Wednesday, March 20, 2002
County Registrar-Recorder to Take Custody of South Gate Petitions
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The city of South Gate must hand over all petitions seeking a recall election for the city council majority to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office for safekeeping while they are being processed, under an order approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs yesterday.
Janavs said the petitions must be put in the hands of a neutral party as quickly as possible to avoid any appearance of impropriety in a city that has been torn apart by bitter accusations of electoral deception and backroom deals.
The decision, however, does not answer the question of what will happen to the petitions when they arrive at the registrar-recorder’s doorstep Thursday.
The city’s appointed election official, Julia Sylva, promised in court that she would follow the city’s past policy of having the county’s registrar-recorder office verify all of the signatures. Sylva was appointed South Gate’s elections official by the city council after the council majority stripped the elected city clerk, Carmen Avalos, of her election duties.
But the order does not require Sylva to allow the county to have any part in the recall process, other than storing the actual petitions, leaving the responsibility for processing the petitions up to Sylva or “her designee.”
Sylva has been criticized by Secretary of State Bill Jones for her close ties to City Treasurer Albert Robles-the person whom recall leaders claim is the real power behind the council majority.
If Sylva decides to go against her promise in court and does anything other than designating the verification duty to the county, Steven Kaufman, attorney for petitioners seeking a recall, said he will bring contempt proceedings against Sylva.
Attorneys representing the city of South Gate and the petitioners seeking a recall for majority members Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, and Councilwoman Maria Benavides agreed on the order yesterday afternoon, but Janavs gave them until 4:30 yesterday afternoon to present a comprehensive written order. She said she would sign it either late yesterday or first thing this morning. Calls to her courtroom for a decision went unanswered.
Kaufman and attorney Don Johnson urged Janavs to delete any reference to Sylva in the order as the “election official for the city of South Gate” and to delete the portion of the order that gives Sylva discretion over who should process the petitions.
But Janavs disagreed, saying Sylva was in fact the appointed election official for the city and that she was not ruling on whether Sylva was duly appointed or not. Janavs also refused to blot out the clause which provides Sylva discretion, but invited the attorneys to come back to court if Sylva does not hold true to her promise that the county will handle the verification of the petitions.
“Everyone always wants more than they can possibly have,” Janavs remarked.
Janavas also turned down a request from Kaufman to have a copy of all the petitions be maintained in the Secretary of State’s office as an added safeguard.
Jones has given the city until March 28 to reinstate Avalos or turn over its elections and recall process to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/clerk.
Kaufman said he is counting on Jones’ continued interest in South Gate election policies to ensure that the recall effort is carried out above board and away from the checkered past of South Gate politics.
Jones has said he fully intends to have investigators present when the petitions are turned in, Kaufman noted. Kaufman also said he plans to contact the secretary of state to arrange for personnel from Jones’ office to be present when the petitions are being processed.
Both sides claimed victory with the decision.
“This allows the duly appointed elections official to maintain control over the elections of the city of South Gate,” Clifton Albright, representing the city, said.
But Kaufman countered that the victory was getting the petitions out of the city.
“We got what we wanted,” Kaufman said. “We didn’t want a situation where we were turning them in to her in South Gate.”
A recall election could take place as soon as late summer if there are enough verified signatures to warrant one, he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company