Petition calls for special election for RSF School board

A group of Rancho Santa Fe residents has submitted a petition to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters to recall recently appointed board member Jon Yonemitsu and force a special election for the board vacancy on the Rancho Santa Fe School District board.

In order to petition against the board’s appointment to fill trustee Marti Ritto’s vacant seat, a group of voters needed to gather 65 signatures (representing 1.5 percent of the 4,292 registered voters). Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, resident Diana Knickrehm said the group gathered over two times the required amount.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters has 30 business days to ratify the signatures and if the recall takes place, the school district has 130 days to schedule an election, likely in March or April 2018. Yonemitsu would have to be removed immediately.

The school district would be required to bear the $50,000 to $100,000 cost of the election, according to Superintendent David Jaffe.

“For me, the best board is one that is fully functioning with five members and Mr. Yonemitsu is well-qualified,” Jaffe said. “The absence of any board member for four to five months is a disruption and while it’s certainly within the rights of the petitioners to do what they’re doing, it doesn’t serve the students at this school.”

After trustee Marti Ritto resigned effective Sept. 13, the board gave three weeks for candidates to submit their names and they interviewed five candidates for the vacancy in an open session on Oct. 16. The board allowed a week for public input before selecting and appointing Yonemitsu unanimously in open session on Oct. 23.

The board had options on what method to take to fill Ritto’s seat, including paying the cost for a special election or going through an appointment process — the board unanimously voted to appoint a new member. At that Sept. 15 meeting, several residents requested the special election route, raising concerns that the selection of the new board member should be made by the community as there has been a pattern of appointments in the district. Tyler Seltzer was appointed in 2011 and Scott Kahn was appointed in May 2016. Both board members went on to be elected — Seltzer was been re-elected twice, in 2012 and in 2016, and Kahn was elected in 2016.

The appointee’s seat would be up for election in November 2018.

At that meeting, one of the residents even warned the board that if they chose to appoint, residents would file a petition.

“This is about voter representation. It is about proper process, not anything personal,” Knickrehm said, making it clear that the group has nothing against the appointed board member.

She said particularly with a bond measure on the horizon, “the cycle of appointments” in the school district needs to be broken and the board member should be chosen through a public election.

“Getting the signatures was easy because residents are generally very appreciative that we are defending their right to vote. This is an amazing community full of intelligent, capable and caring people,” Knickrehm said. “An appointment once is OK. Twice, well they got away with it. But three times, definitely not. Rancho Santa Fe wants elected officials who respect their role as community representatives, not board members who think they know better.”

Jaffe maintains that the board followed protocol in its appointment process and said he would’ve been happy to welcome any of the five candidates to the board.

“It’s a shame to have a well-qualified candidate like Mr. Yonemitsu be recalled and not have a fully functioning board for any amount of time,” Jaffe said.

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