Citizens threaten Loomis mayor with recall, Wheeler will take council seat

By: Laura O’Brien, Loomis News Correspondent
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An action and discussion item on the town council meeting agenda on Tuesday drew a crowd of 100 and threats of recall for two council members.

Mayor Sandra Calvert, who supported Gary Liss in his failed attempt to get re-elected to the council, had included on the Nov. 13 council agenda an item for discussion and action on the recent election.

She said Town Council needed to explore possibilities for filling a vacant council seat if newly elected councilman Dave Wheeler chose not to be seated. Calvert and a number of Liss supporters believe Wheeler’s fire chief position is incompatible with serving on the council.

Residents attending the meeting threatened both Calvert and Councilman Walt Scherer with recall if they attempted to use town money to seek an attorney general opinion on the issue of incompatibility.

At the commencement of public discussion, Wheeler affirmed his commitment to take his council seat. 

“Dave Wheeler will serve on the town council,” he said.  “I will be seated next month.” 

Audience member Ron Kester and others said Calvert’s agenda item implied a disregard for the will of the people as expressed in the voting booth. 

“There’s another potential vote that the electorate has and I’ll be the first one to donate money to it and that’s a recall election,” Kester said, to loud applause and cheers from the audience.

Calvert banged her gavel, briefly halted the meeting and demanded audience members refrain from similar outbursts, her third such request of the night.

More than 20 people spoke during public comment, with the large majority in support of Wheeler.

Residents decried a Nov. 10 open letter to Wheeler circulated through email by Liss supporter Bill Branch and signed by Marilyn Jasper, a retiree who serves on the executive committee of the Motherlode Chapter of Sierra Club and donated to Liss’ campaign. The letter, under the heading of “Public Interest Coalition” sites the group’s interpretation of state law regarding incompatible offices. 

The 7-page letter state’s the group’s belief that Wheeler is not entitled to “simultaneously serve in both jobs at the same time” and warns Wheeler that the group plans to file a formal complaint with the attorney general as soon as Wheeler is sworn in.

“We believe that you, as an honorable man who loves your town and who has devoted your life to enforcing the law (fire codes), will want to do the honorable thing and avoid a violation,” the letter states. 

Wheeler has said he does not believe there is a conflict with continuing as fire chief and serving on town council. 

John Shearer, president of the Loomis Fire Protection District board of directors, explained the board’s support for the fire chief during the council meeting.

“Our position is that Dave Wheeler is merely an employee of the district.  He does not hold a public office and we see absolutely no reason why he can’t be seated on this council.  The notion that he shouldn’t be is, in our opinion, absurd.”

Town treasurer Roger Carroll said the October bill for the town attorney includes a $816.50 charge for 2.8 hours of work on “Loomis Fire Protection District – incompatible office research.”

Spending town money on the incompatibility issue galled more than a handful of audience members. 

“If a small number of members of this community wish to spend their own money to try and get a ruling from the attorney general, so be it, but not with any of my tax dollars,” said town resident Linda Kelly. 

Should Wheeler decide not to serve as a council member, as Branch and other Liss supporters had been urging him to do, council either could hold a special election or appoint a person on an interim basis until a special election could be held, according to Town Attorney Jeffrey Mitchell.

Liss clarified his position on the matter.

“I am not interested in gaining my seat on the council,” he said.  “If a vacancy on the council arose due to this issue I am not interested in being appointed to fill such vacancy on a temporary basis nor running for a seat in a special election and I would decline a position if offered to me.”

As the high vote getter in the election, Wheeler will become the town’s mayor at the end of 2013, after current Vice Mayor Walt Scherer assumes those duties for a one-year term starting next month.

Wheeler is slated to be seated at the Dec. 11 council meeting and Rhonda Morillas will remain in her seat as the No. 2 vote-getter.