After 116 years without a recall election, Vernon will have two this year – Daily News
In the first 115 years of its history, the small manufacturing town of Vernon never needed a recall election to settle its political grievances. This year, however, amid contentious corruption allegations, the city will have two.
In a special election Tuesday, June 1, voters ousted city council members Carol Menke and Diana Gonzales, both of whom took office in 2019. And two other council members are in the sights of recall for an election already scheduled for September. Only Mayor Leticia Lopez, who was re-elected in April, is not subject to dismissal.
“It went pretty much as planned,” Menke said of the election, where nearly 73% of voters favored his recall. “I am disappointed, but not surprised.
Two newcomers, Judith Merlo and Crystal Larios, will replace Gonzales and Menke respectively, according to unofficial election results.
The city council split into two factions earlier this year amid political strife that spawned recall campaigns against both sides. The two efforts were launched so close to each other that supporters of the first encore found themselves answering questions about the second by knocking on doors, according to Marisa Olguin, president of the Vernon Chamber of Commerce and supporter of the recall against Menke and Gonzales.
Supporters of that campaign declared victory following last week’s election and are now defending council members William Davis and Melissa Ybarra from the same fate in the recall elections scheduled for September 14.
“It has been a tumultuous year,” said Olguin.
Vernon, with a population of approximately 130, is the least populated incorporated city in the state. Yet it strikes significantly above its weight, with a budget of nearly $ 300 million between the city and its utility, thanks to its unwavering support for factories, manufacturers and industrial companies than other cities – and their larger residential populations – would generally avoid.
The mayor helped launch the recall election
Lopez, Davis, Ybarra, two former mayors and the chamber of commerce supported the recall against Menke and Gonzales for their support for a solar and wind project on city-owned land in the Mojave Desert that was proposed by developers accused of steal $ 20 million from the nearby Cité de l’Industrie. Supporters of the recall alleged that Menke and Gonzales attempted to push through the energy contracts, despite public controversy in the industry, and then attempted to support allies of the developers in the search for city housing and a contract for a city lawyer, according to Olguin and Lopez.
Previous studies had long concluded that “a viable project on the town’s Jaw Bone property does not exist,” according to a staff report. Still, the developers, led by former State Senator Frank Hill and developer William Barkett, have claimed they could make it work, despite warnings about environmental obstacles from nesting birds and potential Native American artifacts, according to Lopez, who helped start Menke’s recall. and Gonzalès.
“These developers had nothing to show, they were bad players who were already having problems in Industry City for the same type of situation,” she said.
Did nothing wrong
Menke and Gonzales deny having exerted any influence on the business. City council voted 3-2, with Menke and Gonzales at odds, not to go ahead with the Mojave Desert project last summer. Menke said she was aware of a dispute between the industry and the developer, but was unaware of the District Attorney’s criminal investigation until investigators raided homes and offices owners of the company in November, months after the project was shot down by his colleagues.
Menke said she brought an idea for the unused land to the city administrator, but the other council members ultimately rejected her. Nothing in the process was unusual for city councils, she said.
“Maybe I picked the wrong person, I’m not clairvoyant,” Menke said of the developers. “I still don’t believe we did anything wrong.”
Menke and Gonzales insist the real reason for their eviction is their efforts to question why a disproportionate amount of housing in recent years has gone to Mayor Lopez’s family and friends. They fear that the lottery system used to determine who gets housing in the city will be manipulated to favor certain people.
“It’s not supposed to happen in Vernon,” Gonzales said in an interview. Supporters of the recall twisted the development agreement and other issues, such as Gonzales’ demand for a jetted tub in his city-owned rental during a renovation, to make it appear, she and Menke, corrupt, Gonzales said. Her house was one of the last to be renovated by the city and she offered to pay the difference for better functionality, she said.
Leaflets were circulated accusing her of trying to charge the city for a jacuzzi, she said.
Mayor: No special treatment
Lopez denied that his family received special treatment under the housing program. She said her former colleagues assumed she was related to other residents because she and her husband had common last names. She admitted that she was a long-time acquaintance of Merlo, one of the new board members, because their sons played basketball together, but denied that she had any influence on Merlo’s decision to run. in the elections.
Lopez said the recall against Davis and Ybarra was a retaliatory measure and his allegations were baseless.
This recall petition, signed by more than 40 residents, including Menke and Gonzales, alleges that Davis, 81, “lacks the mental competence” to serve on the council and accuses Ybarra of nepotism and favoritism in his secondary role as councilor. housing commissioner. Ybarra, who lives in one of the only private houses in the city, and her sister sit on the seven-member Vernon Housing Commission, a committee that rents out the approximately two dozen houses owned by the city government through the system. lottery.
Menke served on the housing committee for two years until he was elected to council in 2019. The mayor had previously appointed all seven members, but that was changed to a full council vote in February.
The commission is supposed to provide impartial oversight of city-owned rentals that previous administrations would have manipulated to keep the same families in power. Vernon implemented a series of sweeping reforms, including changes in housing, from 2011 to avoid dissociation of the state legislature. Today, about a third of the town’s housing is still owned by Vernon and controlled by the commission, while the rest is managed by an independent third party. According to Olguin, city officials want to build additional independent housing and retail businesses for residents, if they can find space for it in the built city.
Both sides in the recall battles accused the other of trying to improperly influence voters in the 45 independent units of Vernon Village Park Apartments, the city’s largest voting block.
Davis could not be reached for comment. Olguin and Lopez called the allegations against Davis “ageism” and denied that he was incapable of acting in his role.
Ybarra: “Support transparency”
Separately, Ybarra issued a statement largely denying the second recall allegations against her.
Unfortunately, Diana Gonzales and Carol Menke resorted to orchestrating a campaign against me because I chose to support transparency and clean government and rejected their attempt to bribe our beloved Vernon “she said.
“I trust the people of Vernon. They know the difference between right and wrong, and they showed it when they voted for Gonzales and Menke to be impeached. They know I have my back, and on election day I know they will have mine.