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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NorthCountyDude

Oh, come on don’t be naive to think Paso can change. The economy is in shambles. There is no way to help the city get back to it’s 44,000 population mark by 2025. Even if the developments had fee reductions like what happened in SLO it will still be a while for these projects to gain any speed. There had been talks of a lifestyle community center to go in Paso, but that will never happen now. The only hope that could help Paso is in the Airport Association has the funds and means to get a airline pilot training academy at the Paso airport and also it’s possible to add tech businesses in the airport area with the fiber optic cables. But the Paso Robles Airport Association might have backed out of that idea.


I am quite aware of what is going on in the city. I’ve been to council meetings before and I’ve read up.


I no longer do any shopping in Paso. In fact, I plan on moving to south county in a couple years. I am hoping my parents make the same decision as well, but they like Templeton and Atascadero. Paso, Heritage Ranch, and San Miguel have too much crime.


I will conclude in saying that Paso will get better eventually, but not til 2017 at the earliest. And 1/3 Hispanic usually means there is an undocumented citizen problem and along with that comes gang problems. If people aren’t paying taxes the city starts to deteriorate.


racheltamagni

Consider being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Quitters never win and winners never quit. But wait! We have no proof you have ever even tried, guess we really know where that leaves you.


NorthCountyDude

I don’t like any of the current people running. We still have a bunch of old people running for council. The school district is almost bankrupt and gang crime is up. The Golden Hills Plaza looks like a ghost town. We lost our chance to get Volvo in downtown. The charter school went into San Miguel. North County Cuesta is on the verge of shutting down. So why would anyone want to move to Paso?


All I see is two old people replacing two other old people that will have the same no-growth mentality. Paso and San Miguel are becoming the low income cities of North County where as Templeton and Atascadero are for the White, middle and upper middle class. It’s a city built on the rich wine owners and the tourists and everyone else falls in the service sector jobs. Paso is 1/3 Hispanic now and the poverty line has rose.


Reed, nor any of the other people running have talked about job stimulation in the airport area or in any other part of the town. All I hear is revenge from Danika, who runs the Change Paso Robles Now 2012, and the 2 candidates she is endorsing.


All the housing projects is Paso are pretty much dead and as well are other great plans in the city.


pasojim

NorthCountyDude.

Your post is a classic example of what is wrong with our city. Either your apathy keeps you ignorant tothe the point of not knowing or caring about what is going on around you, Or in your case, cripples youto the point of in-action.


I have not met you. You don’t know what my mentality is on any of these issues that concern you. I

have just managed to become a legitimate candidate and haven’t had the opportunity to explain what my stance is on any of your legitimate concerns for our city.


I have lived in this city for a long time, and have made my living in the growth aspect of the city’s

economy. I too have been negatively effected by all of these city policies you have alluded to here. At

least I decided to try to do something about it


I commend you for your concerns for our city, but sitting around and whining about it isn’t going to fix anything.


Paso_citizen

I, too, must disagree with NorthCountyDude that Paso Robles has no future. This city has all the potential of being the most vibrant city in SLO County, but it desparately needs better management. While it may seem that I also sit around whining and griping about all that is bad, I really look forward to seeing your website up and see you give very clear statements on what you will do about the issues that should be foremost in any voter’s mind.


What Ms. Williamson did is not the issue. She did it because she could – knowing full well it was in service to her master. That mentality is what needs to be changed. It is just that more difficult to challenge an ingrained government, when that government controls the process for who can or can not challenge them and tries to dictate what the challengers can or can not say.

Hopefully, the power of a free press is still one of our rights as citizens.


I am still disappointed and a little discouraged that after all that has happened in this city over the past 6-8 months – only 2 candidates came forth. And I also continue to strongly believe that CPRN2012 failed to carry through with their committments on generating citizen activism.


But nevertheless; we, the citizens, now have a choice. We can choose to learn about these candidates, determine exactly where they stand on the important stuff, help them understand the real concerns we have, and cast a very learned vote in November.


pasojim

Paso_citizen

Thank you for intellectual response to my post.


But, I must respectfully disagree with you opinion with CPRN2012. The people involved in the beginning decided on the direction they felt was the best direction for their efforts, being neutral and trying to educate citizens about current events in our city. It was met with a lot of support in the beginning, supporters couldn’t wait to help and wanted to be involved, but sadly we all just reverted back to our comfortable existence and decided to wait for CPRN to do something for us. CPRN can’t do anything for us. We must recall that attitude we all shared at time again. We can’t wait for somebody else to do what needs to be done.


We are at the culmination of all the events that have taken place over the last 6 – 8 months and it is election time, It is unfortunate we didn’t get several candidates that are going to step in and fix every thing for us, but we didn’t.


Now is not the time to just sit back and wait for somebody to do this for us.


thinkaboutit

Don’t forget, Jim, to fix that “1/3 Hispanic” problem, while you’re at it, to better get on NorthCountyDude’s happy side…if there is one. Ignorance and apathy are evidently among the least of his problems.


racheltamagni

NCD since you are disparaging us “old people” one can only draw the conclusion that you are one of the young generation who sit around feeling entitled and expecting everyone to simply give you what you want. If you know so much and are such an outspoken advocate for Paso Robles why is it we don’t see your name as a candidate? Perhaps the old saying “put up or shut up” suits you best.


MaryMalone

Meg Williamson did not have the authority to reject Mr. Reed’s candidate statement. Some are now saying she actually helped Mr. Reed in that his “new” statement is better.


Can the incumbents now call into question the candidacy of Mr. Reed? The results of the election if Mr. Reed wins?


Kevin Rice

The candidacy or election results cannot be challenged, however any party has ten days in which they could file for judicial review and injunction against allowing a revised statement. Reed could also seek a writ of mandamus to attempt to force his initial statement onto the ballot. Of course, no one is going to do any of that. It’s just going to continue to smell, that’s all.


pasojim

I apologize for the messy response,


I thought I should use a word processor so my response could look somewhat

intelligent, but it made a mess with the format.


pasojim

I think I ought to take this opportunity to introduce myself.


My name is Jim Reed Candidate for Paso Robles City Council. Many of you may know me as

pasojim. I have been a member of our Cal Coast New Community for a long time. If any of you have any question about where I stand on issues, all you have to do is go back through the topics in

the Cal Coast News archives to see where I stand.


Because of my inexperience in all things political, I took what I was being told about my campaign

statement by the city staff as constructive. The staff’s concern, because of past experience, was to

make sure my campaign statement would go through without any hitches. Because it was so close

to the deadline, I was concerned if I would be able to satisfy somebody’s opinion of what my

campaign statement was supposed to say before the deadline.


I will say, aside from all the constitutional ramifications, the city staff was respectful, and went out of

their way to help solve the problem within the constraints of the impending deadline. We managed

to fix the perceived problem and we moved on.


I agree with “hijinks” opinion the campaign statement that was accepted is better than the one

rejected.


I am not sure if this is the appropriate forum for campaigning, but we need to continue the discussion

we have been having about the chronic mis-management of our city and the fact the Paso citizen

have absolutely no representation in our city government.


It is astounding to me, that after all these discussions we have been having about what is happening

to our city and our government, the only choices we have to vote for are the people that have

caused the problem in the first place. That is not acceptable to me.


It would be irresponsible on our part to let this opportunity to put somebody on the city council with

best interest of the citizens in mind go by.


I agree, I may not be the best suited for this job (the campaign statement come to mind), but I

am the only one that has done anything.


I managed to stick my foot in the door before it slammed shut. Now Paso Robles city citizens at least have a legally legitimate candidate for city council.


Now, I ask you, what are you going to do with it.


I have been asked numerous times what I am going to do if elected. Without any support from

apathetic citizens I can guarantee not much. But with the support of the involved Paso citizen we can at least plot a new course and get our city heading in the right direction.


I would welcome the opportunity to meet with any of you to discuss the direction this campaign

needs to go. The bottom line is it needs several thousand Paso Robles city citizens votes, and that, with my limited resources, is a pretty tall order.


R.Hodin

Good luck with your candidacy.


I also concur that the edited statement reads better. I don’t know what the city’s role in this is, as defined by law, but if they were able to help you produce a clearer and stronger statement, then it was good for all concerned, especially for the electorate.


What motivation would Williamson’s group have to make life more difficult for a challenger? It could backfire spectacularly. There’s a bit too much paranoia in this article, and it won’t help the reformers in Paso.


So, no harm, no foul?


pasojim

As far as I am concerned this is old news.


I want to move on and start the discussions we need to be having.


Gsan

Looks as if Paso Robles is headed towards tougher times regardless of the coming election outcome … maybe with the exception of a few in the administration.


hijinks

The odd thing is that the rewrite actually is a much better, stronger statement than the original one. Perhaps the bureaucrats are on his side.


danika

You seem to have missed the point entirely. Did Williamson have right to intercede in this matter?


“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.”


Where exactly in Mr. Reed’s first submission did it reference other candidates, their character, qualities, or activities? He referenced the entire city council, which include 2 members not running in this election.


I think Mr. Reed will get more votes because of Ms. Williamson’s attempt to repress his first statement. She proved his statement “overbearing City government.” to be factual and provided the evidence of this herself!


The Gimlet Eye

In think you mean, “suppress,” rather than “repress.” :–)


MaryMalone

The sad thing is this: we will never know if Mr. Reed’s own words in his candidate statement would have won or lost, because the Cit of Paso Robles forced him to change it.


I think this is a very slippery slope.


I also think Meg Williamson is the patsy for City Manager James App and the City Council.


Meg must have a pretty big kiester if James App is able to hide behind her skirts.


hijinks

“I think Mr. Reed will get more votes because of Ms. Williamson’s attempt to repress his first statement.” Or, at least because of CCN’s allegation that she attempted to “repress” his first statement. Your temper tantrum isn’t much supported by Mr. Reed’s own statement. He sounds like a more level-headed guy than those who rage against the “machine” on these pages. In fact, he sounds like a good guy. Wish him the best in the campaign.


pasojim

Thanks for you kind words, I can use all the support I can get.


hijinks

Also, non-lawyers quoting non-lawyers on non-lawyers’ interpretation of the law seems like a pretty dubious foundation for any argument.


pasoman

Well said!


dante0182

Williamson over stepped her authority and should be held accountable. Hopefully when a new city council is elected, the city manager’s office will be reorganized and the assistant city manager position deleted, and William relieved of duty.


pasoman

Great post!!


While I agree a reorganization is appropriate, we have three chances that will happen….


1) slim, 2) fat, and 3) none.


Remember our mayor ACTUALLY believes App is doing a good job. Just ask him, he will tell you.


Fred is in City hall virtually every day. Jim makes him feel important (while he is there), Fred won’t vote to boot App.


Ed used to be a City Planner and thinks “staff” can do no wrong. After all, “they’re the experts, we have to listen to them”.


Yada yada yada, need I go on?


App 3, citizens 2. We lose.


danika

Fred Strong attended the CPRN2012 “meet and greet” and the subject of App and his boated salary, benefits, and contract came into discussion. He said he felt Jim App wasn’t paid enough and that he was doing a fine job for the City.


If you want change in Paso Robles, Fred Strong isn’t the answer.


viamagnolia1

Come on people. Look at the bright side. We have two people running for seats that want to make a difference. That means new and fresh ideas. Encourage them, support them, and vote for them. Many people in Paso Robles are not happy. They want change.


danika

Well stated, Sally!


viamagnolia1

Thank You Karen!


Paso_citizen

ABSOLUTELY! You hit it right on the nail head. Personally, I believe chance #3 is most likely.

And our current city council, along with Chairman App, KNOW THIS. They have no worries in the world of having their tight, little kingdom broken up.


dante0182 must be living one of those “Its a Wonderful World” dreams, or maybe been smokin a little too much wacky tobacky. To even dream that 1st: both challengers must be elected, and 2nd: they will somehow, someway force the other 3 council members to see the light and change things. What’s the old saying – when pigs fly.


The Gimlet Eye

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


MaryMalone

Hopefully, they will in the future.