There's just more than a week until the June 3 primary election. Candidates are into the home stretch drive of a campaign season that's generated local controversies from some unusual corners.
Last-week mailers or late-issue barbs are not unusual for the final week before voters go to the polls, but there have already been plenty of emotions to go around in a couple of local races.
The race to succeed Robert Stark, Sutter County's auditor-controller, has generated more letters and accusations than normal for such a low-profile office.
And the race for 5th District supervisor in Yuba County took an unexpected turn with incumbent Hal Stocker running an ad trying to connect opponent Randy Fletcher to the Fellowship of Friends. That ad included a story published on an Oregon-based website that called the Fellowship, followers of Mystical Fourth-Way Christianity, a "cult."
But local election officials said Friday the controversies likely won't be enough to generate a greater countywide voter turnout at a time when most cast ballots by mail.
Sutter County Clerk Donna Johnston said Friday the number of mail ballots returned to her office is about 2 percent behind the rate of the gubernatorial election from four years ago. Some 60 percent of Sutter County voters now cast ballots by mail.
Of 27,351 mail ballots issued in the county this year, only 2,985 had been returned as of 5 p.m. Thursday, she said.
Based on that, Johnston said, it doesn't appear local issues generated in this election are drawing a lot of interest.
Yuba County Clerk Terry Hansen also expects a low turnout, saying about 2,000 of 14,000 mail ballots returned is low for being this close to the election.
"I am expecting it is going to be low," she said. "Traditionally, a gubernatorial election doesn't draw the attention a presidential election does."
It's too late for residents who aren't registered to vote June 3 to do so for this election, but voters still have until Thursday to obtain a mail ballot. However, election officials said that to obtain one now residents have to get a ballot in person at county election offices.
5th District Y.C. supervisor
A political ad that appeared last week generated some new attention in the five-candidate race for 5th District Yuba County supervisor.
The question is whether the paid ad that ran in the Appeal-Democrat brought to the voters a legitimate issue or is a case of dirty politics.
"It didn't bother me," said incumbent Hal Stocker, who purchased the ad that ran May 18. "As far as I am concerned it was factual. I don't see any reason to criticize it."
The ad links opponent Randy Fletcher with the Fellowship of Friends organization. It includes an article by Eric Salerno of Browns Valley that appeared on the Oregon-based website Salem-News.com.
Salerno, listed as a contributor to the website, said Thursday he received no payment from the Stocker campaign, but that he gave permission for its use. He noted that Fletcher had first agreed to be interviewed and then backed out.
"I had interviewed three of the candidates previously and he was next on the list," Salerno said. "My motivation is to get the candidate's story and print it."
A Marysville insurance agent who lives in Browns Valley, Fletcher is one of four candidates seeking to oust Stocker, who is seeking a sixth term. Others running are former supervisor Don Schrader, Jenny Cavaliere and Kathie Thelen.
Fletcher said he preferred to not respond directly to the ad. However, he emphasized he is not a Fellowship member and that any connections he has with members are through his business or in helping organize community events.
"I don't want to go there," Fletcher said of the ad. "It's not healthy for the community."
Stocker said Thursday he has concerns about somebody being on the board who would support what he claims is the Fellowship's goal to develop its 1,000 foothills acres. He called the Fellowship a "special interest group" whose desires are out of step with the rest of the district.
"I am interested in land use," said Stocker. "I am interested in what happens to the countryside."
Stocker noted that Fellowship member Steven Dambeck and Fletcher work together on North Yuba Grown, an organization formed to promote foothills farm products. And he said North Yuba Grown events are being held on Chestnut Grove property owned by Fletcher.
"He (Fletcher) would do whatever they want," Stocker said. "As it relates to land use, you have to have concerns he would vote for their projects. That's where his political base is."
Fletcher said he has no knowledge of any developments the Fellowship might have planned. And he said that he and Dambeck, along with Fellowship president Greg Holman, are "business associates with interest in the community."
Dambeck, who supports Fletcher, said he expects "politicians to overstate what their opponents' position is."
"Nobody wants large development," he said. "The economy doesn't bear it."
The ad, which refers to the Fellowship as a "cult," also includes photos of Fletcher with Dambeck and Holman. It identifies Dambeck as president of Fellowship-connected Apollo Olive Oil, though Dambeck said he sold his interest in the company "seven or eight years ago."
Fletcher said the photo with Dambeck was taken during a Yuba County Alliance for Development meeting in which Dambeck won a door prize. The other with Holman, he said, was taken during an Italian Night event sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Marysville.
Dambeck, recently hired as the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce's director of tourism, called the ad "a pretty cheap shot." He said he has no "leadership role" with the group.
"We are business people who have a spiritual direction," he said.
The race to find a replacement for Sutter County Auditor-Controller Robert Stark has generated almost as much controversy as Stark did during his years in office.
James Sharpe, assistant county treasurer-tax collector, said he hasn't been completely surprised he has been targeted. He said he knew he would be on the status of his CPA license.
"I had been told not to run," he said. "I had been threatened not to run in December and January. I knew that would come out.
"But the vitriol is something I can't understand. I am just trying to compare my record to my opponent. Every time I do that they try to assassinate my record."
Opponent Nate Black, a tax manager at a Yuba City accounting firm, said he has been surprised by the accusations and counter-accusations that have taken place.
"I am a newcomer to politics," Black said. "I don't have a lot of experience in this.
"You can basically state whatever you want and it is very difficult to debunk it. You have to be very careful about not being negative, but you want the public to be informed."
Sharpe and Black are running to succeed Stark, who is not seeking re-election after 30 years in office. In his years, Stark has been a lightning rod for controversy, including a grand jury indictment charging misuse of funds that eventually was dismissed.
Sharpe has said his concerns over the way Stark ran the office has prompted opposition from Stark's supporters. Among other things, opponents have referred to the fact that Sharpe's license was suspended and revoked in the late 1980s for a pro-bono audit for the City of Wheatland that was not properly finished.
Sharpe said he was doing the audit for free when an employee who was working on the audit quit and took paperwork related to the document. His license was reinstated in 2011 after he petitioned the state Board of Accountancy.
"The board had a discussion," Sharpe said. "They debated what they should do with me. They discussed that what I did was not egregious. They discussed I was doing it pro bono. They discussed I was doing continuing education all through that time period."
It was reinstated back to the date when it was suspended, he said.
"I have explained it three times in the newspaper," Sharpe said. "I am not sure someone can be confused about my record. They have emailed my record to hundreds of people in town."
However, Black said Sharpe's contention he has been a CPA for 30 years is misleading.
"It is correct for him to state he started 30 years ago and is still in accounting," Black said. "But it is not correct to state he was a CPA from 1988 to 2011.
"That is hard for me to let go. It's an act discreditable to the position. He didn't have it for 22 years even if it was reinstated."
Black denies statements by Sharpe he was recruited by the Sutter County Taxpayers Association, strong supporters of Stark, to run for the seat. He said he was "educated by a co-worker" who intended to run, but decided against the idea.
After requesting a meeting with Stark and conducting research, he said he decided to run.
"It's a little outrageous," Black said. "I have done all these things that are wholesome good things and for somebody to say somebody tapped me to run is demeaning to me.
"I am not running against him. I am just running for the seat."
Sharpe admits he has been put on the defensive by the license issue.
"My record has been misrepresented to people all over town," he said. "At this point, if I lose the election, I want to make sure the record is clear so I can hold my head up high.
"I am totally defensive and that is what they want."
Other races in the Yuba-Sutter area that have generated controversy:
• The residency of Sutter County District Attorney candidate Kulvinder Singh, one of four running to succeed the retired Carl Adams, became an issue after a report by a Sacramento television station. The station was tipped off by a member of the Sutter Buttes Tea Party Patriots.
Singh, who said he believed the report was racially motivated, said he was using a Roseville address at his law office to receive mail.
Voting records show he has a Yuba City address.
• Sacramento lawyer Julius Engel, who is opposing Yuba County Superior Court Judge Julia Scrogin, faced a disciplinary hearing before the State Bar for accusations he wrongly commingled personal funds in a client's trust account.
The hearing came after he had filed to run for Scrogin's seat, the second time he has been a Yuba County judge candidate. Judges do not have to reside in the county in which they preside.
Cases related to the charge are listed as "pending" in the California State Bar website.