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Budding effort to recall Kevin Johnson faces long road ahead

An anonymous individual – who currently goes only by the moniker “Citizen X” – started a petition on Change.org to recall Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, but it looks like the person is facing an uphill battle: The road to citizen recall of an elected official is long and arduous and only rarely succeeds.

The petition cites Johnson’s nonprofit activities and recent disclosure shortfalls as some of the reasons for the recall effort and has, so far, gathered 41 signatures. A Facebook page supporting the recall effort was also started Thursday, and it garnered 91 likes by Friday morning.

According to the city charter, the steps to a recall of a city official follow the outline found in the state elections code. The process is complicated, and the as-yet-unidentified Citizen X may have his hands full in the pursuit of a recall of Kevin Johnson. What for sure is that he’ll need more than an anonymous online petition at Change.org to get the job done.

Here are the steps any recall effort would need to follow:

Give notice – The elections code states that someone must “file, serve and publish a Notice of Intention to Circulate a Petition for Recall.” This form has to be in a specific format, filed with the city clerk and served on the mayor, either in person or by courier.

Here is where “Citizen X” may need to reconsider anonymity: The state elections code requires the notice of intention and the petition to be signed by 20 proponents, and it must include their names, addresses and verification that each is registered to vote in the city of Sacramento.

The notice must also be published in a local newspaper at least once. The mayor would have seven days to respond to the notice and file his response with the city clerk.

Create the petition – Just like the notice of intention, the form of the petition is specific and must be approved by the city clerk before any signatures can be gathered (and no, an online petition on Change.org doesn’t qualify). The process of submitting, reviewing, correcting and approving the petition can be lengthy, according to Assistant City Clerk Stephanie Mizuno.

“It’s very time consuming and regulatory,” Mizuno said Thursday. “It takes someone who has a strong desire to want to initiate a process of this nature. They have to be diligent in understanding the timeframe and the regulatory requirements – that’s where most initiatives fail.”

Gather signatures, and be quick about it – The petition must get the signatures (actual, pen-on-paper signatures, that is) of at least 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the city – approximately 21,400, according to Mizuno. And the elections code gives recall proponents only 120 days to do it. Note the qualification: Only signatures from city residents that are registered to vote count toward the total.

Submit petition signatures, get verification from county registrar of voters – The city clerk will verify that the petition has the minimum number of qualified signatures and then send the petition to the county for final verification. The county has 30 days to complete the verification and, if all goes well with the process, the petition is then returned to the city clerk.

Petition sent to City Council for approval and call to ballot – The city clerk is required by elections code to send the petition to the City Council at the next regularly scheduled meeting for approval. Can the City Council refuse to approve the petition? No.

“They have a duty under the elections code to accept a sufficient petition,” Mizuno said.

Hold an election – Once the City Council members approve the petition, they have 14 days to instruct the city clerk to put the recall question on the ballot and hold an election “not less than 88 days and not more more 120 days” from the date of City Council’s approval.

Here’s where timing become significant: If there is no regularly scheduled election within that timeframe, then a special election must be held. Mizuno estimated the cost of a special election to be more than $1 million.

But wait – there’s more.

Timing plays an even bigger role in state elections code and in the city charter when it comes to a recall: The state elections code says a recall cannot be initiated before the person has been in office at least 90 days, or within six months of the end of his or her current term, while the city charter puts both of those numbers at six months.

In the case of Johnson, whose current term ends Nov. 6, that means a recall cannot be initiated against him until after May 6, 2013.

To make things more complicated, the next regular election is set for June 2014 and the latest any measure or initiative, including a recall initiative, can be accepted by the city clerk’s office for that ballot is mid-February, according to Mizuno.

And, one more small detail: Once the question of “should Mayor Kevin Johnson be recalled” is opened to voters, it necessitates a corresponding election for his replacement. Mizuno said a nomination period would be opened, campaigns would be started and the ballot would have to include all qualified candidates.

If anyone thinks campaigns are costly, this particular ballot initiative has potential to send spending through the roof. A recall initiative is like any other measure on the ballot in that there are no limits on campaign spending to support the measure – and no limits for a campaign to oppose the measure, Mizuno said. If Johnson wanted to campaign against the measure – which is likely – the fundraising would have no ceiling.

“It is a complicated – but doable – process,” Mizuno said.

The state provides a guide to the process:

Step-By-step Guide to a Recall

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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