Solvang City Councilman Niels "Chris" Djernaes will face a recall in the November general election after the council voted Monday night to place the question on the ballot, although some council members expressed distaste for the process.
Council members voted 3-1-1, with Councilman Daniel Johnson dissenting and Djernaes abstaining, to approve three resolutions needed for the recall to go before voters Nov. 3.
The decision was an opportunity for the council to take affirmative action on the recall petition but was, essentially, a formality.
If the council hadn’t called for the election within 14 days after the Santa Barbara County Elections Office determined the petition’s signatures were adequate, then within five days after that deadline the Elections Office would itself call for the election.
Petitioners were required to gather valid signatures of 25% of Solvang’s registered voters, or 920 verified signatures, for the recall election to go forward, and the petition they submitted contained 1,359, according to the city clerk’s count.
The County Elections Office counted 1,342 signatures, but election officials disqualified 186 of those, leaving 1,156 that were valid, still more than enough for the recall to be placed on the ballot.
Citizens who want to replace Djernaes, should the recall be successful, will have until Aug. 20 to file nomination papers to be on the same November ballot. If the recall is successful, the highest vote-getter would then take his council seat.
Only one member of the public spoke to the council prior to the vote — Lammy Johnstone-Kockler, who spearheaded the recall effort.
“In a way, I’m really sorry about this, to do something like this,” Johnstone-Kockler said. “However, let this be a lesson to any council member or mayor, if you do not listen to the people, we will remove you.”
She said the recall was not only a wake-up call for the entire City Council but also for the citizens of Solvang to take action.
The petition’s justification for recalling Djernaes ranged from his support of developing a 7.1-acre parcel that formerly held a lumberyard to alleged disregard for the Ralph M. Brown Act — the state law requiring governments to do the public’s business in public — and violations of the council’s own code of ethics.
But it also cited Djernaes’ perceived lack of common courtesy toward and poor treatment of citizens, former elected officials, city staff and organizations.
“Djernaes’ failures to be respectful and civil include, but are not limited to, his obvious disdain of constituents; mockery of speakers at City Council meetings; blatant disregard for the wishes of the voters; disrespectful remarks directed toward both current and former City Council members; frequent defamation of organizations and individuals; and bullying and harassment of a number employees of the city of Solvang both inside and outside of City Council meetings,” the recall notice said.
Djernaes said if the recall vote failed, the people who circulated the petition could simply do it again six months later and again six months after that, and the city would have to keep paying the cost of the elections.
“They can recall for any reason at all, for wearing the wrong color of shirt,” he said.
City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt said there is a limit to how soon another recall can be attempted, but he said he would have to check the Elections Code to provide the exact number.
“I do believe Chris is his own worst enemy,” Councilman Robert Clarke said, referring to some of Djernaes’ comments but noting he’s made “some really good points.”
“If you recalled every ass that ever served in public office, there would be no one in public office,” Clarke said, pointing out Djernaes doesn't control the council. "There's five freaking people up here that ran separately. ... I just think the whole thing is odd."
Councilwoman Karen Waite expressed dismay that the person who might replace Djernaes won’t be known before the recall vote and had a message for the petitioners.
“I just wanted to let Chris know I’m disappointed it’s turned out this way,” Waite said. “I hope the people who signed the petition understand how this can affect a person’s life.”
But Djernaes said he wants to recampaign the platform he was elected on.
“I have stood up for the majority of the people in this community and the businesses,” he said, adding one of his goals has been to lower taxes. “I look forward to the opportunity to go out to the community and make that case again.”
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