Last week’s announcement by San Francisco public relations firm Public Good PR, that “a broad group of 25 long-time residents and community leaders” intends to launch a recall campaign against St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith is dismaying to us and, we believe, to the vast majority of city residents.
No one doubts St. Helena faces a number of problems — housing, traffic, infrastructure repair, water resources, empty storefronts on Main Street, thorny land use choices and on and on. Will an expensive, divisive, ill-timed and ill-conceived recall campaign against our city’s mayor help us deal with those problems? Of course not. This effort is a non-starter.
We urge voters of this city to respond with a firm “No, thank you” if asked to sign a petition in favor of recall. We should be seeking remedies that unite, not divide.
In that vein, if you are undecided about such a recall, we encourage you to investigate, ask questions of the petition-seekers before you sign, not after. If this group does get 835 signatures, it will by law send this city down the difficult and, we believe, counterproductive road of a recall campaign.
Instead we renew our call to the City Council — and the mayor in particular — to initiate monthly town hall meetings free from the constraining and frustrating protocols of council meetings where people can feel confident their concerns are being heard.
A recall election is intended as radical surgery of last resort to remove an official guilty of malfeasance, dereliction of duty or other serious offenses when all other acceptable civil remedies of civil discourse have been tried and exhausted. Even if the charges leveled against Galbraith were to have credibility – and we think they do not – the reasons cited for this misguided effort come up woefully short of justifying this drastic step.
These, so far mostly anonymous, individuals – they declined to meet with our editorial board or speak to a news reporter about their effort — seem to be aiming the recall for the June primary ballot next year, which is the next regularly scheduled election. According to Napa County Registrar of Voters, the cost for the recall initiative would be $7,000 to $10,000, while a special election is expected to cost between $20,000 to $30,000.
With Galbraith up for reelection in November 2018, the obvious question is why not focus on campaigning for a new mayoral candidate a few months later? If, as one of the proponents says, Galbraith “is not representing the people he was elected to serve,” the people will have a chance to replace him within a few months of the proposed recall.
The recall proponents’ statements argue that, because Galbraith cites state law on water use privacy issues, and believes development of a hotel might help the city financially, he is “pushing the agenda of special interest groups.” They say he has “shut down” opposing views at public meetings. One wonders how, given the mayor is only one of five city councilmembers who hear public input. Is their dissatisfaction procedural, with the process of government? Or do they simply not like the results?
Development, recall proponents argue, would place additional strain on the city’s aging infrastructure, including water and wastewater systems. Galbraith’s point is that revenue from a new hotel or other development is essential to rebuilding and maintaining those systems, a point that, to many citizens’ viewpoints, seems well taken. That is an issue for debate, not a reason for recall.
And that is the most damning indictment of this proposed recall, that it does nothing to address the community’s daunting problems of housing, infrastructure, and a precarious financial situation, among others. Quite the opposite; it willfully ignores them while sowing dissension and division.
Given these glaring shortcomings with arguments in favor of recall, and the inherently bitter and divisive nature of a recall election, this effort seems to be a personal attack, not a genuine attempt to advance public good.
This board is unanimous in its agreement: Removing Galbraith from office for the last five months of his term is not a solution for any of the city’s problems. It’s just a way to avoid facing them.