Recall organizers now have the official go-ahead to start circulating petitions asking voters to recall Hanford City Councilman and former mayor Dan Chin.
City Clerk Pamela McCarthy officially approved the latest revision of the proposed recall ballot language Thursday. It was the fourth time the group of residents led by Albert Cano, a Hanford police sergeant who lives in Chin's district, attempted to have the petition certified for circulation.
"We're very happy that the petition was approved," said Cano following a meeting with McCarthy at City Hall. "We're ready."
The clock has already begun ticking. The group has until Jan. 3 to collect 1,098 signatures in Chin's electoral district and submit them to the city clerk's office for verification.
If the petition is successful, the recall election will follow the new political boundaries redrawn in the redistricting process this summer and will be consolidated with the June 5 primary election, according to McCarthy. The new boundaries were approved by the Department of Justice in October and are already in effect.
Chin, a veteran councilman, is serving his fourth term and the 11th year on the City Council.
Proponents say grounds for the recall include Chin's actions in leading the council on a path of wasteful spending and "abusing the trust of the public" by pushing through a contract modification that increases City Attorney Bob Dowd's compensation despite public opposition.
The group also accuses Chin of ignoring concerns about City Manager Hilary Straus' job performance raised by department heads and other city employees through votes of no confidence.
Chin has publicly defended Straus as well as his actions, saying he wanted to make city government run more efficiently.
"I think change is always difficult for everybody - people resist change," said Chin on Thursday in response to the recall petition's approval. "But the reality is that the public is asking for government to be better than it is today, so the changes we're trying to instill are responsive to the needs of the city."
Chin stepped down as a mayor Tuesday, citing health challenges caused by a recent injury, although he remains on the council. Sue Sorensen has taken over as mayor.
Chin also questioned the timing of the recall.
"If the election is held in June, and if they are successful, I would probably be in office until July," Chin said. "So that leaves only three months to the election in November. With me up for re-election in November, the question to the public becomes whether or not it makes a lot of sense to continue with this process."
Chin said Thursday he hasn't decided whether to seek re-election.
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Recall supporters argued that the process started in August, but was delayed by the city clerk's denials of draft petition language.
"Our petition was rejected three times, and each time the city used the full 10-day period to give us their decision, so a lot of time was wasted," said Dolores Gallegos, a former city councilwoman who is helping the recall group. "Had this gone through the first time, we'd probably be voting by now."
There is an upside for the delay, however. The cost is expected to be minimal - if the petition qualifies - because the timing of it allows the election to be consolidated with the June primary. Officials previously estimated that a stand-alone election would cost the city between $15,000 and $20,000.
Cano said removing Chin from his office sooner - even three months - would benefit the community.
"If you look at all the issues that have happened under Dan Chin's leadership, the sooner we get him off the City Council and get rid of his negative influence and power, the better," Cano said. "How many more issues are we going to put up with with this man?"
The number of signatures legally required for the recall petition to qualify for the ballot is based on the last count of registered voters submitted by the county to the California secretary of state, which was in February, said Ken Baird, Kings County's registrar of voters.
At that time, Chin's district had 4,369 voters. If the registration is less than 10,000 but at least 1,000, the number of signatures collected must equal at least 25 percent of the total, Baird said.
McCarthy said all signatures submitted will be confidential and will not be disclosed to either Chin or other city officials.
After Jan. 3, McCarthy will have 30 days to verify the signatures submitted. And the City Council will have to certify McCarthy's evaluation of the petition signatures at its Feb. 7 meeting, either declaring the petition invalid for insufficient signatures or calling for an election.
If the petition is successful, it would open up a nomination period to allow candidates to take out papers to run for Chin's seat.
The ballot would contain two questions: one asking the voters whether to recall Chin and another asking which candidate should replace him. The candidate who gets the most votes wins the seat, but only if a majority of voters vote to recall Chin, McCarthy explained.
Cano said his group will hit the streets to start collecting signatures as soon as this weekend.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2429 or eyamashita@HanfordSentinel.com.