Appropriate and Very Much Needed
October 11, 1997
In Washington these
days, it seems no one can recall anything. In Nevada County, its
different. We can recall elected officials. Recall is an essential
mechanism of good government and the current evidence is that it needs
to be applied right now.
In case you missed it, people supporting a recall of four elected county
officials filed petitions this week with Bruce Bolinger, County Clerk.
They are seeking the removal of Sheriff Troy Arbaugh, District Attorney
Mike Ferguson, Judge John Darlington, and Judge Ersel Edwards.
The petitions contain between nine and ten thousand signatures for each
official. If enough of them are valid, the county will hold a special
Recall increases accountability. If there were no provision for
recall, the public would have to wait for officials to stand for re-election
before measuring their performance. Usually, thats OK with
us, although, amazingly, while your Congressional Representative faces
you every two years, you have to tolerate four years of nose-thumbing
from your County Supervisor. Local control of government, indeed!
But I digress. If voters perceive dereliction, malfeasance, or incompetence,
they are free to act on their feelings through the recall process.
They can gather signatures, and if others disagree, those others can publicly
lobby against it. They can certainly refuse to sign petitions and
most petition drives fail either through opposition or apathy. Ultimately,
they can vote against recall.
Recall drives are based on dissatisfaction with elected officials, but
they dont have to be based strictly on fact. Thats a
rich irony for the officials, since these days they often campaign more
on promises of satisfaction than on facts. As long as theres
a big gap between election promises and performance, therell be
room for recalls.
Whether you view a recall as a form of the election process or as part
of the peoples right to petition the government for redress of grievances,
its a needed check on government and always in order.
But what about this recall? Is it appropriate? Why do 9000
people think it is?
Its highly unusual to see four recall petitions active at once,
all of them in the arena of the justice system. Explanations going
around are: 1) the public has been manipulated; 2) the public isnt
in possession of the facts; 3) the public has gone mad; or 4) these officials
have finally irritated and dismayed the public beyond all bearing.
I favor the last.
The attempt to recall the District Attorney and the judges centers around
the possible mishandling of the Sam Strange case. Sam Stranges
family obviously feels very strongly about this. The DA and judges
have come up grievously short on candor and appropriate dialogue, and
are now in a corner where they cant admit to errors. The guilt
or innocence of Sam Strange is now secondary in importance. Its
the fairness of the process. Did he get a fair trial? Now
the public wonders. And a recall election will certainly provide
the broadest forum for getting an answer.
The attempt to recall Sheriff Arbaugh is more public, as were more
likely to have contact with a Sheriffs Deputy than a D.A. or a judge.
Either Troy Arbaugh is the worst Sheriff ever (which I very much doubt)
or he has the worst luck of any elected official in history. He
has experience, friends attest to his character, and the deputies are
good. However, his department looks bad, and Arbaugh is ultimately
responsible for procedures, training and communicating rules of conduct.
So heres what happened on his watch:
1) negligence in the Saunders search; 2) failure to arrest in the Minnick/Joyce
shooting; 3) death in the county jail due medical neglect; 4) death in
juvenile hall due to lack of supervision; 5) alleged sexual misconduct
at the Truckee jail; 6) theft or incompetence in handling Stranges
The first four have death involved. The last is the final, petty
insult to a condemned man.
More bad luck. The recent shooting of a woman by a Grass Valley
police officer has nothing to do with the Sheriffs Office, but the
public may be thinking about it during a recall election.
As of this writing, I believe there are enough valid signatures for a
recall election. Thats good. I hope the four officials
will be candid with the public, and that the public will fair to them.
Barry Schoenborn is a technical writer, and a ten-year resident of
Nevada County. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions
of columnists are not necessarily those of The Union.