Emails suggest suspended city clerk knew of deadline

Costa Mesa City Clerk Julie Folcik was repeatedly reminded by election officials of the deadline to get a proposed city charter initiative on the June ballot, emails show.

The exchanges, obtained by the Daily Pilot through a California Public Records Act request, could cast doubt on the claim that Folcik was merely mixed up about the 5 p.m. March 9 deadline — an argument she made in a failed attempt last week to put the initiative on June's ballot even though she missed the deadline.

Employees with the Orange County Registrar of Voters told Folcik, who was suspended Wednesday, about the deadline in emails dated Nov. 9, Dec. 5 and March 8.

"Be sure to get the [resolution] to us by Friday to put the measure on the ballot," Kay Cotton, manager for voter services, wrote in an email to Folcik on March 8 — the morning before the deadline. "That can't wait until Monday by statute."

Folcik replied to Cotton's email the day of the deadline, essentially thanking Cotton for the information.

But when the registrar's office closed that evening, Costa Mesa hadn't submitted anything.

However, in an email dated Feb. 27, she wrote: "I will have the documents to you by March 9, 2012 … I know it's cutting it close. Sorry about that."

On March 10, Registrar Neal Kelley emailed Folcik asking her to call him. Folcik emailed everything over that Saturday afternoon and submitted copies in person the next business day, Monday, March 12. But by then it was too late.

In an email to the Daily Pilot on March 8, Folcik attached a calendar of deadlines for the June primary that includes the March 9 date for submitting city resolutions to be put on June's ballot.

In the days after the paperwork mistake, city CEO Tom Hatch called Folcik's error a "significant professional failure" and then suspended her, pending an investigation.

Citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, Hatch declined to comment further Friday.

Many of Folcik's supporters are standing by her.

"I feel like I don't have the ability to judge Julie on this," said Robin Leffler, a Costa Mesa resident and council observer. "On the other hand, [in] something of such great importance to the city, why weren't other people there to make sure everything was done right?"

Folcik's mistake benefited city charter skeptics and employees opposed to the current council majority's restructuring agenda. However, Folcik, a manager, is not a member of the city employee union most likely to be affected by her error. Regardless, labor leaders are showing support.

"Blaming one employee for a mistake that would never have occurred if a number of the city's so-called leaders were doing their jobs is just another sad example of what happens when a group of failed businessmen — who have no regard or respect for the community, the law or human dignity — hijack a city for political gain," said Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz Miller ruled this week that Costa Mesa would not get an exception to the filing deadline because the city didn't show how delaying the charter proposal until the November ballot would irreparably harm Costa Mesans.

Proponents of the delay argue that voting on the charter in November actually gives residents more time to understand what they're voting on and saves the city money.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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