A group of citizens within the Oakdale Irrigation District will see their effort to recall Board Member Linda Santos move forward after attempts to halt the recall in the face of voter fraud charges failed to muster more than a cursory investigation by the Oakdale Police Department.
According to police reports, Santos supporter Robert Frobose and OID member Gail Altieri – who was elected at the same time as Santos – filed a report with the Oakdale Police Department stating that Frobose suggested that petitioners who circulated petitions for the recall effort had misrepresented themselves and the issues in order to prompt Oakdale residents into signing the petition. According to the police report, Frobose stated that when signatures were being solicited for the petition, he heard from others listed on the complaint that petitioners were verbally telling those being solicited that “the petition was to prevent water from being shipped from northern California to southern California.” Officers with the Oakdale Police could not initially conclude that a crime had been committed, and forwarded the report to detectives for further investigation.
Police detective Don Stilwell reviewed the case “several times” and concluded that the police department was “unable to charge anyone with a violation of the Election Code 18600” because a suspect could not be identified. According to Stilwell’s summation “there were several descriptions of people” provided by the reporting party’s private investigator’s report, however none of these were specific enough … to be located for interview or possible criminal complaint. According to OID General Manager, Steve Knell the criminal complaint was not confirmed and therefore will not be considered in regard to the recall effort.
“When you consider the number of people who (feel they) are not being fairly represented in Ms. Santos’ district it’s understandable that a recall effort would be initiated,” Knell said.
He explained that the majority of the complications surrounding the OID likely could be answered with a healthy dose of public education.
“If people knew how important water is to the majority of our customers, who are farmers, and could come to understand what a terrific resource water is to the residents of Oakdale, it would really make the mission of the district much more manageable,” Knell said.
Among some of the issues facing the Oakdale Irrigation District is an ongoing effort to redistrict their operational area to more evenly disburse the responsibilities of water management by the members of the Board of Directors. Redistricting, the GM admitted, is an issue that has, over the past few years, become a bit of an embarrassment.
When the board failed to complete a redistricting after the 2000 census, and then again failed to reassign districts after the 2010 census, the Stanislaus County Grand Jury got involved.
“It was just one of those things that got placed on the back burner by the members of the board,” Knell explained.
In addition to the special election to recall Santos, the board is scheduled to offer three options to the board for redistricting. Board members are required to live in the districts they serve; the option selected for redistricting may have at least one Director – Gary Osmundson – looking at a potential move so he can continue to serve.
The issues facing the OID expanded when, in 2015, two incumbent board members were ousted as Santos and Altieri were elected.
“When you look at the number of people who voted in that election compared to the number of people represented in those districts you can see a big disparity,” Knell explained.
Even though the women rightfully won their seats, Knell said they still have to fairly and completely serve their constituents.
Some of the complexity of the problem also involves whether or not Osmundson should or should not vote in the redistricting effort, as the OID continues to grapple with resolving that issue.
Meanwhile, voters will still head to the polls Tuesday, April 25 to decide if Linda Santos will keep her seat. The County Voter Information Guide should be arriving in the homes of those eligible voters soon for the Recall Election.
Voters in the Division 4 District represented by Santos will have the chance to vote in the recall election. OID Division 4 has a total of 1,831 registered voters, of which 1,247 are permanent vote by mail voters and 18 are all-mail precinct voters.
Stanislaus County Clerk Recorder and Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan said both Permanent Vote by Mail and All-Mail Precinct ballots were scheduled to be mailed to voters starting on Tuesday, March 28. Registration may continue until 15 days before the election, so registrations will be accepted through Monday, April 10.