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Judge voids recall effort against Douglas mayor; Required document wasn’t attached to petitions

BISBEE — A failure by organizers to attach, affix, or adhere one piece of paper to every recall petition circulated earlier this year to force Douglas Mayor Robert Uribe to stand for election 10 months before the end of his term means all 668 certified signatures are invalid, a judge ruled Wednesday, May 1.

Judge David Thorn of the Cochise County Superior Court issued his decision after a full day of testimony that centered on the meaning of the word “attached” and whether 10 residents who gathered the signatures complied with state law in doing so. He noted the Legislature “gets to make laws, to make it more exacting” for citizens to recall public officials, but despite that fact, all the signatures had to be discounted for being noncompliant with statutes.

Thorn’s decision came in regard to a complaint filed by Mary Jenea Sanchez against the effort to have Uribe face a recall election Aug. 27. State law allows any qualified voter to challenge the number of petition signatures which are certified by the county recorder in a recall effort.

Sanchez, who is Uribe’s wife, contended the petitions used to collect the signatures failed to comply with state law. She named City Clerk Brenda Aguilar and Cochise County Recorder David Stevens as respondents in the case in their official capacities, and Douglas resident Tanya Duarte, the recall organizer who filed the application to begin the recall process.

Aguilar was not present in the courtroom due to being out on medical leave, according to City Attorney Juan Pablo Flores. Deputy City Clerk Alma Andrade testified instead, although she acknowledged she wasn’t directly involved in processing Duarte’s application or the submission of the signed petitions.

Supreme Court

After Sanchez filed her three-count objection to the petitions, she withdrew two of the counts based on an Arizona Supreme Court opinion released last week. The remaining issue was whether the recall petitions were circulated with an “attached” petition application.

In the unanimous opinion, the high court detailed its earlier order which stopped a recall effort involving a Phoenix councilman. Chief Justice Scott Bales noted in the Morales v Archibald opinion that the Legislature established some rules for recalls which match the rules for voter-initiated referendums. Bales pointed out, however, that the Legislature also crafted some rules which are unique to recalls.

“We have previously declined to extend the same requirements we place on referendum petitions to recall petitions,” Bales wrote. “We decline to do so here as well.”

However, while Bales’ opinion in the Phoenix case confirmed the need to attach the application to the petition sheets, it didn’t address what constitutes “attached.” The term is also not defined anywhere in election or recall statutes.

Although all parties said the recent Supreme Court opinion provided some guidance on Sanchez’s remaining objection, it was still up to Thorn to decide whether the recall application was sufficiently attached to the petitions when signatures were collected.

Duarte and Roberto B. Flores Jr. were among the volunteers who circulated the petitions. They testified about the process they used, conceding that a copy of the application was not physically adhered or affixed to each petition sheet.

Instead, they explained, each of the 10 circulators had one copy of the application sheet on a clipboard with a petition sheet, as well as a large-font copy of the explanation of the recall effort and a translation of the explanation in Spanish.

Certification

After a few weeks, the circulators turned in 61 petitions which Duarte presented to the city clerk, per statute. Aguilar then had specific statutes she had to follow, such as determining whether the recall organizers submitted a sufficient number of signatures. In the Uribe recall effort, organizers needed 569 signatures to force Uribe to stand for election.

They turned in 801 signatures, which required Aguilar to forward the signatures to Stevens, the county recorder. Under ARS 19-208.02, it is Stevens who was legally responsible to certify, or validate, the 801 signatures. According to Stevens, there were 668 certified signatures out of the 801 his staff reviewed. One thing he didn’t do was determine whether the petitions themselves were in compliance with state law.

Sanchez argued that under ARS 19-208.02(A), the recorder was required to disqualify any signature that didn’t comply with ARS 19-121.02(A), including any reason under which the Arizona Secretary of State can remove a signature, even in municipal recall efforts.

One such grounds for the rejection of a signature is if it is on a petition that doesn’t have a copy of the application attached. In his unanimous opinion last month, Justice Bales pointed out that while the Arizona constitution guarantees voters “the right to recall elected officials for whatever reasons they choose,” that right “must be exercised pursuant to constitutional and statutory provisions.”

He also noted the importance of the application as it contains the organizer’s name and contact information.

In closing arguments, Duarte’s attorney, Roger Contreras, pointed to the myriad statutes related to recalls which make it difficult for citizens to act on their constitutional right of recall against elected officials. He also noted the fact no one in the government was able to explain the process with clarity.

‘The People’ are relying on other people, in those positions, to walk them through the process,” he said. “If it was required to be ‘attached’ in a certain manner, it should say that. It’s not the (volunteers’) fault. The petitions they submitted should be declared legally sufficient to have Mayor Uribe stand for recall.”

During the hearing, Sanchez’s attorneys also challenged the Spanish translation document as being unapproved. Because Thorn invalidated the signatures on the basis of the unattached application, he didn’t need to rule on the translation issue.


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Gomez family honored by DARC

Local residents Linda Gomez, her daughters, Lisa Watkins and Nicole Mariscal along with her granddaughter Paige Mariscal, will be honored at the 56th Douglas Association for Retarded Citizens Mothers Day Cake Auction.

Each year at the auction, the DARC board of directors honors an individual or individuals, who have made an impact not only on the event but the community in general.

Gomez and her daughters have been active during the cake auction since the early 1980s. Paige has been involved for more than 10 years.

The event is scheduled for Sunday, May 12 beginning at 1 p.m. in the lobby of the Gadsden Hotel. It will be broadcast live on KDAP 96.5 FM.

“This is such an honor,” Linda said at a recent luncheon where she was informed that she and her family as this year’s Mother’s Day Cake Auction dedicatees. “I just love the cake auction. As soon as Ed (her husband, Dr. Edward Gomez) and I moved here, one of the first things my mother-in-law said to me was her daughter, Anita Rodriguez, always makes the most money on her cakes. One of her cakes, I think, went for $400 one year.”

Feeling the nudge to get involved, Gomez began baking and baking, donating several cakes each year. As her daughters grew up, they too, became involved and that tradition has now reached a third generation with Paige’s involvement.

Not only does the Gomez foursome bake cakes, they also serve as auctioneers at the event encouraging others to bid on the delicious goodies.

Gomez recalls one year as the cake auction was approaching, she was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. She didn’t wear a wig and had a scarf she would wear around her head instead. She remembers telling her husband one night she wasn’t sure if she had it in her to help out that year.

“He said, ‘You know, it’s not really about you.’ My girls said they would be there to help me. We went and did our thing and had so much fun,” she said. “It’s such an honor to be asked just take part in this event.”

Gomez said the fact the cake auction is held on Mother’s Day, and she, her daughters and granddaughter, are able to spend that day doing something for a worthy cause, makes it all the more special.

Dr. Gomez said he is “extremely proud” of his wife, daughters and granddaughter. “They deserve this,” he said.

Each year the auction raises thousands of dollars thanks to the donations of hundreds of locally baked cakes. Last year’s event had 116 different assorted goodies and brought in over $23,500.

Vicky Merritt, president of DARC, said the cake auction is run solely by volunteers and Linda and her family are very deserving of this honor.

“They have given a lot to DARC,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them and the other volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have a cake auction year after year.”

Gary Clark, Executive Director of Douglas Arc, said the Gomez family have been staunch supporters of DARC for a very long time.

“They have been the grassroots of our organization not only at the cake auction but also the carne asada,” he said. “Linda and her husband Ed are always there (at the carne asada). She’s in the assembly line and Ed is on the grill cooking stakes. He even brings his own (cooking) tools.”

Clark added that when you have people like the Gomez family that do good for others in the community, it encourages other people to follow their example.

“These are two wonderful people that we are very fortunate to have in our community,” he said. “Douglas is such a giving community. There are so many people that are willing to give all you have to do is ask. At the carne asada we don’t even ask anymore, they just show up. … That’s the beauty of Douglas.”

In addition to the cake auction there will also be a silent auction and various raffles held throughout the event as well.

For more information on the event, or to see how you can get involved, call the Douglas Arc at (520) 364-7473.


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DHS students get 'empowered' at fair

Juniors and seniors at Douglas High School were provided with an idea of some of the job opportunities that are available to them at a Youth Empowerment Fair.

The annual event, held Wednesday, May 1 in the Douglas High School gym and hosted by Cochise Connections provides resource information to students in higher-level classes.

This year’s event attracted an estimated 600 juniors and seniors, said Adriana Romero, program director for Cochise Connections. She said this was the eighth consecutive year her group has hosted the fair and appreciated that 19 different local organizations took part in the event.

“I am very invested in Douglas,” she said. “I like this community. Since I’ve been working in this area, I’ve gotten to know most of the community members. I started this initially because I felt there was a need to have something for our youth. … Hopefully this will give them an idea of what’s out there and available for them. We want to provide them with the information so hopefully they can make the right choices.”

Romero said she would like to see more employers get involved in the fair.

One of the more popular organizations participating this year was the Arizona National Guard.

SSgt. John Rickler, a career counselor for the Guard, said he drove from Tucson to Douglas to show the students the opportunities that await them should they enlist.

“We offer some excellent educational opportunities for students that are still in high school,” he said. “These fairs are a great way to get the word out and let them know what career and financial opportunities are there to take advantage of while serving their community and country.”

New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. was also at the event.

Douglas High graduate David Cota, now the admissions advisor for NMSU, said it’s always fun coming back to his alma mater and talking about education.

“It’s always a blessing to come home,” he said. “I always want to see these students be successful and have a good career.”

Cota had been working at Western New Mexico State University in Silver City but transferred over to NMSU recently. He said it’s a move he’s happy he made.

“I remember sitting down in a classroom like many of these students and wondering about my future,” he said. “They need to continue to work hard, keep that passion and never give up.”

With a lot of nation’s focus on elections, the Cochise County Democratic Party was also on hand for the fair taking advantage of the opportunity to get those over 18 or who are going to be 18 by Aug. 27, registered to vote.

Theresa Mueller said her organization was able to get some students registered while at the same time informing them why it’s important to vote in each election.

Students said they felt this event was helpful and that the format allowed them to visit the various tables finding out some of the options that are available to them after high school.

Some of the other organizations that participated: U.S. Army and Air Force, Border Patrol, Douglas Police Department, Arizona@work, the Douglas Area Food Bank, Western New Mexico, Unique Youth Group, the DHS Med Club, Cochise College, University of Arizona, Lutheran Social Services and the National Alliance on Mental Health.

The next event for Cochise Connections will be the annual Care Fair which is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 3 at Airport Park.