Two Livingston leaders face recall vote

County says there are enough signatures on petitions against mayor, councilwoman.

April 10, 2010 

LIVINGSTON -- Livingston's mayor and one council member will face a recall election.

Two out of three recall petitions were certified Friday as having sufficient signatures to qualify for a recall. The petitions attempting to recall Mayor Daniel Varela and Councilwoman Martha Nateras attained 1,038 and 1,027 signatures respectively -- more than the 1,017 needed to trigger the recall process.

A petition to recall Councilman Frank Vierra failed to achieve the number of signatures, with 1,005. The three together formed a voting block on the council that successfully raised Livingston's water rates in 2009. The two council members who voted against the increases weren't subjected to recall petitions.

"That's our American system," Varela said Friday. "We live and die by what we believe in. I guess we are going to the next phase."

Nateras and Vierra didn't immediately return phone calls from the Sun-Star.

Varela said he will actively campaign to keep his position.

"If I am going to walk away and hide in a closet, then I am not who I say I am," he said.

"There's a lot at stake here. The future of our community is at stake. I am talking about the leadership and the vision of our community," he said, adding that the recall process is just another distraction that keeps the council from moving forward.

Gurpal Samra, a former Livingston mayor and one of the recall organizers, said he was pleased with the outcome but a little disappointed that the petition against Vierra failed. He suggested the group may try again to recall Vierra.

"I think ultimately the people are going to prevail," Samra said.

Merced County Registrar of Voters Karen Adams certified the petitions Friday and ordered them delivered to the city of Livingston for the next step.

According to documentation held by the Secretary of State's office, the city must, within 14 days of receiving a certificate of sufficiency, issue an order stating that a recall election will be held. The election must be held not less than 88 days and not more than 125 days after the issuance of the order. A recall election can be combined with another already scheduled election; however, it's just 60 days until the June 8 countywide election. That might require a special election for which Livingston may foot the bill.

The ballot will ask, should the elected official be recalled, and will also contain a second section allowing voters to choose the person's replacement. The official is recalled if a simple majority of the voters mark yes on their ballots. The top vote-getter on the second section would then be elected to the seat. If the recall fails, the votes for replacements aren't counted, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Many of the council's opponents have cited the water rate increases and wasteful spending as reasons for the recall. Opponents feel the council has wasted money fighting lawsuits, especially those lawsuits that attempt to stop or roll back the water rate increases.

Samra, asked about the wisdom of possibly forcing the city to spend money on a special election, said, "How much is it costing the families by having them in the office? How much are we wasting on lawsuits? Sometimes you have to spend money to save money."

Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or astarnes@mercedsun-star.com.