Statutes need some toughening

If the politics in Washington, D.C., aren’t enough for you, you only need to look south for people looking after their own special interests.

In Kimball County, business interests have fueled two recall attempts in the last year.

In April, nine citizens lead efforts to recall Kimball County Commissioners Larry Engstrom, Larry Brower and Kimball County Clerk Cathy Sibal. Seven of the petitioners were interested in seeing the county pony up big dollars to fund a motor speedway. Two of the persons seeking recall of the commissioners and county clerk had a beef with the county after it decided to end a longtime contract with an ambulance service provider and begin its own efforts to operate the service.

Just this month, a Bushnell resident filed his intent to have Kimball County Attorney Dave Wilson recalled. Wilson, who has served as county attorney for 28 years, hadn’t been doing his job, according to the resident, when he didn’t foreclose on a piece of property that the resident wanted to be developed into a convenience store. The resident had a stake in the development of the property — he said he’d be involved in the project and operate the convenience store.

In both instances, the recall attempts didn’t proceed when the petitioners withdrew or gave up on their efforts. If they had been successful, voters would have had to pay for special elections. Kimball County Clerk Cathy Sibal told the Star-Herald that costs for the special elections were estimated at $10,000 to $12,000.

That’s roughly double the cost Kimball County had to foot in July 2004 when Kimball County petitioners, once again, wanted to oust a leader — then Kimball County Commissioner Rick Soper. Soper had merely stated in response to an interview that commissioners were willing to consider a proposal for a low-level nuclear waste dump in the county. The recall attempt failed, but the county paid nearly $7,000 in costs for the special election.

Kimball County has once again demonstrated an area in which we feel the Legislature needs to act.

In 2011, the Nebraska Legislature considered changing recall statutes after a failed attempt to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle.

In fact, some sources identify recalls as the “weapons of choice” of disgruntled citizens who haven’t gotten their own way.

Allegations of wrong doing, such as misappropriation of funds or committing a crime, seem appropriate and viable reasons to recall an official. Taking out your anger because a group of officials didn’t support your business cause seems petty. A county, i.e. the taxpayers, shouldn’t have to pay because a business owner doesn’t want to fund its own special interests and uses a recall to act with vengeance.  An elected official shouldn’t have to pay their own money to defend themselves against baseless claims.

At the very least, the Legislature should add some conditions that need to be met for the recall of an official. It’s already difficult to get good leaders. Why make it more difficult for people to actually lead, without fear of reprisal?

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