Central Valley

Riverbank won't remove Councilman Jesse James White

RIVERBANK — The city says it can't follow a grand jury recommendation to undo last fall's election and remove Councilman Jesse James White from office.

In the city's official response to July's Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report, City Manager Rich Holmer said the city disagrees with grand jury recommendations to "invalidate" the November election and remove White from the council. A grand jury investigation found White violated state election law because he wasn't registered to vote when he pulled papers to become a candidate.

The city contracted with law firm Greenberg Traurig for advice after the grand jury's findings. Attorneys said the city doesn't have the authority to reverse an election; that power rests with its residents.

Any voter can contest an election if he or she thinks a candidate was ineligible to run, but the deadline to do that passed months ago. There is another option: a voter can ask the state attorney general for permission to file a lawsuit contesting the election.

Dotty Nygard, one of the city residents who's organizing a recall attempt against Jesse James White and his grandfather, Councilman Dave White, said her group is considering such a lawsuit. Nygard said the recall group, Riverbank Citizens For Fair Change, will discuss it at its next meeting.

Holmer distributed the city's response at Monday's City Council meeting. Council members received the report without comment. Councilman Danny Fielder was absent from the meeting.

Jesse James White said he's working on his own response to the grand jury's findings.

White wasn't the only target of the grand jury's investigation. It also took swipes at Holmer, saying he needs to be "more visible and diligent in his role." The grand jury also said it "uncovered questionable practices" and that the city is "negligent in providing policies and procedures for staff and council."

The city's response disagreed with those assertions. Every city department has written policies in place, and employees must read and sign them, according to the city's response. Holmer said he's highly visible, attending "all major functions" involving local groups.

The grand jury suggested Holmer should receive an evaluation every year. The city's response agreed. His contract calls for an annual evaluation, but Holmer hasn't had a performance review sine 2005. In a closed session Monday, the council took steps toward Holmer's review, looking at how other cities review city managers.

The grand jury also recommended the city develop policies to promote transparent government and better answer residents' questions. The grand jury said that would help "establish a sense of trust" between the council and residents.

The city's response contends Riverbank follows an open system where "concerned citizens are both explicitly and implicitly invited to participate."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.