County Attorney Says Some Recall Petitions Invalid

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Chief Deputy Gila County Attorney Bryan Chambers has rendered an opinion that some signatures on Payson School Board recall petitions are not valid.

Chambers' opinion is in response to a question from Gila County School Superintendent Linda O'Dell and County Recorder Linda Haught-Ortega about whether the signatures, which were actually double-notarized, were legal.

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Angela Lyons

Angela and Dave Lyons and their supporters, who are attempting to unseat Payson Unified School District board members Michael Horton and Charles Brown, collected the recall petitions.

The invalid signatures are actually on Horton's recall petition, but a vote of either school board candidate will not be held in November as the recall group had hoped

In Chambers' legal opinion to Haught-Ortega and O'Dell, he wrote, "to have made the November election, the superintendent would have had to call (for) the election (by) August 8, 2006. The circulators did not even file their recall petitions until August 9, 2006."

Last July, when Angela Lyons began the drive to secure the recall signatures, she said county officials told her the deadline to turn in the 1,078 signatures needed was Aug. 8.

The mix-up over when the petitions needed to be field to have the recall in November might stem from a misunderstanding over how much time Haught-Ortega had to certify the petition signatures.

Originally, it was believed she had 10 days, but Arizona Revised Statutes state it is actually 60 days.

"I apologize. I did give the number (10) at the onset of this action as 10 is the usual amount of time that we deal with," Haught-Ortega said.

In Chambers' ruling that some of the Horton recall petition signatures were invalid, he wrote, that some petitions "contained a second notary stamp and date which happened to be after the last date signature on the face of the petition."

Chambers, Haught-Ortega and O'Dell said they believe what occurred was that some circulators signed the petitions and had them notarized before the voter signatures were obtained.

That would have violated state statutes that require each circulator to swear "each of the names on the sheet was signed in his presence on the date indicated."

Chambers said, "It appears that the circulator must have discovered his error and attempted to correct it by getting a notary to re-notarize the already notarized signatures with a new date that was after the dates of the signatures."

Haught-Ortega, who was the one who discovered the double notarization, said, "that's more than a little irregular."

Midway through the recall effort, Lyons said she was trying to follow the directions of county officials when she collected the signatures and turned them in.

Lyons was not available for further comment.

In a sidebar of Chambers' opinion, he also said he received an e-mail from a circulator who said they believed they were following the advice of various county employees in collecting and filing the recall petitions.

Chambers' response to the county school superintendent and others was, "no county office has the statutory responsibility to advise members of the public on how to successfully file recall petitions against elected officials."

He also said, "county officials do not have the authority to waive statutory requirements just because circulators have made a good faith effort to comply."

Although there will not be a recall in November, one could be held in March, which, by law is the next consolidated election date.

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