Commerce Recall Fails: City Councilmember Calls Fraud
By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer
A months-long campaign to recall four of the five City of Commerce council members has failed to qualify for the ballot and on Tuesday, the targets of the recall effort, council members Joe Aguilar, Ivan Altamirano, Tina Baca del Rio and Lilia Leon, happily certified the county’s findings that an insufficient number of valid signatures had been obtained on recall petitions.
In accepting the findings filed with Commerce’s City Clerk, council members were quick to criticize backers of the effort and to accuse them of committing fraud in their pursuit of signatures.
Mayor Del Rio accused backers of forging 900 to 1,000 signatures, and asked the city attorney what recourse the city has to hold those responsible accountable.
This is not over, she said, saying she wants to “bring these individuals to justice.”
The individuals who circulated the petitions or forged signatures will have to answer for the forgeries, the mayor said. “This is not over,” the council is not letting this go, she said.
Backers of the recall effort needed 1,577 signatures or 25% of the eligible voters in the city to sign the petitions: a separate petition was circulated for each of the council members.
More than 2,000 signatures were turned in on each petition, however, according to the County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, some residents requested that their signatures be removed and hundreds more were determined to be invalid. On April 24, Commerce’s City Clerk, through the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office issued a “Certificate of Insufficiency” for each member since none of them reached the 1,577 signatures. After examining the signatures, the county found over 4,000 disqualified and/or withdrawn signatures on the combined petitions.
Valid signatures totals were as follows: Aguilar, 1,081; Altamirano, 1,233; Leon, 1,172 and Baca del Rio, 1,352.
There could be a multitude of reasons why signatures were disqualified, said Elizabeth Knox, public information officer with the L.A. County Registrar, but they are not specified in the county’s document. “It could be a different address, that the signature doesn’t match, the husband signed for both or that they didn’t sign the petition at all,” Knox told EGP.
“The fact that they failed to gather the required number of signatures is evidence that the majority of residents in our city understand that we are moving forward,” Altamirano told EGP. “Such numbers are outrageous and indicate potential illegal activities by the recall proponents,” he added.
A group, lead by Jaime Valencia, a two-time former council candidate and Commerce resident Miguel “Mike” Alvarado, worked on gathering the signatures required. On Tuesday, Del Rio singled out Valencia and Alvarado as possible culprits in the so-called forgeries.
However, on Wednesday Valencia assured EGP that his group did not “forge the signatures.” He said that today [Thursday] an “independent,” “high-powered attorney” and the recall campaign manager in charge of collecting signatures would be meeting with the county to review their findings.
“I can’t really comment right now, all I can say is that we didn’t do anything illegal,” he said.
In a previous article Valencia told EGP he denies claims by council members that he is just a disgruntled former candidate acting up because he was not elected; an accusation Del Rio made again on Tuesday. He said about 30 Commerce residents were involved in the recall effort.
On Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Leon asked if there is any way to track the recall campaigns financial expenditures, to which the city attorney responded that it would depend on how the group was set out, adding it would take time.
He further noted that the process was not yet complete since the recall backers still had the right to review the count’s finding, which they were expected to do this week.
Del Rio said Commerce residents are tired of the constant recalls. “It is the same group over and over again. They run for council, they don’t make it, ‘you’ become the center of recall,” Del Rio said at the meeting. “And all it is doing is smearing the name of the city,” in Commerce, in California,” she added.
“Even our U.S. Representative is embarrassed,” in Washington “they tell her your southeast communities can’t get it together,” Del Rio said.
On Wednesday, Del Rio questioned who is paying for the “two high-powered attorneys” who will be meeting with county officials today verify the signatures. Although Valencia told EGP the attorney –singular- is not being paid with residents’ tax dollars, he didn’t specify where he is from or how he is being paid.
“At this moment, we don’t know what’s the process but we’ll seek legal advice,” Del Rio told EGP.
Altamirano told EGP they will make sure that the issue is investigated and “the City will make sure that anyone who has tried to defraud Commerce voters is held accountable for their actions.”Print This Post
May 8, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.