Berman knew of clerk's recall petition error - East Valley Tribune: News

Berman knew of clerk's recall petition error

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Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 8:46 pm | Updated: 10:42 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman knew the town clerk set the bar for success too low when a recall petition was pulled on him last February. But Berman said he did not think it was his job to correct the number given by Town Clerk Cathy Templeton to recall organizer Fred Phillis four months ago.

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On Friday, Templeton rejected the recall petitions against Berman bearing 1,208 signatures. She had originally notified the End Corruption in Gilbert committee that it needed to collect 981 valid signatures to force Berman into a recall election. But after the petitions had been filed, Templeton said she erred in her calculations, and that the recall organizers actually needed 1,963 signatures.

"Everybody knew that number was wrong," Berman said Monday. "I'm surprised Fred didn't say anything, since he's such an expert on election law."

Berman said it would have been inappropriate for him to correct Templeton because state law requires municipal clerks to be independent of city or town councils on election matters, even though in Gilbert the clerk reports directly to the council.

"I can't go in there and tell her how many signatures are needed to recall me," Berman said.

Chris Baker, a political consultant hired by Berman, was the one who first questioned Templeton as to the number of petition signatures required to force Berman into a recall election. Baker raised that issue Friday, the day after the deadline for filing the petitions.

Phillis said Tuesday many people he has talked to since the recall petitions were rejected by the town have raised questions about Berman's culpability.

"It starts to raise questions about the conduct of the mayor, in terms of malfeasance or misfeasance, and whether he could be removed because of it," Phillis said. "I don't know. I'm just raising the question because other people have."

Kristi Passarelli, campaign finance and jurisdictional manager for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office elections division, said it is the responsibility of the clerk's office to provide information about signature requirements when a recall petition is pulled.

But she said she doesn't know if there's any punishment for a municipal clerk or legal remedy for petitioners if the clerk supplies incorrect information.

As in most Arizona municipalities, Gilbert's town clerk works directly for the Town Council.

Town Councilman Don Skousen said it's the petitioner's responsibility to know how many signatures need to be collected, and he doesn't think there's any need to punish the town clerk for her error.

"I don't think we could do anything to Ms. Templeton to serve as a deterrent or to make her strive any more for accuracy," Skousen said. "She's beating herself up more than we ever could."

Templeton, the town clerk since November 1997, took responsibility for miscalculating the number of signatures the committee needed to put Berman to a recall vote on the November ballot in a letter to Phillis explaining why the petitions were rejected.

Templeton would not comment Monday when asked about the error she made.

"I don't think I'm going to go there right now," she said, adding she has not received any phone calls from residents regarding her error.

Phillis said he believes Templeton made an honest mistake, but under town law the revised figure should actually be 840 signatures, a little lower than the figure she initially quoted.

Under state law, the number of valid signatures on a recall petition must equal at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the last general election for the office in question, divided by the number of seats.

Templeton said in the letter explaining her mistake that she divided the total votes by the number of candidates, two, rather than the number of seats, one.

Phillis maintains under town statute the mayor is to be considered just another council member, so the number of votes cast in the 2007 general election should have been divided by three, the number of open council seats.

Berman and Baker, on the other hand, use a formula based on the last mayoral election in 2005, and come up with a figure around 2,400.

Phillis said he believes if Berman knew Templeton's calculation was wrong, the mayor should have taken action before the deadline for filing petitions passed.

If the mayor had gone to the clerk's office and said more than 981 signatures were needed for a successful recall effort, "my response would have been we would have tested it, and second, we would have made an assessment if it can be done," Phillis said.

Phillis said it's clearly incumbent on election officials to provide the correct information.

"The number of signatures required for a petition drive is complex and requires special knowledge that is not available to the general public. It is simply not available," he said, adding that he went to the county elections office and could not find the official vote totals for Gilbert's 2007 elections.

What is clear is that it's too late to launch a new recall drive to force Berman onto the November ballot, and the mayor will be up for re-election in the March primary.

Phillis launched the recall drive in February, claiming Berman has been a bad leader for the town and labeling him as "corrupt."

Since then, campaign complaints have volleyed back and forth between the two camps in what some observers see as a grudge match between Berman and Phillis.

Phillis said the campaign committee is still considering its legal options.

"The process is over, but the story is not over," he said.

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