State

Los Banos mayor faces recall efforts

LOS BANOS -- Mayor Tommy Jones may be facing a recall on the same ballot that he is seeking re-election in November. On April 28, Los Banos resident Gene Forte filed a notice at City Hall of his intent to circulate a recall petition.

In a telephone interview, Jones said he plans to run for re-election in November. That means he could be recalled and reelected in the same election.

"Newspapers across the nation reported that Jones broke conflict of interest laws. ... To assure the public's trust and restore the public reputation of the city and citizens of Los Banos, Jones must be removed," the recall document stated.

Public records indicate that during 2002 and 2003 Jones took loans totaling $13,538 from Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler while Jones was between terms on the City Council. Under the Political Reform Act, he was required to disclose the loans. He didn't.

The notice of intent also asserts that the recall is necessary because Jones has refused to disqualify himself from voting on a 958-acre annexation proposal requested by Ranchwood.

Jones' alleged bringing "attention and humiliation" upon the city was another reason cited in the petition.

The document, which includes 23 signatures besides Forte's, also claims the recall is necessary because the Fair Political Practices Commission doesn't have authority to remove him.

Under California law, Jones had seven days after the notice was filed to issue a response to be included on a recall petition. Jones filed his response Monday.

"This recall is motivated by politics, not ethics," Jones charged in his response letter. "The proponents distort the facts and seek to distract the public from important issues affecting our city. Their scheme will not deter me from making decisions based on what is best for Los Banos."

Deanna Brown, supervisor of the Merced County Elections Department, said if both items made the ballot and were approved, Jones would have to leave office immediately and then serve his second term as mayor after the re-election vote totals had been certified.

But first the recall must reach the ballot.

According to information on the California secretary of state's Web site, a recall petition must be submitted for approval 10 days after the notice of intent is filed. That means Forte must provide a recall petition this week.

Assistant City Clerk Jana Sousa said once the city receives the petition, it must be reviewed by staff to make sure technical guidelines, such as placement of margins, are met. The secretary of state's Web site says the city has up to 10 days to review the petition after it's submitted.

Brown said Forte would ordinarily have 120 days to get the signatures of about 2,400 registered voters, equaling 20 percent of the local electorate; he could then bring the petition back to the city. However, Brown said, to make the November ballot, her department must have the petition by June.

Brown said although she doesn't yet know what the cost of the recall might be, the city of Los Banos would be required to pay for it.

Los Banos Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 106 or cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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