A campaign is underway to circulate a petition for a ballot measure to recall Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten.
The City Council on July 14 called for Lustgarten to resign over her conduct at the Hammon Senior Center and because of threats officials said she made to other city officials.
Lustgarten has not resigned, prompting supporters of a recall campaign this week to file a notice to circulate a petition.
Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan said Friday the clerk’s office verified the 22 signatures on the notice of intent, a first step before proponents can gather signatures to put a recall on the ballot. City Clerk Maricela Vela said the notice was filed with her office Monday.
“Her behavior has continued despite the warnings,” said Heather Nosek, one leader of the campaign. “What was most disturbing at the last council meeting is she took absolutely no responsibility for her behavior.”
Nosek said a core group of 20 people are working on the campaign and others are willing to circulate the petition. They will need 25 percent of the city’s 7,247 registered voters – or about 1,800 signatures – to put a recall on the ballot.
The campaign won’t make an Aug. 7 deadline for the November ballot but could possibly shoot for an election in December or January, supporters said.
Lustgarten did not return calls seeking comment.
Lustgarten’s detractors say she tried to run the show at the Hammon center, and was aggressive with and intimidated seniors after getting involved with a senior meals task force. Last year, city officials took complaints about her conduct serious enough to hire an outside attorney to investigate.
Three weeks ago, the investigation concluded that seniors most likely felt bullied and intimidated by Lustgarten, who was elected in 2012. The investigation did not find evidence her conduct violated the city’s discrimination and harassment policy. Two of the report’s findings were redacted.
Special legal counsel Shelline Bennett dropped a bombshell at the July 14 special meeting when she reported Lustgarten had threatened a fellow council member. According to Bennett, Lustgarten said in front of witnesses after a July 10 meeting that if the council member leaked information out of closed session, “He’s dead. He’s dead.”
Bennett said Lustgarten also left emotionally charged, threatening and profane phone messages for city officials after the close of the investigation.
At the city’s request, a Stanislaus Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Lustgarten from the senior center. A hearing on the permanent workforce violence restraining order is set for Aug. 13.
Patterson resident Ramona Casado said she would not mind if $40,000 in taxpayers money is spent on a recall vote. Lustgarten is up for election in November 2016.
“You don’t threaten a colleague,” Casado said. “You cannot treat seniors like that. … Her agenda has not been for the health of the city. Her agenda has been for herself.”
Nosek said the petition format needs to be approved by the county registrar of voters, and then proponents will have 90 days to collect signatures. She said she sent a notification to Lustgarten giving her an opportunity to put a statement on the recall petition but has not received a response.
Former Councilwoman Annette Smith said she asked council members to look into Lustgarten’s behavior at the Hammon center after seniors brought complaints to her in 2013.
Smith said voters should be given the choice of whether to remove her from office.
“I dealt with her for years and had a hard time dealing with her intensity,” Smith said. “You don’t shout at seniors. You don’t harass. You don’t threaten. Professional staff are supposed to run the center and the activities. Taking over the senior center is not within the scope of your duties.”
Nosek, who squabbled with Lustgarten over the Facebook page for Patterson’s Neighborhood Watch program, agreed it may appear the recall campaign is additional pressure for Lustgarten to resign.
“I would hope she would resign. It would save us a lot of taxpayers money. But I know her well enough that I know she won’t do that,” Nosek said.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321