OCEANSIDE — Oceanside resident and community watchdog Woodrow Higdon charges that the recall election to unseat Councilman Jerry Kern is primarily funded and driven by Oceanside police and firefighters. If Higdon’s accusation is true, and the recall election is not citizen-driven, the election can be called off.
Higdon filed a formal complaint with the District Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General’s Office, and Fair Political Practices Commission in November. He charged that the Police Department, Fire Department and their unions manipulated the election. If one of the agencies calls for an investigation they can stop the election or question its outcome.
Higdon saw red flags when he found recall campaign contributions had been incorrectly filed and corrected after the City Council verified the recall election.
One filing error noticed by Higdon was that the Citizens to Recall Kern for Fair and Balanced Government listed donations without noting they received funds from the Oceanside Firefighters Association.
The city clerk’s office also noticed the error and asked the group to correct the mistake. “New laws ask committees that are funded 80 percent to add in their name ‘sponsored by’,” Holly Trobaugh, assistant city clerk, said. “It’s the first Oceanside election affected by it.”
Oceanside does not place a limit on campaign contributions. The Firefighters Association is not accused of donating too much money.
Higdon said the Firefighters Association allegedly “covered up” where the funds originated to give the impression that citizens funded the recall election when most of the campaign money came from the firefighters. “The intent was to manipulate the election with false information,” Higdon said.
Higdon speculates that the upcoming January 2010 vote on police and fire department salaries and benefits is the reason that police and firefighters unions are supporting the Kern recall. Kern has a record of denying police and fire funding. “Violations exist when someone starts manipulating an election process for reasons of personal profit,” Higdon said. “The firefighters union has taken over the recall process.”
In addition to the large contributions made by the Oceanside Firefighters Association, it is on record that contributions to support the recall have been made by individual citizens. It is also verified that Oceanside citizens signed the recall petition.
Higdon sites the rapid collection of campaign funds and signatures as showing professional organization, beyond what citizens groups typically accomplish. He estimates an average citizen-based effort takes 18 months to organize volunteers, secure funding and gain petition signatures. Kern was served notice that a recall petition was in circulation in January and by August the recall election was verified.
Higdon said it was strategic planning that coordinated Fire Department contributions to immediately pay for the La Jolla Group, which specializes in running the signature election processes, to collect recall signatures. “They were not going to look for volunteers, the money in the union coffers eliminated six months,” Higdon said. “In 180 days they completed the signature process.”
Higdon said the rushed process did not allow those who opposed the recall to organize before the recall was verified.
Since the recall election was verified, Citizens Against the Recall Effort of Councilman Jerry Kern was formed and has campaigned against the election.
The Oceanside Fire Department and Oceanside Firefighters Association were contacted, but did not reply. The recall election is slated for Dec. 8.