WSCUHSD recall petitions fall short by thousands of signatures

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, September 3, 2021


The crusade to recall trustees who voted to consolidate Analy and El Molino high schools failed this week when the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Office declared the petitions insufficient by thousands of signatures.

The seats of West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) Board President Kellie Noe and Vice Board President Jeanne Fernandes are safe for now, after months of censure and warnings that their time was up.

Recall proponents needed at least 7,187 valid signatures for each board member to take the recall to an election, but Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters Deva Marie Proto said they delivered only 3,084 unverified signatures per trustee when they were submitted on Aug. 27.

Ame Nultemeier, one of the recall committee leaders, said she and about five others counted approximately 9,200 signatures in total before the board’s Aug. 25 meeting, the first in-person this year.

“We had so many community members turning in forms, we just didn’t sit back down, but our hope was that in fact we would be very close or have enough to at least get one of those trustees on the ballot,” she said.

An influx of petitions arrived at her door leading up to Friday, and Nultemeier wagered they had collected roughly 10,700 signatures altogether. The recall committee was aware that issuing a recall election for even one trustee would require at least 7,187 signatures against that individual, she said. Getting Noe and Fernandes on the ballot would have required at least 14,374 signatures.

Nultemeier explained she did not know how the Registrar of Voters Office process works, but pointed out that the signature counts were “ironically exactly the same number for each trustee.” She and another recall committee leader made sure to hold back the petitions to recall Laurie Fadave, since Fadave already resigned, she said.

Gillian Hayes, who helped found the Community Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE) suing the high school district over the consolidation, assisted with the recall efforts.

She announced to the board on Aug. 25 that the campaign swept up 9,200 signatures to unseat the targeted trustees. After the petitions were declared insufficient, Hayes noted most recall efforts in California fall flat.

“We had several people collecting countywide, on the Analy side, on the El Mo side, and in hindsight, I think we would hire probably a professional company to gather signatures and validate them as we go along the way,” she said.

Hayes said she didn’t know how the petitions ultimately added up to little over 6,000 at the Registrar of Voters Office. “Originally, we let the school board know that at that moment in time, we had 9,200 signatures collected of people that wanted them to step down from their office, and that was true,” she said, as counted the night before the board meeting.

However, she noticed some people signed incorrectly and that it was hard to keep that in check across so many volunteers. Hayes stated further that she wasn’t there when the registrar counted the signatures and didn’t know how many could have been discounted for lack of certification.

“But for me, I don’t want to focus on that. There’s no reason to focus on that. What we need to focus on are the positives and the things that are good moving forward,” Hayes said. “And the good thing that came out of this recall is we all were able to come together in this community, even during a global pandemic, and unite over the fact that many of us, thousands of us, don’t want these two people on the board. And the third one stepped down. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

According to Proto, her office didn’t check the signatures for validity. “We just did a raw count because you have to have at least the minimum required signatures for us to start checking if it’s valid or invalid. So, just on the unverified number of signatures, they didn’t meet that threshold,” Proto said.

Hayes did not say outright whether the submitted signatures may have included ones meant to recall former trustee Laurie Fadave. However, she said the estimated 11,000 signatures gathered overall to recall Noe, Fernandes and former trustee Fadave — the three who voted to uphold consolidation — was a good number considering the pandemic.

Fadave resigned in late July this year. Community members opposed to consolidation urged her to step down since March, though she said that did not influence her decision. “Now, if we fill that board member with somebody that wants to save all our schools, we have the majority vote. That was our mission and we accomplished it,” Hayes said, calling Fadave’s resignation the campaign’s greatest victory.

The press against consolidation isn’t over just because the recall ran aground, however. Hayes said that CARE, suing WSCUHSD for its decision-making around consolidation and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), looks forward to their Sept. 22 trial date.

“We’re feeling great. We have a very highly regarded CEQA attorney and he feels it’s a slam dunk,” she said. “We are hopeful that the district will comply once the judge tells them they have to.”

Nultemeier said, “I’m really excited about what we’ve accomplished here. Even though we didn’t get our recall on the ballot, our message is very loud and very clear that we in fact put enough pressure on these board members that one resigned.”

She continued, “But we also saved $100,000 that really belongs to our students in not having a recall, and that’s also a win because that was going to be a tough situation to have to spend $100,000. But we were willing to take that risk if it meant getting these two individuals who have a track record of being fiscally irresponsible with our tax dollars, with our student’s money,” Nultemeier said.

She continued, “The recall for us is a step in the process. It is absolutely not the end, and we will not stop fighting.”

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