Recall proponents up in arms over what they say are mayor's moves to stifle recall

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor

A pair of Lemoore Mayor Billy Siegel’s most frequent critics are crying foul over some of his most recent actions, which they say border on harassment.

Both Jane Dart and Connie Wlaschin spoke out at Tuesday’s regular council meeting and stated that Siegel has attempted to block the recall effort against him and also force Wlaschin to resign from her spot on the Downtown Merchants Committee due to her involvement with the recall. Both Dart and Wlaschin signed the original recall petition which began the process a few weeks ago.

Dart also cried foul over her right to collect signatures for the recall at Save Mart.  She says the mayor may have something to do with Save Mart’s asking her to leave. According to Dart, she originally asked for and received permission from a store manager to set up a recall table, but on Thursday, February 13, she was unceremoniously booted from in front of Save Mart by a pair of Lemoore police officers. “I went to Save Mart and spoke with a longtime employee who directed me to a store manager who could give me information on what steps I needed to take. I asked if I had to contact the property owners and he said as long as I was not selling food and didn’t block the doorway, I did not have to call the owners. With that he said it was all right to set up my table.”

This isn’t the first time Siegel has come under fire from Recall members. They recently accused Siegel of using city resources in his response to the recall effort’s notice of intention to circulate petitions, which is prohibited by state law, and now Dart said he may be responsible for Save Mart’s booting them from the premises. Siegel used city letterhead to officially respond to the notice of intent, which forced Lemoore City Manager Jeff Laws to apologize. It is unknown if Siegel apologized for his actions.

While collecting signatures for the recall on February 13, two police officers arrived at Save Mart to get Dart and her recall companions to leave. The officers told Dart that she and her companions had been asked to leave the premises and that they had refused. Dart told the officers that was not true. “I advised them that nobody had said anything to me about leaving.” In her statement during the council meeting, Dart went on to say that she contacted the property  management firm Manco-Abbott and Property Manager Erin Burke told her that a Lemoore contractor had contacted the firm complaining about political activities, and the people doing the political activities had been asked to leave and they had refused. Dart said that Burke told her that following the phone call, she contacted the Lemoore Police Department. Dart said she asked if it was William Siegel Construction who called and Burke would not answer the question.

Dart also spoke with Save Mart Store Manager Steve Miller who told Dart that the manager in question, who gave Dart approval, did not have the authority to do so. According to Dart, Miller also said that on Tuesday, a Dr. Jim Gordon had complained to Miller about the political activities in front of Save Mart. Gordon is the father of councilmember John Gordon, an ally of Siegel.

When The Leader contacted Miller, he said the store had received complaints about the recall table, but didn’t cite the number of complaints or who made them. At the time he said he was unaware of any complaint from Siegel.

Burke and another spokesperson by the name of Gloria, from Manco-Abbott, told The Leader on Friday that that they received a phone call complaining about Dart and that she was illegally collecting signatures. Despite having the police remove Dart and her companions from Save Mart, Burke said that their firm is conducting an investigation. “We don’t have all the information yet,” she said. “We did what we thought was best.”

Manco-Abbott has apparently had a change of heart. Burke said it is and has been their policy since they have managed the property, to require liability insurance and permission in order to sell items or collect signatures, whether it’s Girl Scout cookies or a petition. However, Burke said that Manco-Abbott will issue a liability waiver to Dart and allow her to collect signatures if they don’t set up a table on the property.

A former City of Lemoore employee, Bill Keeney, told The Leader he did in fact see Siegel in Save Mart in the late afternoon of Feb. 11 complaining to store employees about Dart. Keeney said he worked for the city for 25 years in the public works waste water operation. Earlier that day he met Dart in front of Save Mart. Later in the afternoon, Keeney returned to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and heard Siegel refer to Dart in negative terms and that Siegel needed to speak with a manager to get her thrown off the premises. Keeney said he was disappointed in the mayor’s comments.

“When I woke up that morning I was in America, and I don’t know where he was,“ Keeney said, referring to the thought of Siegel’s trampling on her rights. Keeney said he also contacted Save Mart to complain.

“He was talking to the people there about seeing the manager and getting rid of this woman,” said Keeney. “They were forced to listen to this guy like I was. I think it’s pretty sad when our elected official uses his office to intimidate somebody. I don’t think he has a right to use his office that way. He’s trying to stop that recall through intimidation.”

Dart feels let down by the city. “I now know exactly how City Hall feels about the recall and it is not neutral,” she said. “Did the new chief know that it was necessary to send two patrol cars out to remove an old lady from in front of the store?

“When I found out that Mr. Siegel had the nerve to go into the store and as the Mayor of Lemoore, pick an argument with a store employee, not only did I feel harassed but sad that our city leaders feel they can act in this manner,” she said. “We might as well be in Russia or East Germany in 1940. Harassing me and other recall volunteers will not stop us. It makes us only more determined to prove we still have rights and the citizens of Lemoore can make a better Lemoore without a dictator as a mayor.”

The Leader contacted Miller again Friday to ask if Siegel had been at Save Mart and complained. Initially Miller denied that Siegel had been on the premises but referred me instead to the Save Mart Corporate headquarters. Tamara Thomas, a spokesperson for Save Mart, confirmed that a Bill Keeney did in fact call corporate and Save Mart would undertake an investigation. However, she referred me to the company’s press spokesperson, Alicia Rockwell, who communicates mostly by email.  Rockwell later responded: “The only complaint we received was from Mr. Keeney. No calls came in. Only the property manager can have someone removed from the premises.”

Another frequent critic, Connie Wlaschin, complained during Tuesday’s meeting and said that Siegel called her twice on successive days to ask her to resign from the Downtown Merchants Association and both times she refused. “He stated that he wanted me to resign,” Wlaschin told the council Tuesday night. “I asked why and he said it was because I signed the recall petition. He said I needed to agree with him.”

Wlaschin was indeed one of the original signers of the Notice of Intent to Circulate a Recall Petition, along with Dart and 18 other persons. She referred to Siegel’s phone calls as harassment.

On the following Tuesday night, Siegel again called, stated Wlaschin, and he again asked her to resign and if she did not he would remove her from the commission. Again Wlaschin refused to resign.  “Mr. Siegel’s going to do what he has to do,” said Wlaschin. Ironically it was Siegel who appointed Wlaschin to the post in December. The Leader attempted to get a comment from Siegel but he did not respond to several questions.


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