……..It sounds like you expected CPRN to go out and get new people to run. That was never their charter. They always said they would not endorse anyone as a group although as individuals each person could endorse the canidate of their choice They also stated that they would welcome all new candidated.. In addition, they also stated they could not do this alone and they needed the support of the community. They have many followers who want change. Many people feel like this city spends to much money on things this city does not need and have failed to prepare for things the city does need like water, sewer and roads .People still feel that way. They want change. To the degree of participation they want to be involved is up to each and every individulal.

CPRN did it’s job. They found out many citizens were disatified with the way the city was running and they wanted change. CPRN has many followers some of them and have become members but some of them have chosen to be silent supporters.

Do not slam CPRN for what you think they should have done or not done. The proof will be in the voting booth in November. Should be interesting.


R.Hodin

Sorry, I’ve forgotten. What does the moniker CPRN2012 stand for?


viamagnolia1

CHANGE PASO ROBLES NOW


The Gimlet Eye

Instead of saying, “hopefully,” why not just say, “I hope”?


fhill123

Apparently abuse of power is acceptable when it benefits your power base. Shame, shame.


Booty JuJu

It’s a cesspool of bullying, back stabbing, bloated comp, and backwoods con men and cuzzin counters. Always has been, always will be.


The Gimlet Eye

It’s tempting to think that way, but that’s really too deterministic. It’s that way because we ALLOW it to be that way. If enough citizens went out and surrounded city hall and demanded that they do the right thing, things would change.


danika

“County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald disagrees with that contention.


“The cities make their own decision as to what to accept,” she wrote in an email. “If I were presented with Reed’s first statement, I would discuss with my counsel whether it violated state code before accepting it.”


What state code does Mr. Reed’s first comment violate, Julie?


pasoman

This is too funny…


Meg alone probably makes $144k/yr (w/o benefits), yet it took a committee of three to work on this. It’s Fansler’s job, isn’t it? Isn’t the City Clerk an elected position, accountable to the voters? Why are others doing rewrites?


Keep after ’em CCN, you’re the only source making App and his army nervous. His army being those loyal managers whom he pays HANDSOMELY, and protects, with our money.


OldNed

http://www.stewjenkins.com/


I see nothing on Jenkins’s website about expertise in municipal law or election law. Normally attorneys err on the side of over-inclusion when listing their abilities on websites. Did CCN just pick up the phone and talk to the first attorney who answered or does he have some kind of undisclosed expertise in the area? Providing us a little background on his experience in the subject matter might lend a little more weight to his opinion.


Kevin Rice

I assure you Mr. Jenkins is immensely knowledgeable and qualified to speak on election and Constitutional issues. You apparently missed the bold red “Constitutional Landmark” link on his web site regarding elections law, and similarly aren’t aware of his other constitutional case of recent headline acclaim? He would not use the words, “subsequent court rulings” unless he researched and was aware of such. I agree that CCN could have provided more background.


4paso

Maybe a little more research on this by CCN would be good. There seems like a difference in opinion on this matter. Julie Rodenwald who should be well versed on election law vs Stew Jenkins, a family law and estate planning attorney. Not sure if he is qualified in this area of law. I can see why there has to be some limits but it is a hard call. You should not be allowed to libel your opponent or attack them personally. I would much prefer if Mr. Reed had made a statement about what he was going to do to fix things. Those are the ideas we need.


danika

Is Julie Rodenwald a licensed attorney?


4paso

My point was that as the County Clerk in charge of elections for many years, she would probably know more about the issue than an estate planning attorney. Reporters should have responsible, qualified resources. This does not appear to be the case. So, Mr. Blackburn, find a qualified person to weigh in on this. Do your job.


danika

You failed to answer my question: Is Julie Rodewald a licensed attorney?


Also, please review SLORIDER’s post above in regards to Mr. Jenkins’ ability to speak to election law. He is qualified. More so than Julie Rodewald.


danika

Perhaps Julie Rodewald’s husband should speak to his wife about praciticing law without a license.


racheltamagni

The first change he obviously intends to make is shaking up the city council. No one person can make a change by themselves. He is at least taking a stand to say “I’m willing to break up this committee of self serving kiss@ss politicians” while the rest of you sit on your laurels whining and complaining. If you’re unhappy with the current city hall atmosphere and can’t do any else pull out your wallets and support Jim Reed, his heart is in the right place….defending the rights of Paso Robles residents and taxpayers.


pasoparent5

Gary Nemeth–what happened?


Black_Copter_Pilot

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”


I believe Nemeth got a dose of Mr. Dylan


Scarlet

Oh, come on, Meg. You needed to pull in administrative support to help with TWO candidates? It took THREE employees to handle TWO applications? No wonder Paso is in such a mess.


Paso needs to allow Reed’s original statement.


racheltamagni

and it WILL be on his upcoming website jimreed4paso.com, for all to see.


pasoman

Don’t be too tough on Meg, after all…. Jim App trained her. Sad.


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