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Now’s Not Time for Recalling Officials : Move May Hurt County’s Recovery From Bond Crisis

No doubt, it was just a matter of time before anger over the county’s bankruptcy crisis found expression in one remedy of choice being used nowadays to express dissatisfaction with elected officials. Late last month, a petition was filed to recall Supervisor Roger R. Stanton in the 1st District, citing alleged “malfeasance and nonfeasance in office.” Stanton, who ironically has been one of the most vocal advocates of reform and reconstruction on the board since the crisis broke out, vowed to fight any such effort.

Some of the obvious problems with the appropriateness of recall as a way of redressing grievances were immediately apparent in both the selection of a target and in the person doing the targeting.

Stanton was one of five members of the board, so why single him out when others were equally open to criticism for a lack of oversight? Two of the supervisors who presided over much of the period of difficulty with the county’s investment fund, Harriett M. Wieder and Thomas F. Riley, have already departed because their terms were up. William G. Steiner was filling out the remainder of the unexpired term of departed Supervisor Don R. Roth, and was not immediately subject to recall. But there was no recall effort launched against a supervisor who would have to share equally in the accountability, Gaddi H. Vasquez. There is an issue of fairness here.

The petitioner, Felix Rocha Jr., is a member of the Orange County Department of Education Board of Trustees, which was one of the public agencies that borrowed millions to play in the county’s investment pool. One of the clearest lessons to date of the investment scandal is that there was plenty of enabling support for the investment practices of former Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron. It seems unlikely that removing one supervisor by recall would sufficiently address the scope of accountability, and certainly it would not take into account any issue of the pot calling into question the kettle, that is, a petitioner who was part of a network of investment practices gone sour.

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The public, of course, ought to have its opportunity to pass judgment on the performance of the supervisors. But while the collapse of the investment fund overwhelms any alleged shortcoming that has been cited around Orange County in recent local recall efforts, the question remains. Is it worth the time and effort to mount a recall campaign, or is the time to review the performance of public officials best kept to the regularly scheduled time of evaluation--the election?

As a practical matter, the petition gathering for any recall efforts would be pushed into this year’s calendar. Then there would be the expense to the county associated with holding a recall election. All the while, whatever signal of stability that has been sent by the county’s efforts to get a grip on the crisis could potentially be undermined by the uncertainty attending the seating of any new supervisors.

As it now stands, we are 15 months away from an election in which two of the supervisors, Stanton and Vasquez, must run anyway for reelection. The board already has begun 1995 with two-fifths of the fresh start that would be achieved by a complete turnover, because Supervisors Marian Bergeson and Jim Silva have just taken their seats. By this time next year, the board theoretically could be in a position to be on the way for a near-complete overhaul if that’s what the voters want.

Let’s get on with the recovery, which has begun reasonably well, and evaluate any holdover supervisors at the appropriate time.

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