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What it takes to recall a Newport councilman

Councilman Scott Peotter could make history as the first council member to be recalled in Newport.

In 2003 Mayor Steve Bromberg urged Councilman Dick Nichols, who made inappropriate remarks about Latinos, to resign or face a public recall.

May 2015 Bob “Stop the Dock Tax” McCaffrey and his organization, Residents for Reform, floated the idea of recalling Councilman Keith Curry, who supported projects he opposed.

And in July 2015, after Peotter created controversy with his now-infamous email blast expressing his opposition to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage and questioned the LGBT movement’s use of the rainbow flag, recall rumors surfaced.

In all instances nothing ever came of the recall rhetoric.

But this time it could, as the Daily Pilot reported, with the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter serving him notice at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Why recall Peotter now, when 2018 elections are so close?

Lynn Swain, spokeswoman for the Recall Peotter Committee, says there’s concern that “in two more years Scott could change the character of our city forever,” especially since there is talk about updating the city’s General Plan.

So how exactly does a recall work?

The recall committee has to first serve the target and then files a notice of intention with the city clerk within seven days. Then the notice is published.

The target has seven days to file an answer to the recall charges with the clerk. Next, the proponent has to file proof of publication of the notice within 10 days of the recall target filing an answer. The proponent also has to submit two blank petitions to the city clerk.

The recall petition, which only Newport Beach voters can circulate, requires signatures of 15% of registered voters gathered in 160 days.

With an estimated 53,000 Newport voters, petitioners would be wise to gather about 10,000 signatures.

Those signatures are sent to the clerk, who has 30 days to certify them.

The Newport council has to certify the petition and call for an election.

The nomination process for new candidates begins, and an election would be held not less than 88, or more than 125, days after the City Council calls for an election.

Recalls cost money.

The group initiating could spend tens of thousands of dollars.

Leilani Brown, Newport’s city clerk, says she budgets about $100,000 for a municipal election, but “special elections can be more, especially if the city is the only one holding the election.”

For the Museum House referendum, about $300,000 was budgeted.

Swain wouldn’t say what her group’s budget was, but is confident they’ll meet their goals.

A “professional campaign manager” is already on board, she says.

How will they get 10,000 signatures?

Will they hire signature-gathers?

Swain says they have a budget for this, but “with five months to gather the names we may or may not use it.”

Will Line in the Sand join this effort? After all, the political action committee was successful gathering over 14,000 signatures for the referendum against the Museum House in just two weeks in December.

Line in the Sand spokesman Tim Stoaks, a friend of mine, tells me his group is “staying in their lane,” remaining focused on high-density development and environmental issues.

“However many Line in the Sand supporters are involved in the recall,” Swain says.

Swain’s group has a recall website listing reasons they feel Peotter is unfit for office. I won’t go into all of those now, but instead let’s look at how this could all play out.

Who replaces Peotter, if this recall grows legs?

Names being floated are former Planning Commissioner Mike Toerge, Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank and Friends of the Corona del Mar Library chairwoman Joy Brenner.

Toerge, who lost to Peotter in 2014, confirmed his name will be on the recall ballot. He already had plans to run against Peotter in 2018, as I reported in January.

Blank tells me his name will be “among those signers of the ballot statement calling for the recall, but I’m not a candidate.”

Brenner says she will be a candidate if, in fact, a recall occurs. The 51-year Corona del Mar resident feels “compelled” to serve and has been being urged to run for office by friends and neighbors since the 1980s.

Now is the time, she says.

Of course there are still a lot of if’s here.

If enough signatures are gathered, there could be additional candidates.

If the recall progresses, Peotter could opt to resign, then the council would just appoint someone of its choosing.

If Peotter survives the recall, he still has to run in 2018 and fight again for his seat.

Regardless of what happens here, the stigma of a recall is hard to shake for any politician moving forward.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Joy Brenner is a founder of Friends of the Library. Brenner is chairwoman of the Corona del Mar Friends of the Library.
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