No limits

Both sides of Chico council recall effort throw down thousands of dollars

Yard signs have popped up around town, paid for by the Recall Councilmen Stone & Ory committee.

Yard signs have popped up around town, paid for by the Recall Councilmen Stone & Ory committee.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

An effort to recall two Chico City Council members, launched just two months ago, already has attracted at least $13,000 in donations. A billboard has gone up in north Chico and yard signs have popped up around town as well. Based on campaign finance reports filed with the city, local voters can expect to receive mailers in the coming months.

One of the unique things about recall elections is that “they have both the characteristics of a ballot measure and a candidate election,” according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, a nonpartisan board that oversees campaign financing, conflicts of interest and governmental ethics. This anomaly means that, unlike Chico’s council elections, there are no contribution limits. And there’s not a guarantee that an election will even take place, as the petitions must first be filed—they’re due at the end of November—and validated, which can take up to a month, according to Debbie Presson, Chico’s city clerk.

A group of vocal locals filed the two recall petitions—targeting Chico Mayor Randall Stone and City Councilman Karl Ory. Both men are accused of, among other things, an “inability to uphold Chico’s mission to make Chico a safe place to raise a family, an ideal location for business and a premier place to live.” Also, both are criticized for opposing Assembly Bill 430, which eases environmental regulations to spur building. The petition against Stone says he “exhibits narcissistic behavior” and says he is “not carrying out the will of the people.” Ory is accused of costing the city money by being sued for his part in a citizens group (Move the Junkyard).

Nichole Nava, one of the petition filers, declined to comment for this story. A message left for another petitioner went unanswered.

Nava and others filed the petitions with the city June 19. The first deadline for filing campaign finance documents was June 30. By that date, two committees had been formed: Recall Councilmen Stone & Ory and No Recall Councilmember Karl Ory. Only the former had raised any money, to the tune of $7,884.76. Ory said his committee had raised about $6,000, but after the June 30 deadline.

“I take things seriously. I’ve been a campaigner for many years,” Ory told the CN&R. “I’ve got $6,000 in the bank—that’s with 250 individual contributors. If you look back at the [political action committee] created to support Sean Morgan for council—they raised $40,000. There are fringe Republican groups in town whose members are quite willing to put in $500 per person.”

But that was with the $500 cap on contributions, he pointed out. This time around, things are different. For instance, according to the report filed with the city, Matthew Dutton, a local consultant, has contributed $2,841.80 to the Recall Councilmen Stone & Ory committee. Michael Hale, a USDA relations specialist, has donated $1,074.31. Leslie Wright, listed as retired, donated $600. There were 28 donors total.

As for Stone, he says he’s not creating a committee or campaigning against the recall.

“People want to divide a community, especially in a time of crisis, and that’s what’s happening now,” he said. When it comes to the money, “It appears to be an economic boon for signmakers in Texas and the like.” (The recall committee spent $975 on yard signs at out of Austin, Texas.)

The petitions must be turned in to the city no later than Nov. 26 and must include signatures of at least 15 percent of registered voters. That’s 7,592. There is a primary election in March, but the deadline to submit an item to the county to get it onto that ballot is Nov. 5, according to Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs. So, enough signatures would trigger a special election, which could cost upward of $150,000, based on the last time the city held a special election, Presson said.

“They wouldn’t be able to win in March, and they wouldn’t be able to win in November when four seats are open,” Ory said. “So they’re looking to force a special election as a power grab to take back the majority.”