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Recall Initiated Against 4 Council Members : Government: San Clemente group was angered by 4-1 decision to disband the 65-year-old Police Department.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After first making their threat a week ago, a group of residents and business owners officially notified four City Council members late Wednesday night that they are beginning a recall campaign.

The group, angered by the council’s 4-1 decision last month to disband the 65-year-old Police Department and contract for services with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, handed recall notices to targeted council members shortly before midnight after a 4 1/2-hour council meeting.

“It’s a tragedy we’ve had to come to this point,” said Robb Topolski, a resident and former city police dispatcher who is helping to organize the drive. “But now we can turn it around and get our city back.”

Mayor Truman Benedict and council members Joseph Anderson, Scott Diehl and Candace Haggard have said they will fight the recall drive and stand by their decision to save $2 million in the next fiscal year by contracting with the Sheriff’s Department. The city faces a revenue shortage of $6.35 million.

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“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Diehl said. “I feel as though the negativism of this is going to zap a lot of energy the city needs to be utilizing in dealing with its calamities.”

Haggard said the recall notice did not come as a surprise, but it did come on her 42nd birthday.

“It wasn’t my favorite birthday present,” she said.

“This is a very divisive thing, no matter which side of the issue you’re on,” she continued. “I just don’t feel any good comes out of this.”

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In the notice, residents Alfred Castillo, Alvin White, Capt. Simon G. Zervos and Topolski cite eight reasons for the recall, including, “that you deprived residents of their right to vote on fundamental changes of their local government” and “that you ignored the desire of the majority of residents to maintain its 65-year-old Police Department.”

The notice also includes charges that the council members neglected the economic stability of the community, failed to cultivate an attractive business environment, imposed higher taxes, and unwisely spent tax dollars on “consultants and legal fees sorely needed to support public safety. . . .”

“People are unhappy because the City Council is not responsive to the citizens’ needs,” Annette Sanders said. “Who’s in charge here? We’re supposed to be in charge.”

Once the group filed a formal notice in the city clerk’s office, council members will have seven days to respond, if they choose. After the council members have had time to answer the charges, the group must file proposed recall petitions with City Clerk Myrna Erway.

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Once the petitions are approved by the city clerk, the group will have 120 days to collect about 5,000 signatures from the estimated 25,000 registered voters in San Clemente to force the recall election. If enough signatures are collected, an election--which would cost the city about $45,000 to $50,000--would be held 88 to 125 days later, Erway said.

The total process could take up to 10 months, Erway said.

A final contract from the Sheriff’s Department will be brought back to the council for approval later this spring. A target date of July 1 has been set for the change in local law enforcement.


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