It’s official. Apache Junction is set for a City Council recall vote and a primary election in March. In a last-ditch effort, four council members and the mayor, all of whom are facing recalls, turned to the court, seeking judicial review of the Pinal County Recorder’s certification of petitions.
But county Superior Court Judge William O’Neil dismissed the request, finding there was not enough evidence to show the challenge was filed on time.
O’Neil also found the council members failed to prove their main contention: that the way the date and address columns in the petitions were filled out did not comply with the law.
Mayor John Insalaco, Vice Mayor R.E. Eck and council members Robin Barker, Richard Dietz and Jeff Serdy are all facing recalls.
For Jim Stephens, leader of the recall group Committee for Honest Government, the idea that the council members would go after the city and county was “just amazing.”
“The thing that struck me was they took their own city and county to court,” Stephens said.
Insalaco said the council members took the action because Apache Junction City Clerk Kathleen Connelly and Pinal County Recorder Laura Dean-Lytle could only verify the signatures and the issue had to be challenged in court.
The council members wanted to challenge the same handwriting under the address and date columns in a large number of cases verified by the city clerk and the county recorder.
who can fill out columns?
In many instances, registered voters signed their names, and the people circulating the petitions filled in the rest. Insalaco said he and the other four council members who challenged the petitions believed that according to the law the other columns must be filled out by the person signing the petition.
The judge disagreed.
“The purpose of the statute is to assure the constitutional right of the electorate to mandate a recall election not to ascertain if they are capable of writing their own addresses,” the ruling stated.
Kevin Tyne, spokesman at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, said for recall elections at the state level, the signatures collected should be valid, and the people collecting the signatures can fill out the rest of the columns, as long as the information is correct.
But for municipal elections, Tyne said it’s up to the local election officials.
Connelly said Apache Junction follows state law and she had pre-verified the signatures.
“There’s a checklist I use as any other city clerk to verify petitions, and anything outside that does not come under my purview,” Connelly said.
Dean-Lytle certified the petitions after verifying the veracity of signatures and that those who had signed were indeed registered voters living within the jurisdiction.
Dean-Lytle said the council members took her and other local officials to court, but it was really the petition circulators they were after.
“They were after those circulators, but we had to be listed as a party so they had to throw everyone in there,” Dean-Lytle said.
Stephens said because they were passing five petitions, they found it easier to fill out addresses and dates in some cases, but that they’d done so after checking with election officials.
Dean-Lytle said the statute is confusing as to whether it’s OK for the petition circulator to fill the column.
“The legal description doesn’t tell me if I should check for who fills out the rest of the columns, so of course I didn’t,” Dean-Lytle said.
Councilwoman Barker’s husband, Ed, had checked the petitions for the five members and offered to testify about the handwriting issue, according to Insalaco.
The judge did not take that into account, saying Ed Barker did not qualify as a handwriting expert, Insalaco said.
Hiring a handwriting expert, however, would have been an expensive proposition, the mayor said.
He and the council members had hired a private attorney for the case.
'don’t want to listen’
Shannon Flynn, another recall group member, said the case was a matter of the council members not willing to face an election.
“It shows our public they don’t want to listen to the public,” Flynn said.
The mayor termed the court challenge a “matter of principle,” but said he was ready for the election.
“It’s all come down to March, and we’ll beat them in the recall,” Insalaco said.
all on the same ballot
Now, Apache Junction residents will vote for three council members and the mayor in the city’s primary election in March.
Eck, Dietz and Insalaco are up for re-election in the primary, along with Councilman Joe Severs.
On the same ballot, residents also will decide the fate of the four council members and Insalaco in the recall election. Connelly issued a “call of election,” or a formal notice, on Friday.
If Insalaco, for instance, wins the primary but loses the recall, it would force him to leave office for three months.
After the primary, Robin Barker and Serdy will have two years and three months left to serve out, assuming they win the recall.
Stephens said they’re going for the recall because they feel the present council is ineffective.