Elections

Los Osos CSD election likely to be held again after SLO County clerical error

SLO County Clerk-Recorder shows what it’s like to count thousands of ballots

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong talks about the process of counting ballots on June 6, 2018, the day after the California Primary. Thousands of ballots remain after Election Day in SLO County.
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San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong talks about the process of counting ballots on June 6, 2018, the day after the California Primary. Thousands of ballots remain after Election Day in SLO County.

The San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office made an apparent clerical error that could force a special election to fill three seats on the Los Osos Community Services District Board of Directors, said Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong.

Gong said Friday in a phone interview that the county’s attorney is looking into the matter, but his feeling is that a director’s seat in the Nov. 6 election was mistakenly designated on the ballot as a two-year term and should have been identified as a four-year term.

The race included two open four-year seats and a third two-year seat, for which incumbent Christine M. Womack ran unopposed.

Womack replaced Jon-Erik Storm, who left the board April, as an appointed director, according to the Los Osos CSD website. Storm told The Tribune by phone that a family member had health problems that he had to attend to, and thus stepped down.

Gong said that, under the election procedure, if an appointee fills a vacated seat within the first two years of a departed director’s four-year term, then in the next election that person runs for a two-year seat to effectively complete the four-year cycle.

In this case, Storm had served more than two years, and thus Womack is required to run for a four-year term to start the new cycle.

“We still have to look into this further, but I would say it was absolutely a clerical error by my office,” Gong said. “There was no conspiracy or wrongdoing here, just a mistake.”

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Gong said his office established the Los Osos CSD position for the two-year seat, and nobody notified his office about the potential mistake until about a week ago.

Gong said a special election likely will need to be held in late January, if it’s confirmed the mistake was made, opening the race to all candidates to fill three seats of four-year terms.

On Nov. 6, four candidates ran for the two available four-year terms, with Chuck Cesena earning the most votes with 33.9 percent, followed by Matthew D. Fourcroy at 28.3 percent, Stephen Best at 27.3 percent and Craig Baltimore at 10.2 percent of the vote.

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Chuck Cesena, left, is solidly ahead in the race for one of two seats on the Los Osos Community Services District, but candidates Matthew Fourcroy and Stephen Best were within 66 votes of taking a second seat as of Friday, with ballots still being counted. Courtesy photos

But those votes could be moot, and each candidate, including Womack, would have to run again, Gong said.

“I would venture to guess that we could do a special election (at the end of January),” Gong said. “We’d need to work with a ballot printer, so it would be an all-mail election and sent to the voters in early January.”

Gong said that, if a special election is held to correct the error, his office would absorb the cost or it would come from the County’s General Fund.

Reached by phone Friday, Womack said she hadn’t heard of the mix-up but planned to run if a special election is held.

Womack, who has lived in Los Osos for more than 10 years, is the former president of South Bay Women’s Network, she told The Tribune. Prior to becoming a board director, she served on the CSD’s Finance Advisory Committee.

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Christine Womack Courtesy photo

“I will strive to keep water rates low, but just high enough to be able to buy equipment and fix problems as they arise,” Womack wrote via email.

Though Gong has denied any wrongdoing or interference Friday, Best told The Tribune in an email Thursday that he believed improper influence occurred.

“I will file a complaint with the District Attorney’s Office no matter how the vote count finishes,” Best said. “I am blowing a whistle on the County’s interference, manipulation and corruption in Los Osos governance.”

Meanwhile, Storm said that he believes the mistake needs to be investigated to see what went wrong and ensure the legitimacy of the town’s only government.

He said that during his roughly four years on the board, he and other directors worked to stabilize the CSD after years of controversy and distrust over the planning of the sewer system (which ultimately was taken over by the county and built) and a stretch of multiple general managers.

“What will end up happening is our only government in Los Osos is going to be clouded in illegitimacy” Storm said. “Our goal was to find stability. This will set off a lot of conflict. Whatever ends up happening with this, it will create a cloud of illegitimacy and the CSD is our only self-governance.”

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