Mayor violates campaign rules by using city resources to respond to recall notice

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Mayor Billy Siegel
Mayor Billy Siegel

Local recall officials were somewhat chagrined to learn that Lemoore Mayor Billy Siegel, in response to a notice of intent to recall him, used city resources to deliver his required response. The response, presented to recall organizer Jane Dart, was printed on city stationery by the Lemoore City Clerk, and signed by Siegel as the Mayor of Lemoore.

Elected officials who are the subject of a recall, are not allowed to use public resources to contribute to his or her campaign. Dart contacted Lemoore City Attorney Laurie Avedisian and was told that city officials were indeed not allowed to assist in that manner.

The Leader attempted to contact city attorney Avedisian, but she did not return a phone call.

“She said she had not been in touch with the city clerk,” said Dart. “She said they were not to be involved in that.” Dart said Avedisian told her she would contact Lemoore City Manager Jeff Laws.

Laws confirmed that he did speak with the city attorney and was told the mayor acted inappropriately in using city staff and resources to complete his response to the recall. “We can’t do that,” said Laws. The city manager also personally apologized to Dart for the infraction. Laws further stated he’s not sure if Mayor Siegel also issued an apology.

The Fair Political Practices Commission’s (FPPC) Chief of the Enforcement Division, Gary Winuk, told The Leader in an email that he could not comment on a specific fact situation, but said that generally “an elected official may not use public resources to make a contribution to his or her campaign. What is or is not a contribution is very fact specific and tied to whether or not the expenditure was related to a communication to advocate their election.”

According to the California Secretary of State’s guidelines in regard to local recall elections, the elected official served with a Notice of Intention to circulate a recall petition, has seven days after its filing to file with the local elections official an answer of not more than 200 words. In addition, a copy of the answer is delivered to one of the proponents of the recall, in this case Dart, who received it from Siegel prior to the July 21 city council meeting.

While Siegel was the one who wrote the short response, it was Laws who did in fact contact Dart and apologize for the error.

“It should never have gone through that office because the city has to be neutral,” said Dart.

Another recall proponent, Lisa Elgin, said that it was her understanding that a recall is just like an election. City resources cannot be used to support a candidate. “It is my understanding that anything to do with the elections process is supposed to be done on his own, with no interaction or involvement of city staff,” she said.

The Leader also contacted a local attorney who likewise said elected officials may not use city resources in a recall election.

Dart informed The Leader that the recall petition has been approved by Lemoore's City Clerk and members of the recall committee will begin collecting signatures on Monday, February 3.

Siegel’s written response is short and succinct and did respond directly to any recall allegations. “This recall effort is a political mess and is attempting to divide our community,” it stated. “While certainly negative and bitter, it has brought our city unnecessary attention. Some of the accusations mentioned are mostly wrong and the others are simply, false.”

Siegel did not state which accusations were false or which ones were mostly wrong.

He continued: “We are a strong council proud of serving our community as an elected body. The decisions we make are difficult. We do not take them lightly and we do our homework. We have the fiscal responsibility of protecting our general fund and we are committed to using your tax dollars without waste.”

Elgin summed up Siegel’s response as woefully inadequate. “He must live in some parallel universe where everything exists the way he wants it to be,” she said. “There is absolute proof for most of the grounds for the recall, but he says they are mostly wrong or false. I am also bothered by the fact that he uses more than half his answer to talk about the council as a whole, and what they do. The recall has nothing to do with the council as a whole, only Billy as an individual.”

The Leader attempted to get a response from Siegel but he did not respond.

The recall committee will need to collect at least 25 percent of the signatures of those registered to vote in the city of Lemoore, which translates to about 2,300 signatures.

Once verified by the city or county elections, the city council must issue an order stating there will be a recall election. The election shall be held not less than 88, nor more than 125 days after the issuance of the order.

The Committee to Recall William Siegel had been threatening since last summer to recall Siegel and Gordon, and finally, at an earlier council meeting in January, served notice on Siegel. A number of reasons are cited in the notice, including Siegel’s actions in regards to the firing of City Manager Jeff Briltz and dismantling the entire planning department and laying off all its employees. The notice also cited Siegel’s attempt to create a council liaison and nearly doubling Siegel’s compensation package as well as his negotiations regarding the sale of the golf course that included meetings that other councilmembers were unaware of. It also mentions Siegel’s golf outings paid for by the taxpayers and an illegal free meal paid for by a representative of the Tachi.

Siegel’s recent actions and decisions have been no better, say committee members in the notice to recall.  The grounds for the recall as they appear in the Notice are as follows:

During his one year as mayor, Mr. Siegel has ignored the City Council’s adopted Code of Ethics, terminated key employees that stood in the way of his plans, voted himself taxpayer benefits that nearly doubled his compensation, hired his unqualified friend to be city manager, wrote and sent defamatory e-mails speaking for the City Council and signed as mayor, accepted illegal gifts, attacked and spoke in poor taste of citizens while sitting on the dais, appointed two family friends to Planning Commission, and attempted to create a “Council Liaison” position so he could attend all meetings with city manager.  Most disturbing, Mr. Siegel has repeatedly refused to listen to the public when they speak at meetings, and refers to the public that does speak out as “a mob.”

Comments powered by Disqus