The recall election date for Hanford City Council member Francisco Ramirez has been set for January 23, 2018.
Ramirez was elected in District D in November, 2014.
Hanford City Clerk Jennifer Gomez received the recall petition on August 21 with 1,062 signatures. The recall group needed 853. After verifying 864 signatures she presented the petition to the Hanford City Council on September 19.
The council had between 88 and 125 days to set the election date and opted to wait longer rather than earlier. The council wanted to give potential replacement candidates time to campaign in the event Ramirez was recalled, and they were concerned about holding an election during the holiday season.
Gomez informed the council that there will be at least one precinct polling station in District D and absentee ballot voting for those who are registered to vote by mail.
Hanford resident Skip Athey served Ramirez the recall papers at the May 16 city council meeting. His reasons were the following:
“Hanford Councilman Francisco Ramirez has a long history of supporting his interest over the interests of the community. His corruption and disregard for the law has helped create a culture of mistrust within the community of Hanford culminating in numerous investigations.”
Athey said that Ramirez “knowingly and willfully violated the Campaign Finance requirements by failing to open and maintain a campaign checking account.”
He added that the Kings County Grand Jury found the campaign finance accusations to be true in addition to Ramirez misleading “voters by stating he graduated in 1999 with both a Bachelors and Masters degree.”
Ramirez is steadfast in the defense of his job as council member, “You’d be surprised how many people come up to me at the Hanford Market to give me their support, at least 40 every week.”
What Happens if Ramirez is Recalled?
Voters will face two questions at the ballot box. The first question will be whether or not they want to recall Ramirez. The second question will be with whom the voter wants to replace Ramirez if he were to be recalled.
If the first question passes with 50 percent plus one, the replacement candidate with the highest number of votes will win the election. The new council member would be sworn at the next council meeting after the results are certified.
Any resident in District D wishing to run can file nomination papers from October 4 through November 9.
It is rumored that former city council member Lou Martinez will be pulling papers to run for Ramirez seat. Martinez filed the recall papers with the city clerk and has been active at the city council meeting for the last several months.
Ramirez beat incumbent Martinez in 2014.
Cost of a Special Election
Athey has encouraged Ramirez to voluntarily step down from his council seat to save the city money.
Recall proponents, on the other hand, could have chosen to field a candidate in the November 2018 election when Ramirez is up for re-election.
If the recall effort is successful, Hanford tax payers will have paid approximately $30,000 to unseat Ramirez nine months early.
Gang of Five
The efforts to oust Ramirez started in the summer of 2015.
During the August 4, 2015 city council meeting, Ramirez was one of three council members who voted to allow movie theaters to operate outside of the downtown area. The vote allowed theaters to open their doors in the commercial zones near 12th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard.
Previous to the vote, theaters could only locate in downtown with the exception of a movie theater in the Hanford Mall.
Retribution for Ramirez’ vote came swiftly.
During the next council meeting, August 18, Mayor Russ Curry asked to read into the record several letters he had received from “constituents.” The letters claimed that Ramirez failed to report campaign contributions during his 2014 run for office, as well as questions about Ramirez’s educational background.
The letters were later proven to be fictitious.
The incident led to Curry narrowly avoiding having to step down as mayor after profusely apologizing to the other city council members and Hanford’s residents.
Pannett was outraged by Curry’s character assassination of Ramirez and offered to speak to the Kings County Grand Jury, the District Attorney’s Office or local law enforcement to “tell what I know.”
“What I am seeing now is more vicious attacks,” Pannett told the Sentinel. “If you don’t vote one way, you’re going to get wiped out the next day,”
“There are certain individuals that are throwing these allegations at me just because I’m not allowing them to pull my strings and be their puppet,” Ramirez said, responding to the letters.
According to Ramirez there are five individuals that are the backbone of the recall. Those individuals, he claims, are Lou Martinez, Skip Athey, Dan Escobar, Bob Ramos and Dan Chin. All have been involved in filing complaints, writing letters and speaking against Ramirez at the city council meetings.
Ironically, four of these people helped get Ramirez elected.
Immediately after the movie theater vote, Escobar filed a Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) complaint against Ramirez. Simultaneously, an allegedly different member of the group of five filed a complaint with the Kings County Grand Jury.
Among many other accusations in his FPPC complaint, Escobar accused Ramirez of raising $3000 for his city council campaign without reporting it. All candidates are required to open a campaign bank account and create a campaign committee if they raise more than $1000.
On August 15, 2015 the Fair Political Practices Commission sent Ramirez a letter saying, “The enforcement division of the fair Political Commission has initiated an investigation into whether you violated the Political Reform Act’s campaign disclosure provisions in connection with your 2014 Hanford City Council election.”
According to Jay Wierenga, FPPC Communications Director, the investigation is ongoing even after two years. Although most cases are concluded within 180 days, he would not disclose why Ramirez’ investigation was taking so long.
Ramirez says that Dan Chin and Dan Escobar were his campaign managers and set him up.
In a video posted on Facebook and the website hanfordlies.com, Ramirez details his claim that Chin and Escobar filed faulty campaign finance paperwork, stating that Ramirez raised less than $1000. Ramirez alleges that Chin and Escobar apparently raised much more campaign money than they told him.
According to Ramirez, Chin and Escobar prepared the fraudulent paperwork not reporting the $3000 and had Ramirez sign it.
Both Chin and Escobar deny being part of Ramirez’ campaign.
Over the last 18 months, along with the FPPC investigation, a string of letters, an investigation by Griswold-LaSalle, and another grand jury complaint in November 2016 against Ramirez have been filed or submitted to the city council. Most have demanded the censure and/or resignation of Ramirez.
The February 2016 investigation of Council Member Justin Mendes and Ramirez by Griswold-LaSalle and commissioned by Curry found no misconduct by either member.
That investigation costs the city $11,000.
Ramirez Campaign Has Started
Ramirez posted a video on his Facebook after the recall was certified countering the allegations against him and has vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to keep his seat.
Former city council member Gary Pannett has joined the fight as Ramirez’ campaign manager.
“I have seen the corruption first hand and I want to help you take it down,” Pannett told Ramirez.
Ramirez said after being served, “Thank you to all the citizens who support me. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t keep doing what I do. There are some individuals that don’t even live in our district that want me out of office because I’m not a part of the good old boys club. When you elected me I promised to change things and not be part of the status quo.”
Besides the anger over Ramirez votes concerning downtown, he also believes there is a racial component. He stated on his Facebook:
“Enough is enough! I have tried not to make this a race issue, a rich or poor issue or a religious issue, but the people that are doing this recall are simply racist! They don’t like my district because they think my district is poor and uneducated. They have called the Caucasians the African Americans and the Hispanics in my district lower class. These individuals have had so much power in Hanford for so long. That’s why there hadn’t been any new development on the south side because ‘they don’t want it.’”
Ramirez says that the fact he fights for development on the poorer south side angers his recall proponents. He said the southside doesn’t get the attention it deserves and he has been trying to change that.
“There has been nearly no development here in the last 25 years.”
Ramirez is also incredulous about how the recall proponents recruited 1062 signatures in District D. In 2014, a total of 1029 people voted in that district, 33 less than who signed the recall petition, 586 of whom cast a ballot for Ramirez.
I have no idea who the 1062 signatories are,” he said.
“Where did they come from?”