SOUTH EL MONTE — Los Angeles County district attorney's investigators confirmed last week that they have seized petitions as part of an investigation into tactics used in a recall drive against Mayor Stan Quintana.
The investigators are trying to determine whether a recall committee violated election laws to obtain signatures on the petitions, which were signed by 1,217 voters, a spokesman said.
Opponents of the recall have charged that petitions were circulated by non-residents in violation of the state Election Code and that some signatures were obtained fraudulently.
"We're reviewing the documents to determine whether violations occurred," investigator Patrick Macmac said Wednesday. "There might be some interviews as well. It might be a couple of weeks (before the investigation is completed)." Macmac obtained the petitions last week from the office of City Clerk Kathy Gonzales.
Meanwhile, Pasadena Superior Court Judge Melvin B. Grover last week delayed until Oct. 23 a hearing on a petition to squelch the recall election.
These were just the latest developments in the six-month-long recall drive against Quintana, who has been accused by opponents of cronyism and wastefulness, among other things.
Last month, his opponents appeared to have gathered enough signatures to place the recall on the Nov. 6 ballot. But the council, with Quintana in the majority, voted 3 to 2 to delay the election after allegations of violations from South El Monte resident Franklin Morith.
The county registrar-recorder, nevertheless, placed the recall matter on the November ballot. Then, responding to a complaint from Morith, Grover postponed the election.
Councilman Raul Pardo, who supported the recall effort, said Quintana had shown "contempt for the electoral process and the community at large" by participating in the council vote to keep the recall off the November ballot. Pardo and Jim Kelly voted against the move.
Pardo said Quintana had a conflict of interest in the vote. Kelly said he had not supported the recall but opposed Quintana's role in squelching it. "Stan knows I'd like to see him gone" from the council, Kelly said.
But Assistant City Atty. Quinn Barrow ruled that Quintana had not been in conflict. "There has to be some sort of financial interest in a decision for a conflict of interest to arise," Barrow said.
Quintana's monthly salary as a councilman of $412.98, which he would lose if he were recalled, is specifically exempted from state conflict of interest provisions, Barrow said.
In yet another development in the increasingly rancorous split, the council has voted to investigate allegations that Pardo was not a resident of the city when he was elected last April.
Responding to charges by Morith, the council has directed Code Enforcement Officer Gil Lopez to find out whether Pardo lived in Whittier when he was elected.
Morith said that as late as three months ago, Pardo was listed in telephone information at a Whittier address. The City Charter requires that candidates for the council be residents of the city for a year before an election.
Pardo said that he had taken the Whittier apartment last year to run a consulting business and to provide a place to study while pursuing a graduate degree at UC Irvine.
"My residence has always been in South El Monte," Pardo said. "My voter registration will prove that. I've always voted in South El Monte, even when I did it with an absentee ballot while I was in college in Berkeley."
Pardo described the investigation as a vendetta. "They're used to having their way without an informed public," Pardo said of fellow council members. "Now there's someone on the council like myself who wants to inform the public, encourage the public to participate in decision-making. The mayor in particular is upset about that."
Quintana said the council, in questioning Pardo's residency, was merely responding to legitimate questions by a resident.
On the recall petitions, Quintana said, a merchant who does not live in South El Monte solicited signatures in her El Monte office. He said people circulating petitions frequently alleged that the council wanted to "displace little kids from their schools, displace people from their homes," by enacting community development projects.
"In a recall election, all you have to do is not like the way somebody combs his hair to file a petition against him," Quintana said.