Group seeks to recall two councilmen

RIVERBANK -- It's been four months since Jesse James White joined his grandfather, Dave White, on Riverbank's City Council. For some, that's too many months with too many Whites.

A group called Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change is mounting a recall attempt against the two councilmen, charging that they lack "moral character." (Riverbank Mayor David I. White is not related to Jesse James and Dave White.)

Citizens for Fair Change twice has submitted paperwork to start the recall process, but clerical errors prevented the effort from moving forward both times. Recall organizers say they'll keep going until they get it right.

The city can't seem to put the November election behind it. Dave White and Jesse James White say ex-Councilwoman Virginia Madueño is behind the move to remove them from office. Madueño says she's not involved.

City Manager Rich Holmer says the recall effort is evidence of how splintered Riverbank, which has about 21,700 residents, has become. With a population that's nearly tripled since 1990, rapid growth has brought new voices and ideas. Meanwhile, many longtime residents still hold sway in local government, either on the council or from the peanut gallery.

It's a common phase in a city's life. Modesto politics fractured in 1999 when Mayor Dick Lang, who had served on the City Council in one way or another since 1977, was succeeded by outsider Carmen Sabatino. Turlock's City Council race drew 14 candidates three years ago, and the city's politics still stall over ideological differences.

Official: Focus on the future

Some tension in the council chamber is healthy, Holmer said. But too much unrest is bad for the city's image. He said he'd rather see headlines about what he sees as Riverbank's bright future: transforming the Claus Road ammo plant into a hub for innovative, eco-friendly businesses.

To recall proponents, it's Dave White and Jesse James White who keep Riverbank mired in old ways. Dave White, 70, has served on the council -- with breaks here and there -- since before Jesse, 20, was born.

Recall organizers Dotty Nygard and Sergio Lopez list many reasons for wanting the Whites out of office -- none of which involves their votes or their performances in office.

They say Jesse James White won't vote independently because he works for his grandfather's company, Pro Beauty Supply. Dave White said he no longer owns the company, and that his grandson never has received a paycheck from him.

Recall organizers also say there's evidence Jesse James White didn't live in Riverbank when he signed up to run for council, which would make him guilty of election fraud. He denies the charge. Recall organizers have asked the grand jury to investigate.

They also charge that Jesse James White isn't fit to lead because he's on probation. White was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2007, according to court records. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of "wet and reckless" driving. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation and a six-week education program.

To the Whites, the recall effort can be traced to one person: Madueño. The Whites claim Madueño still is bitter about losing last fall's mayoral race to incumbent Chris Crifasi, who later left the city. Madueño and recall organizers say she's not involved in the recall attempt.

Vote would cost thousands

"I think it's a small group of people that weren't happy with the election," said Jesse James White. He said it doesn't make sense for the city to spend money on a recall election, when voters had their chance at the ballot box just five months ago.

Holding a recall election would cost $10,000 to $30,000, Holmer said.

If the city ends up doing that, both Whites say they'll fight hard to keep their seats.

"I'm not going to roll over," Dave White said. "I've got too much to look forward to now. I think Riverbank has a chance to turn out to be a fantastic city."

To succeed, Citizens for Fair Change must submit their paperwork again. If the city clerk approves it, they'll have 90 days to gather about 2,200 signatures. If they clear that hurdle, the city will hold a recall election.

Nygard, an ER nurse, said she's spent about $4,500 on the recall attempt. She says it's worth the cost. "You can't put a price tag, truly, on what you want your city to be," she said.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378.