Elections

To recall or not to recall: that's the question for some voters this year

Recall elections can happen in any community at any time when enough citizens sign petitions to be able to vote on an elected official or issue a second time.
Recall elections can happen in any community at any time when enough citizens sign petitions to be able to vote on an elected official or issue a second time. smartcampaigns.com

Some voters this year may have a sense of deja vu

Kennedale voters, for instance, will on May 5 see the names of two women they just last year elected to the City Council. But this time, they'll decide whether to remove them from office.

Keller voters, meanwhile, will see on the ballot the same economic development agreement their city council approved last year. But they'll have to decide whether to keep in place that agreement geared to help a racquet and lawn club — or overturn it.

And later this year, in November, Plano voters will see on their ballots the name of a city council member who is not yet up for re-election. They will have to decide whether to recall that official who is under fire for sharing a post about banning Islam in schools on social media.

These are among the the recall elections being held across the country, giving voters a second chance to weigh in on whether they — or the officials they elected — made the right decision the first time they voted.

Early voting begins on April 23 for the local elections, which include a load of council, school board and bond elections.

To some, the recall elections show that people are paying attention.

“This is clearly a function of a more active electorate,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, who heads the political science department at the University of North Texas in Denton. "I think groups of voters recognize that if they organize, they have the power to recall members who are not responsive to their concerns."

This isn't something voters often see.

To recall the election of an official, or a decision made by officials, residents have to submit a recall request and get signatures of hundreds or thousands of residents who agree with the request.

"In some communities, if there is political upheaval from one issue or officeholder, it can envelop others as well," said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at UTA. "Local politics makes everything closer."

Kennedale: 'It's been a battle'

On the May 5 ballot, Kennedale voters will decide whether to recall council members Sandra Lee and Jan Joplin, who were elected last May along with Rockie Gilley.

All three ousted incumbents.

Also on the ballot is Joplin's challenge to incumbent Mayor Brian Johnson.

Lee, Joplin and Gilley all ran for office, among other reasons, because they were frustrated with spiking costs in water and sewer rates and wanted more transparency in their local government.

"Once we got in, we naively thought that we'd be able to move forward and get some things done," Joplin said.

But within months of being sworn in, as Lee and Joplin became more vocal, talk of a recall election began.

"It has been a battle," Lee said. "From the day we were sworn in, their plan was to block any and everything we tried to accomplish."

Lee said she and Joplin expressed concerns about issues ranging from city payments to a waste management company and the potential wrongful co-mingling of city funds.

"Jan and I were uncovering unethical practices," she said. "The old regime had a master plan and our election has put a halt to their plans."

Critics paint a different picture of the newly elected council members not working well with other elected officials and city workers — and not being fiscally responsible.

Complaints against them include violating the city charter by assigning work to department heads rather than requesting the work from the city manager, as well as threatening city workers and removing non-supporters from advisory boards. Concerns also include that Lee and Joplin, along with supporters, filed hundreds of open records requests seeking various information from the city.

"I believe our citizens are ready for this insanity to stop," said Michael Walker, who helped lead this recall effort. "We want responsible individuals to be elected who will spend more time planning for the future than engaging in 'witch hunts' over past decisions."

Walker said the decision on whether to have a recall election was "hotly debated."

"We have never had a recall election in Kennedale and know that having one increases the likelihood of having another in the future and increases the likelihood of long-term bitterness in our community," he said. "However, the risk of harm if our city continued in the direction it was headed was simply too great, hence we decided to recall."

Keller: Tennis, anyone?

On May 5, voters in this northern Tarrant County suburb will weigh in on a controversial economic development agreement with The Birch Racquet and Lawn Club.

Last year, city leaders signed off on a plan to give more than $380,000 in economic development incentives — property tax rebates, waived development fees and a commitment to build part of the sewer and drainage infrastructure — to the private tennis club.

A group of residents, the Johnson Road Coalition, has opposed the development and even last year filed a lawsuit trying to stop it, saying it would hurt property values and hike noise and traffic in the area.

The club would be located on 27 acres of land once known as Newton’s Rocky Top Ranch at Keller-Smithfiel and Johnson roads. It would include a tennis club, 10 indoor courts, 25 outdoor courts, a clubhouse, single family homes, dormitories and a golf practice area, according to city documents.

After city leaders last year approved economic development incentives for the club, opponents collected enough signatures on a petition to force the incentive package onto the ballot.

For the May 2018 Tarrant County primary runoff races, voters will be given a ballot with either Republican or Democratic candidates. Here are all of the races and candidates on both ballots.

“The sentiment among people is strong that economic development funds shouldn’t be used for this facility,” Brian Campbell, who is leading the fight against the development, has said. “This is a membership club with dues and initiation fees. (Club officials are) taking advantage of corporate welfare that the city has provided for him and the community as voters do not want their money spent that way.”

Even if the recall proposal is successful, the project will continue, according to city staff.

"The development has already broken ground and begun construction," said Rachel Reynolds, public information officer for Keller. "The vote on the economic development incentive being recalled will not stop the project; it will simply cancel the incentive agreement."

'Chaos' continues in Plano

Plano city leaders recently received a petition from a group called Our Plano, One Plano seeking a recall election on City Councilman Tom Harrison.

This comes after Harrison shared a post on Facebook earlier this year that said “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.” The post came from a Facebook group called "Joined Hands Across America for Trump."

This issue will be on the November ballot. Who knows is more recall elections will follow.

Political experts say recall elections are becoming more common than they were in the past.

"I think this is a nice safety valve for citizens to have a say and keep government in check," Eshbaugh-Soha Eshbaugh-Soha said.

But he and others say they hope recall elections are a last resort, not something voters turn to more frequently.

"The problem ... is whether we simply would see recall after recall until citizens are happy," Esbaugh-Soha said. "This would indeed be chaos.

"Although this is possible, and is a concern of recalls, it takes a lot to organize these efforts and they are not always successful."

Correspondent Nicholas Sakelaris contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Brian Campbell is heading a petition against the Birch Racket and Tennis Club

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