County rally targets Sutter supervisors
Standing on the steps outside the meeting room where they say they're often ignored or insulted, dissidents on Thursday announced recall challenges to Sutter County supervisors at a high-noon rally.
Candidates will be fielded against Supervisors Jim Whiteaker and Dan Silva in a November recall election, said Rick Dais of Yuba City, coordinator of the recall effort.
According to Dais, his group has 90 days from the time they file recall papers to collect signatures of 25 percent of registered voters in the last election in each district involved in the recall. Exact numbers of voters were not available to the Appeal-Democrat on Thursday night.
Dais said the group plans to file in mid-March. After the petitions are turned in, the county clerk must certify the validity of the signatures; county supervisors would then set the election.
Members of the new group Citizens for Change, which sponsored the rally, said they hope to field candidates against Supervisors Dennis Nelson and Larry Munger, whose names will be on the June primary election ballot.
Dais said a Sacramento law firm “that specializes in recalls,” Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, has been retained. He predicted a recall “could be an epic struggle.”
Stan Cleveland of Yuba City, a resident of Nelson's district, recently picked up “petitions in lieu” of filing fees at the county elections office. Nelson and Munger also have picked up petitions. Candidates can begin circulating nomination papers Feb. 13.
About 250 people attended the rally. Some were county employees on their lunch hour who came to protest the protesters. Nelson said many of those opposing the protesters were ordinary citizens, not county workers.
They carried signs saying “We Support the Board.” Other signs bore a slash through CFC - Citizens for Change.
Protesters had their own signs: “We Want Our County Back,” “Bring Back Integrity” and “Recall: The Only Choice Left.”
Three Yuba City police officers stood by during the rally, where demonstrators, including county employees, interrupted speakers with chants of “We support the board.”
“Go back to work,” responded county Planning Commissioner Gabrial Singh, using a megaphone. Singh is a board critic.
The exchanges never exceeded what might be called good-natured heckling.
The five supervisors, four of whom wore their “Team Sutter” jackets, positioned themselves directly in front of a lectern where Dais charged that they “belittle and ignore us.”
Members of the public who criticize the county's new retirement package for officials and employees have “in every instance been put down or stonewalled,” said Dais.
The retirement package was approved without debate at a 2004 board meeting. County officials say it was needed to attract and retain quality employees.
Taxpayer Association officer Elaine Miles said 40 county employees retired last year to take advantage of the enhanced benefits, about four times the annual average.
Hecklers told Miles, a former state employee, that she also receives retirement benefits.
“Yeah, I get a check, but I wish it was like yours,” Miles shot back.
Miles said the new package, which annually pays retirees 2.7 percent of their top salary, is “financially devastating,” already putting the county $31 million in debt to the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
The county mortgaged its house to buy a Rolls Royce and now can't afford gas for the tank - “all this for the self-serving interest of a few at the top” who are nearing retirement, Miles said. Meanwhile, the county's roads and levees are suffering, she said.
Taxpayer Association President Robert Mackensen said his group did not organize the rally but extended “best wishes to C4C.”
Munger, who recently began a one-year term as board chairman, said the protesters either don't understand many of the items on their laundry list of complaints or are telling “a pack of lies.”
Whiteaker, the previous chairman, said in an interview that protesters were exercising their First Amendment free speech right, but their agenda “is doing nothing for the betterment of Sutter County.”
Dissidents are not speaking for the majority of county residents, supervisors say.
Supervisors have consistently maintained that the county is in sound financial shape and better off than many other counties.
Board critic Francie Lane reiterated her objections to the board's recent decision to buy a $1.5 million electronic voting machine system that she said still lacks certification by state and federal officials.
At Tuesday's board meeting, county Clerk-Recorder Joan Bechtel responded that the board's choice, manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems, is fully certified for the November election and “conditionally” certified for June's primary until Sequoia submits required paperwork. Other counties already using Sequoia machines overwhelmingly recommended them, said Bechtel.
In a related development, former Supervisor Ron Southard said he has submitted a proposed initiative calling for Sutter County to become a charter county under the state constitution. Voters in a charter county would have direct influence over supervisors' pay and other issues, he said.
Southard said he is waiting for County Counsel Ronald Erickson to rule on the wording of the initiative.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young can be reached at 749-4710. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.