Water customers frustrated with controversy at the Oakdale Irrigation District have begun a petition drive aimed at recalling board member Linda Santos.
Although elected by a landslide in November, Santos has angered several prominent farmers and ranchers whose names appear on a recall notice. It accuses her of favoring unnamed “friends, campaign contributors and special interests” and “put(ting) petty politics over her constituents.”
Santos said the charges listed on the notice are “categorically false and (have) no merit.”
She and Gail Altieri were political novices a year ago when they challenged board members Al Bairos and Frank Clark, who had served nine and 14 years respectively. Santos and Altieri promised transparency and an end to “good old boys” leadership, and each won by more than 20 percentage points to become the first women elected in OID’s then-105-year history.
60 percent Votes for Santos in November 2015
40 percentVotes for incumbent Al Bairos
Serving Santos with a notice, as recall proponents did at Wednesday’s OID board meeting, sets in motion a process requiring that they obtain signatures of 25 percent of voters in OID’s Division 4, in 60 days, to prompt an election. That means about 389 signatures, or 131 more than voted for Santos last year.
“We’re going to try, and I believe we will be successful,” said Deanne Dalrymple, who has been vocal against Santos in board meetings.
Santos and Altieri typically agree on issues and often end up on the losing end of 3-2 decisions, outvoted by board members Steve Webb, Herman Doornenbal and Gary Osmundson. The majority in June took the unusual step of suing to bar the women from closed-door strategy and votes on a lawsuit facing OID, and a judge sided with the men.
Altieri does not appear to be targeted in the recall effort.
Those signing the notice of intent to circulate a recall petition include Bairos, rancher Bill Jackson and H-B Saloon owner Mike Bacigalupi. Fred Burtschi, whose late father, Henry, was recalled from the same board 15 years ago, also signed.
(Grounds for recall include) 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.
Notice of intent to circulate recall petition
Some notice signers declined to comment, saying the effort is just getting off the ground. Bairos could not be reached.
The notice takes issue with Santos’ refusal to support a fallowing program that would have paid growers willing to idle some land with proceeds from selling freed-up water to outsiders. A resulting lawsuit challenged OID’s failure to study how shipping water elsewhere might affect the local water table; it was filed by grower Robert Frobose, who leases farmland from Santos, and former OID board member Louis Brichetto.
Santos, 62, said she disagreed with OID’s plan in March to launch the fallowing program without conducting environmental studies. The board had scrapped an identical fallowing motion a year earlier after their attorney said they likely would lose a lawsuit without such studies, but this year pushed ahead on a 3-2 vote with Santos and Altieri in the minority.
Their petition is categorically false and has no merit.
Linda Santos, OID board
“Had the other three (board members) followed OID’s attorney’s advice, there would not be a lawsuit now,” Santos said Thursday. “I wanted to assure the public that OID’s programs don’t do long-term damage to the environment. Most farmers I’ve talked to agree with that goal.”
Santos also took issue with the allegation of siding with campaign contributors, saying what little she spent came from her own pocket.
“I’m disappointed that the people who signed the petition never called me about their concerns,” she said. “They have formed an opinion without getting all the facts.”
Santos and Altieri in May provided sworn statements used against OID in the fallowing lawsuit, saying they had been kept in the dark on developments and that what little was shared with them conflicted with what OID attorneys told two judges. The recall notice chides Santos for “aiding and abetting OID’s opponents.”
Among Henry Burtschi’s last actions as a board member 15 years ago was casting the deciding vote in a 3-2 decision to hire OID General Manager Steve Knell, who often is at odds with Santos. That same day in November 2001, voters recalled Burtschi and elected Brichetto to replace him.
Four months later, voters also recalled then-board member Dale Price and elected Clark to replace him.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390