By Donna Westfall
Credit to Dixon’s Independent Voice, and Fairfield Daily Republic
A legal issue of great interest is brewing in Solano County in the city of Dixon.
On Wednesday April 1st (and no this was not an April Fool’s joke), Solano Superior Court Judge Scott Kays ordered the names and addresses of more than 1,700 people who signed a petition to repeal the sewer rate increase in Dixon to be sealed and be kept confidential.
Judge Kays ordered “Exhibit I” sealed and that all outstanding copies be retrieved, collected and delivered to the City Clerk to be kept under seal for a “reasonable” time for further investigation by the appropriate agency. Judge Kays said that petitions the court and Dixon city clerk have will be not be part of the public record in a separate case filed in February by the city of Dixon against the Solano County Taxpayers Association challenging the constitutionality of the initiative and preventing it from being placed on the November 2016 ballot.
Among the city’s exhibits in its court filing were 280 pages named “Exhibit I” of the names, addresses and the signatures of people who signed the Initiative petition. Attorney Michael Nolan asked Exhibit I to be sealed. Nolan, representing a “John Doe” who had signed the petition, said in his legal filing on March 30, 2015 that the Elections Code precludes the use of signatures except to certify them!
The Constitution of California guarantees a right to pursue and obtain privacy and reserves the right of self government by the initiative. The California Elections Code (Section 18650) makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly or willfully permit the list of signatures on an initiative petition to be used for any other purpose than to qualify the initiative for the ballot, and restricts public access to such a petition in accordance with the Public Records Act, which in turn exempts such petition from public disclosure.
“This is a serious violation of the Elections Code and a violation of the privacy of all 1742 Dixon citizens that signed the initiative. Violations of Elections Code are a misdemeanor and carry penalties for conviction of fine and or imprisonment,” stated in the article that appeared in Dixon’s Independent Voice.
The Initiative Petitions were turned in to the City Clerk on November 12, 2014, by the Dixon Chapter of the Solano County Taxpayers Association (DC-SCTA) for verification of the number of signatures. One week later the Clerk forwarded the petitions to the County Registrar of Voters for validation of signatures. While the petitions were in the custody of the City Clerk at least one duplicate copy was made of the Initiative, including the lists of all signatures. After validation of signatures by the County Registrar of Voters, the petitions were returned to the City Clerk to be sealed for confidentiality.
Gary Riddle, President of the Dixon Chapter, said after the Wednesday court hearing that when circulating petitions some people were concerned about providing their addresses.
Riddle said he told them the information was turned over to the city clerk and kept confidential – but when Dixon challenged the petition in February the city’s filing included copies of the petition with names and addresses.
People who work in law enforcement for the state were among petition signers and they do not want their addresses part of the public record, Riddle said.
The questions that were not asked of, nor answered by, Mr. Churchwell, the city’s attorney, were:
- Who provided the copies of the petitions?
- What was the purpose of the petition copies?
- Why were they included as Exhibit I filed with the Writ?
- As stated above the person who petitioned the court to seal Exhibit I documents was a signer of the Sewer Initiative Petition and was identified in the court document as John Doe. Persons named in the petition as Respondents were the Dixon City Clerk, the Solano County Clerk of the Superior Court, attorneys for Churchwell/White LLP, Dixon City Council Members, and the Dixon City Manager.