Filing questioned for absent candidate

Lack of challengers in some races could keep them off the ballot

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

UPDATE: After going to press Thursday, the News Review learned that Council candidate Mike Neel dropped out of the race following events at city hall where he was allegedly attempting to bully the city clerk according to sources at City Hall. Additionally, Council Incumbent Mike Mower repulled papers and gathered signatures upon his return from vacation, presumably remedying any complications regarding his papers being pulled by a third party while he was out of town.

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As the News Review went to press, local races were nearing the candidate filing deadline to appear on the November 2018 ballot for locally elected offices.

The regular filing period for mayor and council races, handled by City Clerk Ricca Charlon, closed yesterday.

At press time, Mayor Peggy Breeden and challenger Tom Wiknich were the only two candidates to file for the two-year mayor seat.

For the two four-year positions on city council, only one incumbent — Mike Mower — had pulled papers. If Eddie Thomas did not pull papers before the 5 p.m. deadline, that filing period is extended five days for challengers.

Reese Hogg III, Chip Holloway, Loren Scott Hayman, Scott Leahy, Mike Neel and Lori Acton had all pulled papers to vie for a seat. Amy Belasco, who pulled papers on July 23, withdrew her candidacy last week as did Mike Neel (see update).

However, Neel filed a complaint this week with the Fair Political Practices Commission, challenging the legitimacy of Mower’s filing. Neel said that Mower, who was apparently out of town during the filing period, violated elections code by allowing Warren Cox to pull papers in his name. Cox and others apparently circulated petitions in Mower’s absence to garner the required citizen signatures of support for his candidacy.

Charlon said that elections code does not specify that a candidate be present for any part of the process, with the exception of the final filing (which had not yet occurred at deadline). Even then, she said, candidates could defer that task to a representative as long as the candidate had authorized it by a notarized affidavit.

Neel stated in a letter to the News Review that in his experience of filing twice for office in the city, “all the nomination papers were provided to candidates directly, only after reviewing them with the city clerk and signing several of them there.

“The current procedure has the appearance of giving special privilege to an incumbent candidate that certain influences in Ridgecrest want to keep in office.”

City officials forward to the News Review a copy of the findings from the FPPC, which dismissed Neel’s complaint. “The actions by the public officials listed in your complaint are not governed by the [FPPC] Act, and the complaint failed to establish any violations of the Act,” states a letter by Galena West, chief of the FPPC Enforcement Division.

Just before the News Review went to press Thursday, Neel forwarded an e-mail from Kern County Deputy District Attorney Chris Dominguez, which supported Neel’s original claim.

“I will contact the Ridgecrest City Clerk and inform her that she should not provide papers for declaration of candidacy to any purported designee without a written statement signed and dated by the candidate, allowing the designee to obtain the papers on behalf of the candidate, as required by Elections Code SS 8028.”

For three races, only incumbents had filed. If no additional candidates file by deadline (taken at Kern County Elections Offices until the end of today), those races will not appear on the ballot and the candidates will be automatically appointed to those offices.

Those races include:

Sierra Sands Unified School District Board of Trustees — Amy Covert, Tim Johnson and Kurt Rockwell

Indian Wells Valley Airport District Board of Directors — Russ Bates and Jim Paris

Inyokern Community Services District Board of Directors — Roger Bell and Tim Carroll

For the two seats on the Indian Wells Valley Board of Directors, both incumbents — Peter Brown and Charles Griffin — have pulled papers, and will face challenges by Stan Rajtora and David Saint-Amand.

The filing deadline for that race is also today.

Final results of local races will be published in next week’s News Review.

Story First Published: 2018-08-10