State

Riverbank City Council meets for 1st time after White arrest

Jesse James White handout
Jesse James White handout unknown

RIVERBANK -- Councilman Jesse James White could get a scolding tonight when the City Council meets for the first time since his May 14 arrest on drug charges.

The city has moved the meeting from the council chambers to the community center in anticipation of a large crowd. By Wednesday, the city had received nearly 50 inquiries about the meeting since White's arrest.

White, 21, did not return a phone call Sunday. But he said last week that he would not resign from the council.

"How can he feel like he represents us when we feel he isn't," said Dotty Nygard, one of the founders of Riverbank Citizens For Fair Change, which launched an unsuccessful recall attempt last year against White and his grandfather and fellow councilman, Dave White, claiming the two were not fit to represent the city.

"He needs to own up to what he did," said Nygard, who plans to attend tonight's meeting.

Dave White, 71, won't be at the meeting but said he supports his grandson's due process rights.

"My advice to him is it used to be innocent until proven guilty," White said Sunday by phone from southern Illinois. "I don't know if that works if you are a newspaper or not, but innocent until proven guilty."

Mayor Virginia Madueño, Councilwoman Sandra Benitez and Councilman Danny Fielder have called for White to step down.

He does not have to resign. But he would be removed if he were convicted of a felony. He was arrested May 14 on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of marijuana and felony possession of cocaine after a probation search at his home. He also was arrested on suspicion of violating his probation.

Authorities have said small amounts of the drugs were found during the search, enough to be considered for personal use. The Riverbank Police Department has sent its report on the arrest to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office for review.

White has been a lightning rod in Riverbank politics since his election in November 2008. A grand jury last year recommended that he resign from office because he was not registered to vote when he applied to run for his council seat. That report preceded the failed effort to recall him and his grandfather.

He has verbally sparred with city officials during council meetings.

White was placed on three years' probation June 4, 2007, after entering a no contest plea to "wet and reckless" driving. He had been charged with misdemeanor driving while under the influence of alcohol, misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent while under age 21.

While not providing any evidence, White, his attorney and his supporters claim the May 14 arrest is part of a plot against White by the city manager, police chief and Sheriff Adam Christianson. (Riverbank contracts with the Sheriff's Department for police services.)

They wonder why the arrest came so close to the June 8 primary. White is one of six Republican candidates on the ballot seeking the party's nomination in the 25th Assembly District, which spans Modesto to Madera.

At a news conference last week, White cited a poll that showed him in second place among the GOP candidates. He did not give the name or source of the poll.

But Jim DeMartini, a county supervisor and chairman of the Republican Party of Stanislaus County, said that before his arrest, White would have come in fifth or sixth in the primary.

"He's not a bad guy," DeMartini said in an interview last week, "but he doesn't have the political base or experience to run a credible campaign" against more experienced and better-funded candidates.

DeMartini called for White to drop out of the primary, which White said he would not do.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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