Diedre Cole doesn’t think the city can wait until November for change.
On Thursday, Cole and a small committee of other politically-active residents announced they are taking steps toward initiating a recall of ex officio mayor Craig Stahl.
In a short news release, the committee cited issues related to the Marina District, coal tar plume, fired police Chief Kim Nuesse, Yacht Club and budget as some of the motives for the recall effort.
The city can no longer endure “a pattern of special-interest politics that only benefits the few, while the interests of most of the city’s residents are ignored,” Cole said Thursday afternoon.
Since Stahl is the ex-officio mayor, she said it’s his responsibility to ensure the government runs smoothly and is accountable to the residents of Sandusky.
Cole said the committee doesn’t want a recall election, which would “unnecessarily burden the taxpayers.” They’d prefer that Stahl and the commission just listen to residents’ wishes.
But the committee has started taking steps to initiate a recall, and plans to examine Stahl’s entire commission record in the coming days.
She said studying his record will also give the committee “the framework to look at all the commissioners.” At this point, the other committee members wish to remain anonymous, she said.
If they choose to go forward with the recall, they will fulfill the requirements quickly, so the recall election can happen well before the November elections.
Stahl’s term ends at the end of 2009, but he could potentially run again even if recalled.
For his part, Stahl said he was “baffled” by the news.
“If you don’t like me, just don’t vote for me,” he said. “No one has cared more for this city than me.”
He said his family is also dedicated to the area.
“We’ve had opportunities to leave, but my family has always decided to keep their business on Hancock Street,” Stahl said. “We do not regret that decision. It’s our home.”
At this week’s city commission meeting, Cole and Stahl exchanged words about Hancock Street, but Cole said that wasn’t the reason for the recall.
In fact, talk of a potential recall for a number of commissioners has been going on for months among some politically-active residents.
Last August, Jason Brake, who owns Northwest Transportation Services, discussed a recall for all seven commissioners, but Deborah McDowell, director of the Erie County Board of Elections, said the petition never reached her office.
Cole said she had “to turn people away” from her committee because of overwhelming support for the idea.
“Ever since we first started considering this proposition, my phone’s been ringing off the hook,” Cole said, adding residents wanted to know “where to sign up.” “That’s really sad. That’s a sad commentary on our current city government.”
McDowell said a recall election hasn’t occurred since September 1989.
That year residents tried to recall city commissioner Bruce Allen, who narrowly escaped recall by 88 votes.
But McDowell said a lot of steps must occur before a recall election. A petition must first be circulated to collect 725 valid signatures from residents, which is 10 percent of the number of voters in the last municipal election.
The petitioners must then submit that petition and a 200-word document explaining the reasons for the recall to city finance director Ed Widman, who will certify the signatures. Stahl, and whoever else is the target of the recall, then has five days to submit a 200-word rebuttal.
Both documents will be displayed at the fire station and finance director’s office for 30 days, and if petition signers like Stahl’s argument, they can remove their name from the petition.
If the document still has 725 signatures after those 30 days, the Erie County Board of Elections will certify the documents and have an election.
This isn’t the first time Cole, a local business owner, has expressed disappointment with the city’s leadership.
She drew some attention last month when she read a fiery speech at the city commission that criticized their leadership. Here are excerpts from that speech:
“I have spoken with and listened to many, many people over the past several months about city government and one common note rings from the majority. We are ashamed, embarrassed, offended, disgusted and fed up with the management of Sandusky. To be a leader, you first must know how to follow — follow the will of the people. True leaders own up to and fix their mistakes and move forward in a positive direction. We believe our faith and trust has been betrayed by city commissioners and by the city manager. We will not support those of you who consistently berate, belittle and pass the buck to shield your own incompetence. This is not high school. Our nation and our city is in crisis. If you cannot contribute to solving problems, but constantly create them, please resign. We need leaders that are not reactive but proactive. Thank you.”