“Imported” Chico City Attorney “Seizes” Farmers’ Market Petitions

The following is a quote from the Chico Friends of the (Saturday) Farmers’ Market (“bold” and “italics” by author, Karen Laslo):

“Cheryl King and Karl Ory, as proponents of the Farmers Market initiative, submitted 2,347 petitions containing 9,352 signatures of Chico residents on May 12, 2014 to Chico City Clerk Deborah R. Presson.

City Clerk, Debbie Presson, accepts petitions.

City Clerk, Debi Presson, accepts petitions.

We were verbally assured by the [Chico] City Clerk that the petitions would be delivered to the [Butte] County Clerk the next day. On May 13, 2014, a volunteer witnessed the counting of the petitions by the [Chico] City Clerk and we were again assured that the petitions would be delivered that day to the [Butte] County Clerk for verification of signatures as required by State Election Law. We were also told that the [Chico] City Clerk would provide a letter verifying the submittal of the petitions.

I discovered yesterday [May 20] that the [Butte] County Clerk had not received the petitions. I spoke with the [Chico] City Clerk and she informed me that she had been directed by the contract [Chico] City Attorney to withhold the petitions so that the matter could be discussed in secret session by the Chico City Council at their meeting of May 20, 2014.

Vincent C. Ewing, Chico City Attorney

Vincent C. Ewing, contracted Chico City Attorney

The City Council agenda, again, did not specifically mention the Farmers Market Initiative as an item discussed in close session; however it was discussed as item 2.2, Anticipated Litigation. The contract City Attorney was asked to announce the closed session activity as item 1.6 on the Council’s regular agenda. Without reference to subject, he rattled off several votes taken by the council including one stated as a 3-3 vote. This was a vote of the council again rejecting the City Attorney’s opinion and choosing not to litigate the initiative.

Chico City Council, May 2014

Chico City Council, May 2014, Mark Sorenson 5th from left.

I [Karl Ory] addressed the Council last night [May 20] as representing over 9,200 residents who have had their democratic rights circumvented. I asked that the petitions be immediately transferred to the [Butte] County Clerk for verification and certification. I received no reply to this request. I followed up that evening with an email to the [Chico] City Clerk requesting an immediate response and the immediate transfer of petitions to the [Butte] County Clerk. Again, at 9:15 AM this morning, I provided the office of the [Chico] City Clerk with a letter asking for the whereabouts of the petitions and the time and manner of transferring the petitions to the county. I have received no response.

Our next steps are to ask for an investigation by the office of Kamala Harris, the State Attorney General and by the Butte County Grand Jury, as a violation of state election law and abuse of democratic principles.

We have been advised by attorney Keith Wagner that there is no basis for the petitions to be withheld. He calls the city action unauthorized and inappropriate.

I again request the City of Chico to do the right thing, and stop playing games. Once the petitions are certified, state law requires that the City Council either adopt the initiative or place it on the ballot. This manipulation of election procedures is something you would expect in the Ukraine or some third world country. This is not how we do things in Chico.

Councilmember Mark Sorensen does not want this on the November ballot where he must face voters who disagree with him. He has long supported evicting the Saturday Downtown Farmers Market. He has the City Manager and City Attorney working for him, even to the extent of violating state election law.

We hope the Attorney General and the Grand Jury will swiftly restore justice and allow voters rights to be upheld.”

Petitions stack almost 3ft tall.

Petitions stack almost 3ft tall.

Author’s Note:  On May 21, the Farmers’ Market Petitions were finally delivered to the Butte County Clerk’s office by Chico City Clerk, Debi Presson.  Mayor Scott Gruendl accompanied the Chico City Clerk.