Dispute over Contested Ballots Continues in Vernon; Business Support Wavers?

Ever since the June 5 election, results in the city of Vernon have been in limbo and while the electoral outcome is finally a little more clear, the mess over contested ballots isn’t going away anytime soon for both April and June results. With just 75 registered voters, every ballot counts, and now that 10 contested votes have been tallied, Reno Bellamy is in the lead over Luz Martinez and has been declared the winner by a vote of 34-30. All along those 10 ballots have been challenged by the Chamber of Commerce, which backed candidate Luz Martinez. The Chamber has questioned the residency status of voters but the County Registrar-Recorder’s office concluded there was not enough evidence to throw out the ballots.

During the April 5th election, the city of Vernon ran the election and accepted the Chamber’s challenges on residency for several ballots, which led to Michael Ybarra winning the election (a chamber-backed candidate) against Daniel Newmire. However, the June election was run by the county and it ultimately denied many of the same challenges that were accepted by the city in the April 5 city council election. The Chamber of Commerce is threatening legal action and Daniel Newmire has already filed a challenge over the allegation that he was denied a recount.

The Chamber has gone so far as to hire a private investigator to determine whether some voters are legal residents of the city. The investigator found that many voters were actually residents of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and two live in Arizona.

The LA Weekly reports that “The Chamber has since been working with friendly Vernon council members to try to establish a procedure to formally contest the ballots at City Hall. This week, the council attempted to hold an emergency meeting to set up a procedure to contest the election results. But Councilman Rick Maisano -- an ally of Bellamy's -- did not attend the meeting. The meeting was canceled due to lack of a quorum. [...] Fred Woocher, the attorney for the Chamber, stated, ‘I think we're still on track,’ Woocher said. ‘They've recognized they have the obligation to hold a contest. We're hopeful the lack of a quorum was a glitch.’”

In the end, allegations of fraud continue to mire the results, thereby hampering the city’s efforts to repair its reputation amidst the attacks on its cityhood from Sacramento last year. Questions about Vernon’s ability to reform from within are likely to stick with such messy electoral outcomes for a city with fewer than a 100 residents.

Speaking of Vernon, the LA Times reports that the city is running into trouble with some of its businesses and that its business-friendly reputation is under threat because the city “has moved to raise taxes and has jacked up its electricity rates by about 40% in recent years, bringing them much closer to what utilities across the region charge.” Local businesses are threatening to move their operations and bad investments have cost the city millions, which has upset businesses that defended the city from disincorporation. Read more here.

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