A recall election against Benson City Councilman Ron Brooks has been dropped by recall organizers after a lawsuit alleging circulator fraud and other violations was filed in Cochise County Superior Court.
“This is a victory for me and the citizens of Benson,” said Brooks, who says that recall organizers, City Clerk Vicki Vivian and county officials agreed to enter a court judgment and injunction to stop the recall, which would have been scheduled for Nov. 5, 2013.
Brooks filed the lawsuit in Superior Court challenging the recall that had been certified by Vivian on July 30, 2013 after 229 signatures – five more than the minimum required to initiate the recall election – were presented to the City.
City employee Sheila Perkins, who chairs a committee called “Bettering Benson,” launched the recall effort against Brooks.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Brooks by former Assistant Attorney General Vince Rabago and alleges that the recall and accompanying petitions are invalid because the Bettering Benson committee violated state law by conducting unauthorized political activity, citing a number of violations.
In the lawsuit, Brooks is alleging that organizers had not formed a political committee, which is part of the recall process under state law, when they failed to present notarized signatures of the committee chair and treasurer in the Statements of Organization. “City officials admitted there is state law that does require such notarized signatures and also admitted that the required notarizations were missing from the recall documents that had been submitted,” said Brooks.
The lawsuit also alleges that petitions bearing the notarized signature of Perkins as a circulator are invalid, as Perkins does not reside in Benson. This, however, is contrary to information provided to Vivian by the Secretary of State’s Office earlier in the month, where Vivian said she was told that the circulator does not have to live in Arizona to circulate a petition. “The Secretary of State’s Office is correct,” said Interim City Manager Jim Cox. “I know the lawsuit is claiming that the circulators must reside in the city where the recall is happening but that is simply not true.”
However, based on allegations in the lawsuit, since Perkins is a resident of St. David, 80 signatures that she collected are considered invalid and cannot be counted in the recall process.
Along with Perkins, former city manager Glenn Nichols, who lives in Pomerene, circulated a petition, which means those signatures are invalid because of his residence, also based on information provided in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Perkins is in violation of a city policy that prohibits city employees from managing a recall effort. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Perkins is continuing to run the recall election, despite a change in the name of the committee chair from her (Perkins) to Michelle Romine of Benson. However, the official address of the committee continues to be listed as a St. David address that belongs to Perkins. When questioned about the discrepancy in the committee’s address, Perkins said it was “nothing more than an oversight” on her part, she no longer chairs the committee and the committee chair is Michelle Romine.
According to the lawsuit, when the process server attempted to serve Romine with a subpoena to appear in court regarding the recall, she denied knowing who Ron Brooks was and refused to take part in the lawsuit process.
In addition, the lawsuit presented affidavits indicating that someone other than the sworn circulators gathered signatures on petitions. Perkins is among those whose name appeared on documents as the circulator, but was not the person who circulated the petition, which is another violation of state statute. Vice Mayor Al Sacco signed a sworn affidavit that Perkins had not obtained his signature, but her name appears on the notarized petition that he signed. Sacco stated that it was Sue Cox, wife of Interim City Manager Jim Cox, who circulated the petition that Sacco had signed. The vice mayor has since requested that his name be removed from the recall petition.
Jim Cox asserts that all allegations made in the lawsuit, with the exception of the fact that circulators need to be named on the petitions as such, are without merit.
In addition to Sacco’s affidavit, six other Benson residents signed affidavits, swearing that former City Councilman David Lambert circulated the petition they signed, also documents that show Perkins as the circulator. Members of the community have spoken out at city council meetings, stating that Lambert was seen in front of the Benson Walmart during a ribbon-cutting ceremony collecting signatures for the recall, wearing clothing with the City of Benson logo. None of the petitions that have been submitted bear Lambert’s name as a circulator.
One of the prospective candidates that picked up a packet to run against Brooks in the now canceled recall is former Vice Mayor Lori McGoffin. Voted off the council in March, McGoffin also was one of the recall petition circulators. However, her name does appear on the petitions as a circulator. It is unclear at this time if others circulated any of the recall petitions on her behalf, as is the case with Perkins.
“The court judgment stopping the recall election is expected any day by Judge Charles Irwin of Cochise County Superior Court,” Brooks said. “The judgment will stop the recall election from going forward this November.”
Cox, who is investigating a complaint against Brooks filed by a city employee, is one of the signers on the recall petition. The appearance of his name on the document has raised questions about his ability to conduct an impartial investigation. However, when questioned about the investigation, Cox responded with the following statement. “My decision to sign the recall petition was a personal decision, made by me in my home on my personal time, for personal reasons. In addition to being city manager, I was acting as a voting resident of Benson and I have that right and responsibility. I have been holding out on the investigations because I had requested the state Attorney General’s Office to conduct the investigation. They have declined to do so, and I have now turned to a private law firm to conduct it on behalf of the city. It’s not within the city manager’s responsibility or authority to conduct an investigation into a member of the council.”
Relieved the recall has been dropped, Brooks thanked his supporters and “all those who have stepped up to help defeat the recall effort. I am humbled by the huge outpouring of support from citizens expressing renewed support for me and for my efforts to push for good government in Benson,” he said. “In addition, canceling the recall will save taxpayers dollars.” A recall election typically cost municipalities between $7,000 and $10,000.