The recent push for a recall law was triggered by the outraged residents and property owners of Brigham City’s reacting to Mayor Dennis Fife’s decision to remain in office after admitting to council members and the public that he had committed adultery.
A majority of the council asked him to resign. When the news of the affair became public, the typical “for” and “against” opinions for his remaining in office followed. Many “against” were outraged and felt powerless in throwing the mayor out of office and appealed to our Utah State representative, Lee Perry, for some positive action at the state legislature level. Mr. Perry responded with the idea of having a recall law in Utah.
Our state law, part of the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure, states that all officers of any city shall be subject to removal for high crimes and misdemeanors or malfeasance in office. Wording is about the same as for the president of the United States and it requires a long and laborious political/judicial process to achieve results.
A criminal act constitutes malfeasance. But here again, laws which define a criminal act vary. For example, adultery is a criminal offense in 23 states. In Utah it is a class B misdemeanor punishable by 0-6months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. In Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oklahoma and Massachusetts it is a felony with a far stiffer punishment. But the law is rarely enforced.
So that brings us to the recall debate. Is a law needed? Absolutely. Impeachment is a long, legal approach. Recall gives the people the power to remove an official for a specific reason by an election, much like a no-confidence vote in countries having a parliamentary form of government. Recall elections allow the people to correct big mistakes performed by their elected officials. In Idaho the number of citizen petitions required for a recall election is 20 percent within a 60-day circulation period.
Remember how Utah’s bad law, HB477, a bill that would have restricted public access to government records was repealed within two weeks because of a huge public outcry? The same thing applies for bad public officials. A recall election allows for immediate action when the people know that leaving a rogue official in public office can result in more damage.
Just the threat of having the recall law has the power of keeping officials in line so that they recognize the consequence of not resigning quickly if they misbehave.
Perhaps the most visible recall episode that gained a lot of publicity was in July 2010 when citizens of the city of Bell, California found that several of their city officials were paying themselves huge salaries. Voters overwhelmingly voted them out shortly thereafter.
In the recent June 2012 Wisconsin recall election caused by public officials who limited employees collective bargaining status, four senators held on to their seats (and were vindicated) while two were defeated. One of the defeated senators had left his wife and moved in with his lover in another district. For the public, it was a quick parting of the ways rather than waiting for the next election.
What Lee Perry is trying to achieve is not something to remove Dennis Fife from office. He is looking at the entire recall subject to formulate a law based on what other states have done. The grounds for recall vary between states but are really very similar: malfeasance; drunkenness; gross partiality; adultery; physical or mental lack of fitness; violation of code of ethics for city officials; misconduct in office; misappropriation of property or public funds; incompetence; failure to perform the duties of the office, etc. are typically cited. Many of these are not criminal acts.
An excellent and comprehensive discussion on the recall of state officials can be found on two websites: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Laws_governing_recall and www.ncsl.org (National Conference of State Legislatures). In them one can find information on which states have recall laws (38); the history of recall; list of recall elections (and history shows that they have not been overused); pros and cons of a recall; grounds for recall, and the recall process.
We the public need to support Lee Perry. What Idaho has done is very applicable to Utah because of the very close socio-economic demographics. Mr. Perry does not need to reinvent the wheel but to to take the best parts of the recall laws from our neighboring states of Idaho and Colorado and formulate one for Utah. And I believe he is doing that.
Kulkarni lives in Perry.