Linda Santos will face recall from the Oakdale Irrigation District board in a special election that could occur April 25.
If she is dismissed by a majority of votes from OID District 4 southeast of Oakdale, a new board member could be chosen on the same ballot. Candidates are expected to emerge in an upcoming nomination period.
Santos is disappointed, she said Wednesday, but not cowed. “I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong,” she said.
Santos’ political enemies, on Nov. 10, submitted far more signatures than required. But Stanislaus County elections officials were busy counting provisional and other ballots remaining from the Nov. 8 presidential election, and only finished verifying OID recall signatures Wednesday.
To prompt the special election, recall proponents knew they needed signatures representing 25 percent of District 4’s 1,683 registered voters. They submitted 660 signatures nearly five weeks ago, and 628 – more than 37 percent of all voters – were deemed valid, said county Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan.
Estimates for the special election cost, to be paid by OID, range from $16,750 to $20,450, Lundrigan said. Her office would run the election, but it’s up to OID to set the election date.
Deanne Dalrymple, a leader in the recall effort, said she will not run to succeed Santos. Potential candidates’ “names are being batted around, but I’m not going to mention anything (yet),” she said.
Santos, 63, was elected a year ago, handily beating incumbent Al Bairos by more than 20 percentage points. She and Gail Altieri, who also won easily, had campaigned on promises of more transparency and since have regularly found themselves on the short end of 3-2 board votes.
A rocky year brought two lawsuits. One was filed by Robert Frobose, who leases farmland from Santos and who joined with former board member Louis Brichetto to challenge OID’s fallow-for-money plan because the board had not studied how shipping river water elsewhere might affect groundwater levels here.
The board majority – Steve Webb, Herman Doornenbal and Gary Osmundson – were offended when Santos and Altieri provided sworn declarations used by OID opponents, and the three men took the rare step of suing to bar Santos and Altieri from closed-door strategy sessions on the fallowing lawsuit.
Different judges sided against OID in both cases, although aspects of the fallowing lawsuit will come to trial in January, and the district has yet to announce its next move in the lawsuit against Santos and Altieri.
Meanwhile, some prominent growers launched the recall drive, accusing Santos of favoring “friends, campaign contributors and special interests” and “put(ting) petty politics over her constituents.” She said the drive is founded on “outright lies, malicious rumors and unfounded accusations.”
“The people who elected me in a valid election to a four-year term on the OID board should not have their votes disenfranchised by a recall election that was potentially done illegally,” Santos said Wednesday.
Frobose has said the petition drive was fraught with fraud. Some people seeking signatures lied about the subject of petitions, saying they would help stop local water from being sold to Southern California, a private investigator reported.
“Robert Frobose is a not a resident of District 4,” Dalrymple said. “He has no vote. This election is our decision and we get to vote, not him.”
Santos said she is an easier target than Altieri because to recall her, critics would have had to obtain 1,231 signatures. That’s because Altieri’s Division 1 northeast of town has grown much faster than others in recent years and the previous board did not adjust boundaries.
Previous board members knew that state law required resizing of OID’s voting districts after the 2010 U.S. census but failed to take action until The Modesto Bee uncovered the foot-dragging in June 2015. Then-board members subsequently hired a firm to start the process, and a proposal is expected in February with potential board action in March.
Dalrymple noted that the 660 signatures she helped collect are more than double the number of votes – 258 – received by Santos when she was elected. “She should be recalled from the same base that elected her – that’s what’s fair,” Dalrymple said.
Santos said, “To be accused of something I haven’t done is difficult to swallow. So I’m just going to keep fighting.”
When it comes to recalls, this isn’t Oakdale’s first rodeo. Fifteen years ago, former OID board members Henry Burtschi and Dale Price were ousted in separate recall elections four months apart.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390