Timing up in air for Atwater trustee recall election

Chances slim that it will appear on Nov. 6 ballot

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJune 27, 2012 

— The petition circulated to remove Atwater school Trustee Sheila Whitley has been judged valid, but a number of complications surround the actual timing of a recall election.

Whitley, board President Lena Mendoza and Trustee John Hall voted in early May to terminate Atwater Elementary School District Superintendent Melinda Hennes, but have not stated their reasons to the public or the two dissenting trustees, leading to the recall effort.

Kent Christensen, Merced County registrar of voters, said it's up to trustees to decide the logistics of an election, but he doesn't believe it can be consolidated with the Nov. 6 general election.

Another timing complication involves an item on tonight's special meeting agenda seeking the cancellation of the July board session. If there is no July meeting, it could delay trustee action to set a recall election date.

Roger Wood, spokesman for the committee seeking to recall Whitley, said the county elections office confirmed there are 304 valid signatures on its petition, about 40 more than required.

The elections office forwarded its certificate of sufficiency to the school district Wednesday.

Christensen said the 2010 census resulted in reconfigured trustee districts in Atwater. In a recall, however, only the voters involved in the original election can vote, not those added to a reconfigured district.

The registrar said he's not sure how much a recall election would cost. That depends upon what trustees decide. Options could include a mail-only ballot or a special election in Whitley's precinct.

There are 1,052 registered voters in Whitley's district. Christensen said election workers would need to manually tabulate recall returns, but that it shouldn't be a huge problem, given the small number of voters.

Wood said the least-costly solution may be a mail ballot. It's up to the school district to work with the county to figure out election logistics.

The school district has 88 to 125 days to schedule a recall election. If a date were set at the July board meeting, the election could be held between Oct. 6 and Nov. 12; if the matter isn't considered until August, the election window could be between Nov. 10 and Dec. 17, Wood believes.

The board's agenda item for the meeting in the board room at 6:15 p.m. today recommends the July meeting be canceled because of vacations by trustees and staff, as has been the practice for the past two years.

Wood said the recall group was formed because of the unexplained termination May 8 of Hennes by a 3-2 vote by the board. The group is not attempting to recall Hall or Mendoza, as they are up for election Nov. 6.

"As she was terminated without cause, Mrs. Hennes is contractually due 18 months of severance pay, which amounts to approximately $350,000," Wood said.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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