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Cost Mounts as L.B. Decides to Mail Full Ballot Corrections

May 29, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The original error was bad enough. But now bad has turned to worse--and the mistake is expected to cost taxpayers at least $14,800.

After the Long Beach city clerk sent voters a sample ballot that failed to include the Spanish translation of statements by mayoral candidate Jan Hall and City Council candidate Jeff Kellogg, officials decided to simply mail new pages containing the missing interpretations.

But when an attorney for Mayor Ernie Kell threatened legal action and City Atty. John Calhoun took a closer look last week, the city clerk's office agreed to throw out $6,000 worth of amended pages and start over.

City Clerk Shelba Powell said officials plan to mail a supplement to the June 7 sample ballot on Tuesday that will include full, corrected reprints of statements for both Kell and Hall, a city councilwoman, and for the two 8th District council candidates vying in the runoff.

Powell took the blame for the original omission but said the decision to throw out the reprint "is strictly Mr. Calhoun's ball game now."

Calhoun acknowledged that he should have taken a closer look at the amended pages before they were printed. He added, however, that the decision to discard the fresh printing was necessary.

"I figured it was well worth the expenditure of $6,000 compared to getting closer to the election and not being able to make an appropriate correction," he said.

The problem became evident after sample ballots were mailed to 175,000 registered voters nearly two weeks ago. The ballots included position statements from Kell and Hall and from Kellogg and his council opponent, Planning Commissioner Pat Schauer.

Kell's and Schauer's statements were complete, but Hall's and Kellogg's lacked the Spanish translation.

The error occurred because the printer, Martin & Chapman Co., failed to retrieve all of the Spanish translations from its computer.

Then workers in the city clerk's office who proofread the statements failed to catch the omissions.

After Powell consulted over the telephone with Calhoun and one of his deputies, she said, it was decided that workers would reprint the missing translations and send a second mailing.

This solution was not without precedent. Two years ago, the city sent out a fresh copy of 1st District council candidate Joy Melton's statement because of errors.

But as the presses began to roll, Calhoun said he got a call from Kell's attorney, Richard Cantrell. "He said we would be going to court unless the . . . candidates are treated in equal fashion," Calhoun recalled.

In an interview, Cantrell said resending Hall's English statement as well as the missing Spanish version would have amounted to giving her a free campaign mailing. If the matter had not been resolved, Cantrell said, he had told Calhoun that they could "go to a courthouse and let a judge decide it."

Making matters worse, Calhoun said that when he saw a copy of the mailer he had approved on the telephone the day before, he noticed that an explanation of the special mailing was only in English.

"It didn't seem the most appropriate way to make the correction. It looked like we were going to reprint the thing just for that reason alone," he said.

Calhoun said all sides agreed to reprint Kell's and Schauer's statements along with Hall's and Kellogg's. Powell said the total cost is not yet known, but the city has already spent at least $14,800.

Kell campaign spokesman Jeffrey Adler said: "It is unfortunate the city clerk made the error in the first place, and that's going to cost the taxpayers money."

Hall said she was unhappy about the error and asked City Prosecutor John Vander Lans to investigate to make sure that the original omission of her statement in Spanish was purely accidental.

Vander Lans said he is satisfied with the printer's explanation and does not plan to investigate further. "All we handle is criminal stuff, and I can't see that any crimes were committed," he said.

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