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Advice to Fairview residents: Don't sign the recall petitions

Attention Fairview residents: Coming soon to a doorway near you — petitioners will ask for your signature to qualify a recall of the town’s mayor and two city councilors.

For anyone unfamiliar with the recall process, it’s an official process to force a special election to decide on the early removal of elected leaders from office.

That’s what’s happening in Fairview. A small group of petitioners are attempting to gather the 419 qualifying signatures they’ll need to put the recall up for a vote, where a simple majority could expel Mayor Ted Tosterud and City Councilors Ed Bejarana and Tamie Tlustos-Arnold.

This is a sad and muddled mess.

Is a recall the best way to go about reshaping the Fairview city government? Before giving your answer, here are a few things worth considering.

First, you — as a careful voter and engaged citizen — should know that a recall should be based on serious offenses. By that, I mean there should be clear evidence that the politician has committed a crime or, at a minimum, has been responsible for a heinous lapse of professional ethics.

Under those headings, you would expect to hear about embezzlement or perhaps an inappropriate relationship between an elected leader and a city employee. God knows we’ve had plenty of those.

Earlier in my career, I covered a recall that had been filed by a woman claiming all sorts of wrong-doings in job performance by a county sheriff. The problem was, there wasn’t one verifiable claim of illegal behavior, or even a hint at unethical behavior. The petitioner’s claims boiled down to unsubstantiated rumor, told to her during conversations “across the back fence.” Though baseless, had she actually gathered the necessary signatures she would have put a good person’s livelihood at serious risk.

I watched the same thing happen in a tiny community, where town folk attempted to recall members of their city council. Just like the case involving that sheriff, the claims mostly boiled down to disagreement with decisions that had been made by the council. And that just isn’t enough reason to justify a recall.

Based on those experiences, I came to approach recall efforts with strong skepticism.

So here we are in Fairview, with a sincere group of people asking their neighbors to sign petitions to recall their mayor and two city councilors — all of them volunteers. What are you going to do when those petitioners come knocking?

Here are few things to keep in mind before you sign.

• Councilor Bejarana is up for re-election in November. We have no confirmation on whether he intends to run again. But assuming the special election is held in September, it would be only two more months before the November election. Is a recall election — at city expense — really warranted?

• Councilor Tlustos-Arnold is already the Republican nominee in the race for Senate District 25, held by Democratic incumbent Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson. And like Bejarana, her council seat would be up for re-election two months after the recall. What’s the point?

Having spoken with chief petitioner Ted Kotsakis, I can tell you that he’s convinced he’s basing this recall on grounds of ethical malfeasance.

In particular, the petitioners complain about a majority of the council passing an economic incentives program that they claim goes too far, at the expense of city taxpayers. (As the editor of The Outlook, I’ve criticized the incentives package, too). But the fact that the council made a decision unpopular with the petitioners isn’t enough to justify a recall.

The petitioners will also complain about a council decision to pull the plug on a photo radar project. Like it or not, that was the decision of the council, but it’s not good enough to justify a recall.

My message to Fairview residents is really pretty simple.

The Fairview mayor and city councilors — collectively — are good people. They may have made some unpopular decisions that don’t sit well with some people (the Outlook’s editor included.) But, hey, nobody ever said it was the council’s job to make everyone happy.

Likewise, the recall petitioners are good people. They may even have valid points that should be considered by the mayor and the council. And if they want to encourage a change, they’ll have that opportunity come November by recruiting and running candidates who they think will better represent the citizens.

But when petitioners come knocking, will Fairview residents hear compelling arguments about criminal behavior? No.

Will Fairview residents be persuaded to believe this trio made serious ethical blunders? I guess that depends on how persuasive the petitioners are when they show up at your door.

For me, if I were a resident of Fairview (I don’t live in your community), I would thank the petitioners for caring enough to get involved. And I would politely decline to sign their petitions.

And then I’d start paying close attention to who was planning on running in November to represent my interests on the City Council.

Steven Brown is executive editor of The Outlook.