Filner Recall and Special Election Could Cost San Diego $3.7 Million

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Filner Recall could cost San Diego $3.7 million
Credit: Annie Lane / OBrag.org

San Diego news has been dominated by allegations of misconduct by Mayor Bob Filner, but common discussion surrounding the controversy has overlooked the financial cost to the city.

If Mayor Filner is recalled, the city will have to hold a special election to select a replacement. As a consequence, the city must pay for the administrative costs of this election.

The Filner scandal is new territory for San Diego, a city where there has not once been a Mayoral recall. The legal steps a petitioner for recall must take are outlined by municipal code:

  1. File a petition for recall with the City Clerk
  2. Publish a notice of 300 words or less in a city paper stating their intent to circulate the petition
  3. File an affidavit of publication with the city clerk
  4. Serve notice on the official to be recalled
  5. Await the official’s published response of 300 words or less in the city paper
  6. Circulate the petition to be signed in print by residents
  7. Acquire 15% of the signatures of all voters in the city

The timeframe for a special election is also outlined by municipal code:

If a special election is called, it shall be held not less than sixty (60) days after adoption of the ordinance calling the election but not later than ninety (90) days after such adoption.

While the city and the mayor quibble over who should pay Filner’s legal expenses, the largest potential expense from the controversy will belong to the taxpayers. If the recall petitions are successful, the special election will cost the city a sum well in excess of the legal fees.

Recent special elections have cost San Diego a significant amount. The special election to replace now congressman Juan Vargas in April for California’s 40th Senate District cost $1.1 million, according to Michael Vu of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. The low turnout resulted in the cost being about $30 per voter.

The San Diego City Council also held a special election earlier this year to replace Tony Young, now CEO of the local Red Cross chapter. It was held for only District 4 voters of San Diego, but cost the city $355,000 to administer.

There are over 63,000 registered voters in San Diego’s District 4 and over 670,000 registered city-wide. Based on the cost of the council’s special election per registered voter, a mayoral special election could cost approximately $3.7 million for the city to administer.

While the price of voter influence regarding a city’s pride in its mayor is not an occasion for thrift, the cost of a potential special election should be considered when assessing the damage done to the city of San Diego.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. John D This is not accurate. it is not 15% of all voters in the city; 15% of voters in last general election - big difference.
  2. Vera Schulte It would be the best $3.7mil the city ever spent. How much is it going to cost me to defend this **mayor** against all of the litigation. Who knows what else he has done that we don't yet know about?
  3. Shawn M. Griffiths You hear outspoken proponents of a recall say they want a recall without it costing taxpayers anything and it shows how sometimes these issues need to be more thoroughly considered. I am surprised no one has reported on these numbers yet. $3.7 million sounds like it could be a minimum.
  4. Michael Higham I was surprised, too. But I'm thinking that it's something that has to be done if this is as serious as its turning out to be. The Mayor is a representation of the city and if these allegations are true -- which he's admitted to some degree -- the people have the right to replace him through a recall and special election. But again $3.7 million to administer an election is quite high.
  5. Joseph Avery It's a tricky situation. You can't really charge the person under investigation for this amount of money, but the taxpayers wont exactly be excited about footing this bill, even if it is worth it to them. There is something to be said for increasing accountability by a smaller financial penalty to go towards these costs, but even that seems like it just gives people who ought to resign more reason to hang on to power.
  6. Alex Gauthier i wonder what impact instituting a fee for resigning from office early would have.
  7. Charlotte Dean is the price to be paid by keeping him just "a city's pride in its mayor"? or is a special election worth the expense compared to an unstable, unlikable, and currently absentee mayor? How about all the businesses that have decided not to move here thanks to these shenanigans? How about the taxpayer dollars wasted while we wait for him to finish his bandaid rehab stint?
  8. Jen Could always try to force them to develop a budget and stick to it? Overcharges on the budget come out of their paychecks. Officials have no reason to do what is right because they are unable to be held accountable for what they do, or don't do, while in office. A business operates the way it does because people are seeking to grow and expand investment/wealth/ etc. They are able to be fired, sued, they have liability to others in the legal realm for their actions and responsibilities to regulations by nonprofits, the government, etc. However...The government has none of this.. and even moreso, they regulate themselves! which is obvious based on the way they act. They have found a way to manipulate the mob and use the democratic system to get their hands on the purse strings, where they given free reign with our money. The only way to stop it is to limit the money and power the government is given. Unfortunately, the government controls the ability to change such things, not the people. Which leaves us with the situation we have now.
  9. Charlotte Dean *doubt our municipal...have ANY
  10. Charlotte Dean yeah i doubt our municipal election administrators have VERY little incentive to keep estimated running costs efficient. How can we balance a business-like efficiency with humanist restrictions to keep middle men from pushing up the cost of any election?
11 comments
John D
John D

This is not accurate. it is not 15% of all voters in the city; 15% of voters in last general election - big difference.

Vera Schulte
Vera Schulte

It would be the best $3.7mil the city ever spent. How much is it going to cost me to defend this **mayor** against all of the litigation. Who knows what else he has done that we don't yet know about?

Shawn M. Griffiths
Shawn M. Griffiths

You hear outspoken proponents of a recall say they want a recall without it costing taxpayers anything and it shows how sometimes these issues need to be more thoroughly considered. I am surprised no one has reported on these numbers yet. $3.7 million sounds like it could be a minimum.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

i wonder what impact instituting a fee for resigning from office early would have.

Charlotte Dean
Charlotte Dean

is the price to be paid by keeping him just "a city's pride in its mayor"? or is a special election worth the expense compared to an unstable, unlikable, and currently absentee mayor? How about all the businesses that have decided not to move here thanks to these shenanigans? How about the taxpayer dollars wasted while we wait for him to finish his bandaid rehab stint?

Brian Iniguez
Brian Iniguez

$3.7 million for a special election, plus possible incurred costs to pay for this... "official's"... court expenses? Seems legit. Stay classy, San Diego.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I was surprised, too. But I'm thinking that it's something that has to be done if this is as serious as its turning out to be. The Mayor is a representation of the city and if these allegations are true -- which he's admitted to some degree -- the people have the right to replace him through a recall and special election.

But again $3.7 million to administer an election is quite high.

Charlotte Dean
Charlotte Dean

yeah i doubt our municipal election administrators have VERY little incentive to keep estimated running costs efficient. How can we balance a business-like efficiency with humanist restrictions to keep middle men from pushing up the cost of any election?

Joseph Avery
Joseph Avery

It's a tricky situation. You can't really charge the person under investigation for this amount of money, but the taxpayers wont exactly be excited about footing this bill, even if it is worth it to them. There is something to be said for increasing accountability by a smaller financial penalty to go towards these costs, but even that seems like it just gives people who ought to resign more reason to hang on to power.

Jen
Jen

Could always try to force them to develop a budget and stick to it? Overcharges on the budget come out of their paychecks. Officials have no reason to do what is right because they are unable to be held accountable for what they do, or don't do, while in office. A business operates the way it does because people are seeking to grow and expand investment/wealth/ etc. They are able to be fired, sued, they have liability to others in the legal realm for their actions and responsibilities to regulations by nonprofits, the government, etc.

However...The government has none of this.. and even moreso, they regulate themselves! which is obvious based on the way they act. They have found a way to manipulate the mob and use the democratic system to get their hands on the purse strings, where they given free reign with our money. The only way to stop it is to limit the money and power the government is given. Unfortunately, the government controls the ability to change such things, not the people. Which leaves us with the situation we have now.