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Donald Kuehne and Joanne Ward recall, Hercules, California (2011)

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Donald Kuehne and Joanne Ward were recalled from their offices as members of the city council of Hercules, California in a special recall election that took place on the June 7, 2011.

Kuehne and Ward were viewed by supporters of the recall as standing in the way of cleaning up corruption, financial malfeasance and incompetent administration that allegedly occurred under city manager Oliva.[1]

If Kuehne and Ward had not been recalled, their terms would have ended in December 2012.

The Hercules City Council has 5 members. William Wilkins was elected to the seat made vacant by the recall of Ward, while Gerard Boulanger was elected to the seat made vacant by the recall of Kuehne.

Former mayor Ed Balico was also a target of the recall campaign. However, when Balico, Kuehne and Ward were served with an official notice of intent to recall on January 11, Mayor Balico resigned his position.[2]

Hercules is "a diverse Bay Area city of 25,000 people."[3]

Election results

Kuehne recall

Shall Don Kuehne be recalled?
Result Votes Percentage
Approveda Yes 2,706 80.01%
No 676 19.99%

Ward recall

Shall Joanne Ward be recalled?
Result Votes Percentage
Approveda Yes 2,956 86.89%
No 446 13.11%

Candidates on June ballot

March 24, 2011 was the deadline for people to file to run for the seats on the Hercules City Council that will be made vacant if Kuehne and Ward are recalled on June 7.[4]

The candidates who filed to run in the special recall election were:

For the seat held by Joanne Ward:

  • William Wilkins, a state-certified real estate appraiser.[5] Wilkins was endorsed by the Contra Costa Times. Wilkins was elected on June 7.[6]
  • Virgilio de la Vega, a former Hercules Community Services Commission member.[5]

For the seat held by Donald Kuehne:

  • Gerard Boulanger. Boulanger was endorsed by the Contra Costa Times and was elected on June 7.[6]

To fill the seat made vacant by the resignation of Ed Balico:

  • Dan Romero. Romero was endorsed by the Contra Costa Times. Romero was elected on June 7.[6]
  • Sherry McCoy, chairwoman of the Hercules Planning Commission.[5]
  • Mark Anthony Jones

Recall support

Innovative campaign

Recall supporters organized into a group called "Hercules City Council Recall" (HCCR). This group declared January 29 as "Recall Day," a day when the group focused on collecting signatures on recall petitions at City Hall. HCCR also sponsored a training day on January 22 on how to gather signatures on recall petitions. 65 volunteers attended it. HCCR also sent out an automated (robo) call to about 6,000 residents of the city over the weekend of January 22-23 arguing in favor of the recall.[7]

The recall organization has earned recognition for its innovative signature-gathering and campaign methods, with a local newspaper reporter saying they've "rewritten the book on recall."[8] 27% of the residents of the city are of Philippine descent. The recall campaign has chosen yellow balloons and t-shirts to carry its message, and they say that this is intended to evoke memories of the yellow ribbons used in the 1986 'People Power Revolution' in the Philippines which toppled Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

Recall supporters

the June 7, 2011 election has already ended.

Recall supporters include:

  • Anton Jungherr.[3]
  • Hector Rubio[9]
  • Julian Weinstien and Adoria Williams-Weinstein.[9]
  • Ferdie Acosta[9]
  • Cindy Rasmussen. At a city council meeting on January 11, 2011, when notices of intent to recall the three targets were served, Rasmussen said, "I continue to be shocked, appalled and, frankly, very incensed at the continual revelations of failures of leadership in this city by the long-term members of this City Council...We intend to take our city back and ensure that this pattern of corruption, lies and mismanagement will stop, and that you will answer for putting this wonderful city in horrendous financial jeopardy with your arrogance, your incompetence and your egregious lack of integrity."[10]
  • Dan Romero. Romero served the official notices of intent to recall on the targeted officials on January 11.[11] He says, "...we have a city that's on the verge of bankruptcy."[12]
  • Jeffrey Wisniewski. He says, "Ward and Kuehne want it both ways. They now confess that they were lied to by former City Manager Nelson Oliva, but both continue to insist they will be able to move forward, honestly and transparently, as if they’ve now been awaken from great slumber. The argument doesn't hold water. Oliva's lies were a direct result of the environment of lax oversight the city council created. They didn't ask questions, either beforehand or as a means to follow up. They didn't request to see supporting information or budget projections....It is not just what Kuehne and Ward did–voting unanimously with the rest of the council repeatedly–but what they did not do that is so egregious. They allowed major items to be approved on the consent calendar–such as Sycamore North’s $56 million construction budget when the actual cost was $70 million–with literally no discussion...Doing your job poor enough, for long enough, will eventually get you fired. Ward and Kuehne need a performance review. The recall is part of that process."[13]
  • Lori Chinn. She says, "We shouldn’t have to be watching the city council who should be acting on our behalf."[14]
  • The editorial board of MediaNews: "The pathetic responses of two Hercules City Council members facing recall are too little too late -- and reinforce that Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward lack leadership skills needed to help save the city. As Hercules financially teeters, Kuehne and Ward blame former City Manager Nelson Oliva, whom they say kept them in the dark. That poor excuse shows they didn't critically look at the budgets and didn't ask basic questions about why so much money was spent with so few results."[15]

Recall targets

Joanne Ward

Joanne Ward

Ward is the vice-mayor of Hercules.

She was first elected to the Hercules City Council in November 2000. She was subsequently re-elected to new four-year terms in 2004 and 2008. Her current term is set to expire in 2012, if she is not recalled. In December 2002, she was appointed as the city's vice-mayor. In 2004 and 2008, she served as the city's mayor.

A graduate of the University of Oxford, Ohio, Ward has a B.A. in Mathematics and Physics and a Master's Degree in Business Administration, which she received from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Ward, who retired in 1999, worked professionally for 35 years as a computer programmer/system analyst with the Office of Information Technology of the City of Oakland.

When Ward was served with an intent of notice to recall on January 11, 2011, a local newspaper reported that she:

"...looked flush-faced stunned, as if she had just walked into a wall. She sat motionless, her lower lip hanging open as the charges were read. If a teleporter were available, she would have beamed herself anywhere else."[10]

Ward addressed a letter to "The citizens of Hercules" on January 18, which in its entirety says:

"I recognize and respect that our nation was founded on the principle that it is the right of the People to either alter or abolish and institute new Government when appropriate.
I also recognize that the previous city council, of which I was a member, has lost the public trust. I pledge to work hard with your new city council to do whatever is necessary to right the ship.
It has been my honor and privilege to serve you, and I dedicate the remainder of my term, whether it be years or months, to restoring your trust in both me and your city council."[16]

Donald Kuehne

Donald Kuehne

Kuehne was first elected to a four-year term on the Hercules City Council in November 2008.[17]

Kuehne has a B.S. degree from Cornell and a Ph.D. from Caltech. His profession is as an engineer in research and development.

When Kuehne was served with an intent of notice to recall on January 11, 2011, a local newspaper reported that he:

"...glared from his seat, a smirk peeking out from beneath his mustache, then tore apart the notice he'd been handed and tossed it over his shoulder."[10]

Kuehne released a statement to the press on January 13. It said in part:

"I share your anger and frustration for what has happened to our dynamic city over the past year...I, too, am deeply concerned about financial mismanagement, conflict of interest, nepotism, and lack of transparency and trustworthiness in our city government.[11]

In defending himself against the recall, Kuehne says, "Many of the things that are coming to light now were actually approved before I was on the council."[18]

Kuehne has also questioned the motives of those behind the recall, sending out an email on January 31 that said in part, "While this appeared to be a grassroots effort, there is growing evidence that the waterfront developer and a high-profile political consultant have joined the cause," going on to imply that the stated reasons for the recall (lack of appropriate oversight over the city's finances) are a smokescreen and are not the real reason for the recall.[19] Recall organizers denied these accusations.[19]

"We didn't know"

As the recall campaign has moved forward and more details about financial mismanagement in the city have come to light, recall targets Kuehne and Ward have increasingly defended themselves by saying that they were unaware of the problems and, now that they are aware, they will take action to solve the problems.

Kuehne told KTVU Channel 2 news, "I wish I had taken stronger action sooner. But I did not realize how big this issue would grow."

Ward told KTVU Channel 2 news, "I’m glad this is all coming out, because I had no idea this was going on."

Controversial former city financial manager Nelson Oliva disputes the concept that Kuehne and Ward did not know. "My story is they knew. They knew. And they can say whatever they want. That's OK, I’m the expendable person in the equation."[20]

Ed Balico (resigned)

Balico, the now ex-mayor of Hercules, was first elected to a four-year term on the Hercules City Council in 2000. He was subsequently re-elected in 2004 and 2008. His current term was set to end in 2012, but he resigned unexpectedly on Tuesday, January 11, 2010; the same day that he was served with a notice of intent to recall.[3][2]

His colleagues on the Hercules City Council chose him as the mayor in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Balico was the chairman of the Contra Costa County Mayors Conference and president of the Eastbay Division of the League of California Cities.[3]

In his announcement of resignation, he said he wanted "to spend more time with his family."[2] Earlier in January, he announced that he was leaving his seat on the Contra Costa County transportation agency, after it "became clear that his Contra Costa Mayors Conference colleagues would not support his reappointment."[2]

According to Tom Barnidge, a columnist for the Contra Costa Times:

On the very night that a residents group planned to serve Hercules Mayor Ed Balico with a letter of intent to recall him from office -- in fact, minutes before it was to be slapped on his desk -- he announced he was stepping down from the City Council.

What are the odds of those events intersecting?

It's like a man deciding to step off a roadway just before a cement truck runs over him.

It was a lifestyle decision, Balico said. His many years in office, as a planning commissioner and council member, had made him a stranger to his wife and kids. Dinners were missed, vacations postponed. He'd even forgotten that his daughter plans to marry in May. (That should make for a fun family conversation.)[10]

After his resignation, KTVU Channel 2 News conducted an investigation into Balico's spending during his time in office. They concluded from this that "former Mayor Ed Balico topped the list of Hercules officials spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars during the last five years alone. He traveled extensively across the United States, dined regularly at Bay Area restaurants and was reimbursed for it all, even though he very regularly failed to turn in receipts, as the law requires.[20]

Editorial views on recall

The editorial board of the Contra Costa Times has urged its readers to recall Kuehne and Ward, writing:

"But greed, corruption and ineptitude have left the city broke. Scores of city employees have lost, or will lose, their jobs. City services will be severely tightened, and money for the city's once-heralded waterfront plans has been wasted on fanciful redevelopment projects elsewhere in town.
Meanwhile, the former city manager siphoned away millions of dollars through no-bid city contracts to his family's business. Other companies under contract to the city treated it like a personal ATM as they submitted outrageous bills, for which they were amazingly paid, while some city employees received special redevelopment agency bailouts on their home mortgages.
The city attorney, who turned a blind eye, is finally on his way out the door, but only after providing the legal cover for ethical lapses that helped drain the city coffers. As for the City Council members, the people ultimately in charge, two were replaced in the November election. A third, Ed Balico, resigned this year after he was caught engaging in business deals with a former city official for whom he had approved city contracts.
Unfortunately, Joanne Ward and Don Kuehne, two council members who participated in the financial destruction and ignored the unethical behavior in City Hall, remain in office. The city cannot be repaired with such inept leaders. Ward claims she was kept in the dark. Kuehne has blamed others. Neither accepts responsibility.
On June 7, voters can finish cleaning up City Hall by recalling Ward and Kuehne."[6]

City management and finances

On July 7, 2010, the Contra Costa Times published an editorial which described the business affairs of Hercules as a:

"...conflict-of-interest cesspool that grows more putrid with each passing day. Despite warnings from residents, this paper and the Contra Costa County grand jury, City Council members continue to ignore the fetid flow, abrogating their responsibility to clean up the mess."[21]

Specific financial problems in the city that are often cited by recall supporters are:

  • The no-bid contracts with a company owned by daughters of former City Manager Nelson Oliva
  • Sweetheart deals with developers
  • Revenue shortages and funding gaps in several city projects, including the Sycamore North mixed-use development.
  • "Near-depletion of the $12 million project fund for the still unbuilt first phase of Hercules New Town Center"
  • Slow progress on the developments at Hercules Bayfront and an adjacent intermodal transit center.[19]

Nelson Oliva

Nelson Oliva was the city manager of Hercules through early January 2011. He recommended that the City of Hercules grant $3 million in no-bid service contracts to a firm he once owned. Two of his daughters served as CEO and chief financial officer of the firm.[1]

The Oliva family owned-and-run firm recommended that the redevelopment agency of Hercules provide $1.65 million in Fiscal Year 2007-08 to bail out the owners of five homes in Hercules who faced losing their homes to foreclosure. Two of these home owners were city employees. A third "was the project manager for the company that recommended the loans."[1]

In June 2009, the Oliva family owned-and-run firm recommended that Oliva's administrative assistant, Eguzki Olano, receive a favorable $460,000 home loan from the redevelopment agency. At the time of that loan, a "similar house across the street sold for less than two-thirds that amount." Within a month, Olano was "appointed to the board of directors of the Oliva-family firm."[1]

Oliva went on an 8-month medical leave in September 2010 after suffering a stroke.[1] Charlie Long was appointed as an interim replacement. In December 2010, the city council determined that Oliva was able to return to work, just 3 months into his 8-month medical leave. Then, on January 9, 2011, Oliva resigned altogether from the position "pursuant to a separation agreement with the council."[11]

Recall targets Ward and Kuehne said they voted for various city-funded projects that failed because Oliva didn't tell them the facts. Oliva disputes this. He told a reporter for KTVU Channel 2 News in early February, "My story is they knew. They knew. And they can say whatever they want. That's OK, I’m the expendable person in the equation."[20]

Charlie Long

In October 2010, the city council hired Charlie Long as an interim replacement, for eight months, for the ailing Oliva.[1]

Charlie Long:

  • Concluded that the Oliva-linked firm "was grossly overcharging the city."[1]
  • "Uncovered that the financing scheme for the redevelopment agency's much-touted Sycamore North residential and commercial project was underfunded by $42 million."[1]
  • Concluded the redevelopment agency and the city "are millions short of what's needed to pay bond and other obligations."[1]
  • Called for "bringing in an outside financial consulting firm to probe deeper and help untangle the mess."[1]

The City Council then fired Charlie Long on December 7, 2010, 50 days into his eight-month contract. The council also determined that Oliva was healthy enough to return to work.[1]

Bill Kelly, an attorney and a resident of Hercules, says that the city council did not comply with California's open meeting laws with respect to its announcement on December 7 as to why it terminated Long, since it did not announce at that time that the firing had been determined by them to be "for cause": "Why was this fact not made public as required?"[22]

The City Council, on December 14, wrote a letter to Long saying that they had fired him for "an insubordinate failure" to carry out the council's instructions.[22]

Fred Deltorchio

Fred Deltorchio, whose permanent job is as the Police Chief of Hercules, took a hiatus from that role starting on January 9, 2011 to serve as the "interim city manager" of Hercules.[11]

Lisa Hammon

Assistant City Manager Lisa Hammon tendered her resignation to a "stunned ... City Council" on December 14. When announcing her surprise resignation, Hammon said she was taking this step because "I hope to keep my integrity intact, regain my self-confidence, and salvage what remains of my professional reputation." She said that some employees of the city had "sold their souls," and said that the city's financial practices were unacceptable.[23]

Hammon also talked about invoices she reviewed: "In the two invoices I reviewed, were charges for extra room on airline flights, car rentals for cities on the east coast, $3,000 for the Miss Hercules pageant, and costs for advertising in city publications, to name a few."[20]

The Red Barn Project

The city's slide into financial mismanagement is thought by some to have begun "with a simple 6.5 acres known by insiders as the Red Barn Project, but by local folks as the Marketplace next to the Eastshore freeway. The Hercules City Council voted to invest $12 million into the land, and then give it for free to a Southern California real estate man in return for his promise to develop it. Instead, the project is dead and the owner is now selling the gift."[20]

Waterfront development

The Hercules City Council spent over $4 million on its waterfront for a development including condominiums, a shopping center, train station and a hovercraft from the Bay. An investigation by KTVU-TV in 2011 says, "After five years, nothing has happened there."[20]

Sports park

A KTVU-TV investigative report says, "The city council spent $1.2 million for a spectacular sports park most now concede will never be built. As it turns out, the site isn't even within the city limits, but is next to a petrochemical factory, and oh, by the way, is highly toxic."[20]

Path to the ballot

  • Those supporting the recall had 120 days, or until March 11, 2011, to collect signatures on the recall petitions equalling a minimum of 20% of the registered voters in the city. 20% amounts to approximately 2,500 signatures for each recall target.[9][1][23]
  • On January 22, an initial volunteer training to show volunteers how to properly collect signatures on a recall petition was held.
  • On January 29, recall organizers rented the Hercules City Hall council chambers for signature gathering. At that time, they had already collected about 4,018 signatures, according to recall organizer Anton Jungerr.[14]
  • On February 8, recall organizers submitted 2,857 signatures to recall Ward and 2,987 signatures to recall Kuehne.[24] About 2,500 valid signatures for each councilmember were needed.
  • On February 18, Hercules City Clerk Doreen Mathews said that election officials with Contra Costa County had certified that of the signatures submitted, a validity check showed that enough of them were valid to meet the minimum requirement to force a recall election.[25]
  • At its meeting on March 8, the Hercules City Council determined that the required election would take place on the June 7, 2011 ballot.[25]

Cost of election

See also: Costs of administering local elections

The cost of administering the election is estimated at $5.50 per each vote that is cast in the election.[26]

See also

External links


Wikipedia® has an article on:


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 The Vacaville Reporter, "Guest Editorial: Recall needed in Hercules," December 13, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Mercury News, "Hercules mayor steps down," January 11, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Inquirer, "Recall eyed on FilAm Hercules Mayor Balico," January 4, 2011
  4. Hercules Patch, "Three Candidates Start Their Run for Council Seats in Recall Election," March 10, 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mercury News, "Filing period is over for Hercules council races," March 28, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Contra Costa Times, "Recall Ward, Kuehne and elect Romero, Wilkins, Boulanger to clean up Hercules," May 4, 2011
  7. Hercules Patch, "Recall Group Pushes Message," January 23, 2011 (dead link)
  8. Mercury News, "Hercules group rewrites book on recall," February 1, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hercules Patch, "Herculeans Move on Recall Plan"
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Contra Costa Times, "Theatrics take center stage," January 12, 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Contra Costa Times, "Hercules councilman responds to recall effort," January 13, 2011
  12. Hercules Patch, "Recall Group Plans First Signature Gathering Push," January 19, 2011 (dead link)
  13. Hercules Patch, "Ward and Kuehne Seek to Rewrite History," January 20, 2011 (dead link)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Hercules Patch, "Recall Day Reels in Petitions," January 30, 2011 (dead link)
  15. Media News, "Support the recall," February 4, 2011
  16. Hercules Patch, "Interim Mayor Ward Responds to Recall," January 18, 2011 (dead link)
  17. Biography of Donald Kuehne
  18. Contra Costa Times, "Targeted by recall, two Hercules City Council members defend their records," February 1, 2011
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Contra Costa Times, "Hercules councilman lashes out at recall campaign," February 2, 2011
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 KRXI Reno, "Scandal Surrounds Hercules' City Leaders," February 7, 2011
  21. Hercules Patch, "Hercules Recall Group Responds to Kuehne," February 1, 2011 (dead link)
  22. 22.0 22.1 Mercury News, "Hercules officials defend manner in which interim city manager was discharged," December 20, 2010
  23. 23.0 23.1 Mercury News, "Hercules assistant city manager issues public rebuke, resigns," December 14, 2010
  24. Hercules Patch, "Recallers Make Signature Number Goal," February 9, 2011 (dead link)
  25. 25.0 25.1 Mercury News, "Hercules recall appears headed for ballot," February 20, 2011
  26. Hercules Patch, "What's The Tab for Tuesday's City Council Election? $42,000 and Counting," June 4, 2011