Results won’t be tallied until April 25, but people with mail ballots have begun voting in the increasingly nasty Oakdale Irrigation District recall election.
The central question: Will Linda Santos keep her seat on the OID board? If not, Nate Ludlow – the only candidate to sign up – will take her place.
Of 1,831 voters in Santos’ OID Division 4, 69 percent (1,265) began receiving ballots in the mail in the past couple of days and can send them back by the election. The remainder can cast ballots before 8 p.m. the day of the special election, April 25, at the only poll in Oakdale – Life Community Church, 105 E. G St. – or at the Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, 1021 I St. in Modesto.
The bulk of land in Division 4 is south and east of town, but it also includes people in town south of C Street and east of Maxwell and Gilbert avenues, and the eastern boundary jags down Sierra Avenue, Grove Avenue and Pedersen Road. Anyone not within those lines will sit out this round of voting.
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OID Division 4 voters can vote on one or both parts of the April 25 ballot – recalling Linda Santos or choosing Nate Ludlow to succeed her
A couple of weeks ago, the OID board decided 4-1 to look deeper into allegations of fraud in the recall petition process. Uncertainty was set aside less than three days later, when the board majority reversed course at a hastily called special meeting. That keeps the election on track, though Santos’ supporters continue claiming the process was corrupted.
Her detractors – those pushing the recall – say Santos sides with friends rather than constituents. In a voter information guide, her critics say Santos is guilty of “colluding with special interests in conducting a negative social media campaign against OID, its management and its board of directors, which has resulted in conjecture, misunderstanding and misguided reports to the public.”
In her published answer, Santos – elected by a wide margin in November 2015 – says, “A select few have been trying to oust me ever since. Some don’t like the questions I ask or my insistence that OID conduct its business in public – not in secret.”
Santos’ supporters say recall petitioners lied while gathering signatures required to force the special election, telling people their signatures would help in another battle against the idea of shipping this area’s water to Southern California. The board temporarily agreed to consider asking a judge to halt the ballot, then canceled its probe three days later.
This recall attempt is designed to trick voters into giving up their independent voice on OID’s board. Don’t be fooled.
Linda Santos, in voter guide
OID General Manager Steve Knell took to social media with an explanation, saying only two people who signed the petition now claim they were misled. Others coming forward say they refused to sign petitions, he noted, and were not defrauded.
The Modesto Bee counts 11 saying they were cautious enough to see through misrepresentations of petition circulators, and five who did not realize until later they’d been tricked. They include Oakdale’s Al Dubuc, who acknowledged not taking time to read and now regrets giving his signature, “obtained with (a) boldface lie,” Dubuc said.
In Knell’s posting on a web page dedicated to Oakdale water issues, he offered a remedy to those who feel they were deceived: asking county elections officials to remove a signer’s name from petitions. The same remedy was cited in an Oakdale police report after detectives looked into fraud claims; repeated in a letter from OID attorney Fred Silva to a Santos supporter; and cited at least twice by Santos’ critics in recent board meetings.
But it’s not a remedy. California Elections Code Section 11303 allows people to ask for signature removal up to the day before a petition is filed – in this case, Nov. 9.
At that time, no one knew about the fraud claims, which emerged in mid-November, so no one requested name removal.
Knell and Silva did not respond when asked to clarify. They may have relied on the police report, which contained faulty information based on detectives’ questioning of an election official at the office of Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan, who also runs elections under the title of registrar of voters.
By evading responsibility and failing to show leadership, Santos had instead put petty politics over her constituents.
13 Oakdale residents, in voter guide
Lundrigan on Friday defended her staff, saying detectives were given applicable sections of the elections code, “which they indicated they would read themselves,” she said in an email.
“It is believed this information has been uniformly communicated,” Lundrigan said. She added that the police report contained a numerical error and two numerical omissions when compared with information provided by her office.
Two inquiries – one each by police and by the OID board – appear to have relied at least in part on that misreading of the law. Knell and Silva did not respond when asked, via email, how much the misunderstanding might have weighed on the board’s most recent decision.
Meanwhile, campaign finance forms say that three Santos detractors – G&H Dairy and Growers Choice, both of Escalon, and Hoekstra Dairy of Oakdale – had paid a combined $9,720 to signature gatherers in the fall. The Committee to Recall Linda Santos had collected $11,509 and spent $10,794 as of March 11, disclosures say.
Neither Santos nor those defending her have filed disclosures.
Ludlow had collected $6,500 as of March 21, his forms say, including $3,500 from Ludlow himself.
Although he is running to succeed Santos and not against her, Ludlow’s statement appears next to hers in the voter guide. He cites “continuous controversy with the OID board which has interfered with work on important district business.”
I will dare to do things differently.
Nate Ludlow, in voter guide
“It’s time we start determining our own destiny rather than getting bogged down with board members fighting amongst themselves,” Ludlow continued. He promised to “not let petty politics interfere with the needs of our water customers.”
The OID board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at 1205 E. F St. Agenda items include choosing an option for resizing voting boundaries within OID, the subject of a recent scathing civil grand jury report that concluded the district had defied state and federal law by failing to reapportion after the 2000 and 2010 Censuses.
Some condemn one option as an obvious gerrymander aimed at preserving the current power structure by guaranteeing that board member Gary Osmundson keeps his seat after moving to a new home in a few weeks. Opponents say that option would bring a better balance of owners of different parcel sizes among OID’s five voting divisions.
Santos and Gail Altieri were elected after The Bee exposed the foot-dragging in 2015; if their predecessors had followed the law, petitioners would have had to gather double the signatures for Santos’ recall.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390