How to Avoid a Total Recall

So, this has nothing to do with Heath Ledger's overdose, but it's news that broke today and we've been with this story for a while now, so what the hell.

Last September we spent some time with the CUSD Recall Committee, a feisty, frustrated group of parents and South County residents who pledged to collect enough signatures (read: 60,000) to recall two long-serving trustees on the beleaguered Capistrano Unified School District board. They've done it, they announced today. But they're hoping the two trustees will avoid the recall election by resigning. Soon. By next week.

After five months of signature gathering, the group announced today that they'll be submitting more than 32,000 signatures per trustee within the next week to the Registrar of Voters. "Our message today is resign or face certain recall," Recall Committee member and Rancho Santa Margarita city councilmember, Tony Beall told a group of television, radio and print reporters. Eight boxes containing a bulk of the 60,000 signatures were stacked high around Beall in front of the district headquarters in San Juan Capistrano.

The thing won't be cheap and that's why the group is pleading for the trustees to resign. Once the signatures are submitted, the whole process of counting them and holding the special election will cost the district approximately $400,000. Last time the prospect of a recall loomed over the district, back in 2005, trustee Marlene Draper asked then superintendent James Fleming to prepare a memo showing what $400,000 could go towards within the district. "Today we are asking you to read your own memo," said Beall, who, along with the group, say the district will be spared the costs if Draper and Benecke resign.

The old memo, which Beall distributed, lists 300 laptop computers, music programs at all elementary schools, thirteen computer labs and five golden rings among other $400,000 treats (minus the rings) the district could conceivably buy instead of paying for the election.

Back in 2005 this same group attempted to recall all seven members of the board. This was then the board that hired ex-superintendent James Fleming, who was indicted last year for allegedly using about a million dollars in district money to make lists of all the parents, and their kids, who were involved in the recall effort. It's a messy little story.

The 2005 recall election never occurred because the OC Registrar invalidated thousands of signatures. Late last year, the recall group decided to focus on recalling two trustees, Marlene Draper and Sheila Benecke, who the group believes have committed the most egregious violations against the district, including green-lighting the building of a multi-million dollar administration building without questioning where the funds were coming from (the district later admitted its 'omission' of various city special tax funds which were used for the building) and their violations of open meeting laws (confirmed by an OC DA investigation in October). The group has also called out the trustees for their support of proposals to spend millions more on the $140 million San Juan Hills High School, despite the fact that the district is down to its minimum reserves. And is alleging additional Brown Act violations committed within the last month. "This is a district in crisis," said Beall.

Both Benecke and Draper have said repeatedly that they won't resign. Draper has said she won't run again during the scheduled election in November. They have been asked to resign by three newly elected members of the school board, as well as several south County public officials, and the Republican Central Committee.

Asked if the parent group was trying to take over the school district, chair Mike Winsten said the group welcomed all candidates during the 2006 elections, and was completely non-partisan. To ensure their signatures would not be thrown out again, the group purchased software from the Registrar to essentially pre-validate every single signature turned in. The group says they will wait until noon Friday the 25th, for the Benecke and Draper's resignations. "We're asking in the most sincere of ways...resign your positions now," said Beall.


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