Martin resigns council seat

City attorney weighs in on how vacancy will be filled

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Martin resigns council seatFollowing a years-long dispute about the residency claimed by Wallace Martin prior to his 2016 bid for Ridgecrest City Council, the vice mayor announced just before midnight on Saturday, Nov. 16, that he would be resigning as of 11:59 p.m. that day.

Martin was elected in November 2016, the second-highest vote-getter in a pool of seven candidates vying for two available seats. He received 2,763 votes, or 15.92 percent of those cast, edging out Scott Leahy who had 2,666 votes, or 15.36 voter support.

During the course of the campaign, several citizens — including some of his political contenders — challenged the validity of the address he claimed on his statement for candidacy. He said that although his primary residence was indeed outside of city limits (which would have disqualified him as a candidate), he was planning to spend the required majority of his time in the duplex apartment, within the city, that he had listed on his filing.

Last year, Leahy hired a private investigator to monitor Martin’s movement to determine whether the councilmember was adhering to that promise. Although the results of the investigation were not shared directly with the staff of the News Review, Leahy said the findings showed Martin was not staying, as he claimed, in the dwelling inside city limits.

Leahy subsequently filed a quo-warranto suit with the State Attorney General’s office challenging the Martin’s eligibility to serve — which was granted by the AG in June.

In his resignation post this weekend, Martin cited his inability to pay the $75,000 “in legal fees for proper representation in this case against me. Fees would apply regardless of whether I win my case or not.”

He also writes that, “Under a no admission of liability clause, each party agrees that this is a compromise settlement without any admission of liability, mistake, wrongdoing, fault or error by any party.”

A response posted Sunday morning from Leahy says that Martin failed to provide documented proof of residency, and that he did not appear for a scheduled deposition. Leahy said the fees cited by Martin were related to court sanctions forcing Martin to comply with the required deposition and document production.

Leahy added that, “In consideration of [Martin’s] irrevocable resignation from the council, my attorney will file a motion of dismissal with prejudice terminating my quo-warranto suit against Martin. The Attorney General’s office has no objection to this agreement, so both mine and Mr. Martin’s legal issues should be settled,” wrote Leahy.

“Mr. Martin insists he is not admitting guilt in the matter and that is fine by me so long as he is off the city council and does not attempt to regain a seat for city office until such a time as he actually resides here and not out in the county.”

Martin includes in his resignation letter his opposition to the placement of a casino in Ridgecrest. “As you know, it is the main reason I ran in 2016,” says the letter. “Council eventually voted 5-0 to terminate the land sale agreement.”

Leahy, during his campaign, was equally vocal about his support of the casino.

Last week, casino developer Nigel White announced before the membership of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce that “the casino will break ground in 2020.”

So far, city officials have not commented on White’s claim. However, the 5-0 vote cast in 2018 that effectively cancelled the agreement between the city and Timbisha Shoshone Tribe was the result of a failure by casino promoters to deposit the necessary funds for purchase into the escrow account before the two-year expiration.

City Attorney Keith Lemieux said that the council has two options for filling the vacancy left by Martin.

The most common course of action, he said, is for the remaining four members to come to a consensus (three or more votes) on an appointment to the seat. Originally, Lemieux recalled that counties could weigh in to break a deadlock. However, after those comments were challenged by Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens, he reflected that he was recalling the slightly different rules regarding special districts, not municipalities.

The other option before the council is to approve a special election. That can also be complicated, said Lemieux, since the cost of such an election is $100,000 or more to municipalities. There are also laws governing the timing of such elections, he said, although he could not cite the parameters without first researching them.

“The best thing, in my opinion, would be for the city to appoint,” said Lemieux. “It is the most affordable option, but also the longer the seat sits empty, the more difficult it can be for a 4-person board to come to consensus on the issues.”

The council’s next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall. Because the agenda has already posted, the council cannot take action on an item that has not been publicly posted the required 72 hours in advance. However, City Manager Ron Strand said that he expects that the council will add an emergency “as arose” item that will allow them to accept Martin’s resignation.

Story First Published: 2019-11-18