RIVERBANK — The Stanislaus County civil grand jury says City Councilman Jesse James White should be removed from office.
A grand jury investigation released Wednesday found that White violated state election law because he was not registered to vote when he applied to run in November. The grand jury recommends that the city "invalidate" November's results.
White, 20, is the grandson of Councilman Dave White and has served under a cloud of controversy since his election. Jesse James White and Dave White are targets of a recall effort. The recall organizers filed the complaint against Jesse James White with the grand jury.
City Manager Rich Holmer said he wasn't sure whether the city has the power to undo an election. The city has hired a lawyer to help evaluate its options. "This is something I've never been through in my career," said Holmer, who's been Riverbank's city manager since 1995.
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Jesse James White did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
"Justice prevails," said recall organizer Dotty Nygard in an e-mail.
The grand jury report likely will heighten Riverbank's tense political atmosphere. The city has endured months of upheaval. Two mayors have resigned this year. Bitter debates about how to fill the resulting empty council seats have divided the city.
Jesse James White wasn't the grand jury's only target. The report paints a picture of dysfunction at City Hall. The investigation found:
Riverbank's city clerk doesn't verify the accuracy of information on candidates' election documents.
Holmer knew in December that Mayor Chris Crifasi would resign, but failed to inform residents.
City staff and City Council members operate with few written policies. There's not enough communication between Holmer, the council and staff. "One city employee stated that he or she was not expected to think, but to do what he/she was told," the report says.
Holmer said he couldn't comment on all of the findings. He said he knew Crifasi had found a new job in Napa about two weeks before Crifasi publicly announced his resignation.
"He's my boss, he asked me to keep it under my hat," Holmer said. "I didn't think there was anything illegal or wrong with doing that. It wasn't before the election, it wasn't before the oath of office."
Officials gave conflicting information on who has the authority to invalidate an election. Stanislaus County Clerk- Recorder Lee Lundrigan said the power rests with the city. Riverbank City Clerk Linda Abid-Cummings said the city doesn't have such authority. Officials at the offices of attorney general and secretary of state could not provide details about how state law might apply in this case.
State Election Code says any Riverbank voter can contest the election.
The City Council, city manager and city clerk have 90 days to respond to the grand jury's findings and recommendations.
Candidates in Riverbank must follow eligibility guidelines based on state Election Code, said Abid-Cummings. To run for office, a candidate must be a registered voter in Riverbank at the time his or her nomination papers are issued. A candidate must be a U.S. citizen, and 18 years old on or before the election date.
The city hands out a binder explaining those instructions to candidates, said Abid-Cummings, and a staff member sits down with all candidates to make sure they understand the requirements. "Eligibility is the first item that we do go over," she said.
Candidates must sign a form acknowledging that they've reviewed the contents of the binder with city staff and that they're registered to vote.
Abid-Cummings said she couldn't comment on how city staff verifies candidate information until after the city responds to the grand jury report.
Public records show Jesse James White's nomination papers were issued July 21, but he did not fill out voter registration paperwork until July 25.
White has been a controversial figure since his election. Former Mayor David I. White, who's not related to Dave White or Jesse James White, also was on the ballot in November. Critics say voters were confused and didn't know which White they were voting for. David I. White finished first, and Jesse James White finished second out of five candidates competing for two council seats. Jesse James White won 24.6 percent of the vote, or 2,232 votes. At age 19, he beat two former council members.
White's grandfather, Dave White, 70, is a former mayor who's served on the council on-and-off since before Jesse James White was born.
More criticism of youngest White
As a candidate, Jesse James White said he would create a weekly senior lunch program. Critics charge that he's made no move to do that.
Recall organizers have attacked White as unfit for office because he lacks "moral character." 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.
Jesse James White has argued that offense doesn't disqualify him from a council seat. "You can be on probation for getting a speeding ticket," He told The Bee in April. "So if you're going to count out everybody who's on that list, then no one would get to run."
Critics say two members of the same family on the council mean Riverbank is deprived of independent votes.
Family members in politics isn't unheard of, of course. Atwater voters elected Joe Rivero, son of sitting Councilman Joe Rivero, in November. The elder Rivero died a few days after the election. Voters then chose Jeff Rivero, another son of Joe Rivero, in a special election.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.