State

Riverbank councilman White escapes recall

RIVERBANK -- City Councilman Jesse James White has dodged another political bullet.

For the second year in a row, a group trying to oust him from office failed to gather enough signatures on recall petitions.

Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change needed to turn in at least 2,185 signatures to City Hall on Tuesday night. The group turned in 2,156, and the city disqualified 73 of them, leaving the group with 2,083 signatures.

One of the recall leaders said that while she is disappointed, she is encouraged that nearly 25 percent of the city's voters signed the petitions.

"That's a huge number," said Dotty Ny-gard, who also is one of the nine candidates running for two council seats Nov. 2. "The city spoke loud and clear. They are saying the same message: Jesse doesn't represent them anymore. They want him to step down."

White said that's not what he is hearing.

"They tried to recall me twice and failed twice. That's the bigger message," he said at a restaurant as he celebrated with his family Wednesday afternoon.

White has at times exasperated and frustrated other council members and city staff, such as when he blocked the city from applying for grant money at a recent council meeting or opposed a sewer rate increase the city says is needed for repairs and upgrades.

He said he is the only council member willing to question city staff and who is a watchdog of city spending.

White, 21, has been a lightning rod on the council since his November 2008 election.

Some highlights:

A county civil grand jury report last year recommended that he resign because it said he was not registered to vote when he applied to run for the council.

He was arrested in May after sheriff's deputies said they found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in his apartment and vehicle during a probation search. White had been on probation after pleading no contest to "wet-and-reckless" driving in 2007.

In June, the city turned the water off to his apartment because he failed to meet a deadline to set up an account for water and sewer service. The city had not been billing him for more than a year. It did not discover the oversight until a sheriff's deputy asked for a copy of White's utility bill to show that White lived in the apartment where deputies found the drugs. White set up an account and paid more than $600 to bring his account current.

He missed the first council meeting after his arrest so he could attend his parents' wedding anniversary. More than 150 people packed the meeting, with many calling for his resignation.

The council could not meet three times in August to discuss how to fill a council vacancy because White missed the meetings. The council now must hold a special election in March that could cost $35,000. White has said he missed one meeting because of illness and the others because of business trips.

Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change tried to recall White and his grandfather and fellow council member, Dave White, last year but collected only 1,800 signatures, hundreds fewer than needed.

Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change faced stiff opposition then from a group that Dave White helped fund. There was no organized campaign to fight this year's recall effort.

Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change launched the latest effort after White's arrest in May. It did not include his grandfather.

Dave White, 71, returned home last week after more than three months in the hospital and a rehabilitation center. He is not running for re-election in November.

Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change had 90 days to gather the signatures of at least 2,185 registered voters who live in the city. City Clerk Linda Abid-Cummings said the group turned in 2,156.

Abid-Cummings said she and Deputy City Clerk Annabelle Aguilar checked and counted the petitions and signatures three times before disqualifying 73 of them for not being complete, such as a signer not including his printed name or full address.

Even if the recall group had at least 2,185 signatures, that was only the first hurdle. The next would have been for the county election office to check the petitions. Among other things, the office would have verified the signatures were those of registered voters and the voters' addresses matched what is on file.

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

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