Newport Councilman O'Neill seeks city probe of possible petition fraud in failed effort to recall Peotter


The Newport Beach City Council could hold its own investigation into possible petition fraud in the recent unsuccessful recall effort against Councilman Scott Peotter.

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill on Tuesday called for the probe, citing a section of the city charter that gives members of the council the power to subpoena witnesses and question them under oath “in any investigation or proceeding pending before the City Council.”

Earlier this month, the Orange County district attorney’s office seized the recall petitions over concerns about “potential irregularities.” The DA’s office took the petitions from the county registrar of voters office in Santa Ana.

The search warrant affidavit is sealed, so specific allegations are unavailable.

However, recall organizer Susan Skinner said she believed a paid third-party petition circulator contracted by the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter may have forged signatures. Other recall proponents have raised that possibility on social media.

California election code makes petition circulators “criminally liable” for false or forged petition signatures.

In suggesting a city hearing on the matter, O’Neill said the council is obligated to look into such a serious claim.

“That is indeed, if true, an assault on the integrity of our election process, and we as a city should not take that lightly,” he said.

O’Neill said he would want to subpoena key people from the petition-circulating company, not members of the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter.

The committee’s campaign finance filings show that a company called PCI Consultants Inc. of Calabasas circulated petitions. As of October, the committee spent or owed a total of about $50,000 to the firm.

O’Neill compared the city’s potential hearing to a Senate hearing rather than a court proceeding.

For any such hearing to happen, O’Neill first had to ask that formal consideration of the matter be placed on a future council agenda. Next, the council would vote on whether to hold the hearing.

The registrar’s office announced in December that it had accepted as valid 8,339 of the 10,696 recall signatures submitted. That was 106 shy of the 8,445 — representing 15% of the city’s registered voters — needed to force a special recall election.

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