El Dorado County Treasurer-Tax Collector Cherie Raffety filed a petition for a writ of mandate with the Superior Court on Monday, March 24. The writ sought a legal determination that the opposing candidate for the post she has held for more than 25 years was not qualified to serve as Treasurer-Tax Collector. While El Dorado County District 4 Supervisor Ron Briggs is that candidate, he was the secondary target of the action.
In a twist perhaps known and appreciated only by election nerds, the process actually requires the “petitioner” (Raffety) to sue the “respondent” (William Shultz, head of the county’s Elections Department) and not the opposing candidate, the “Party in Interest” (Briggs). And because of the critical timing dictated by the state’s election code relative to the June election, Judge Thomas Smith ruled on the matter Wednesday, March 26. All candidates and ballot items must be certified effective Friday, March 28.
“The petition challenges the elections official’s determination, pursuant to Elections Code section 13.5, that the Real Party in Interest meets the qualifications set forth in Government Code section 27000.7 for the office of Treasurer/Tax Collector for the June 3, 2014 primary election,” the court documents state.
The technicalities of the issue are that the elections official, Schultz, erred (that is, abused his discretion) in his appraisal of Briggs’ qualifications and experience to serve the county in a “senior financial management position.” However as stated in the documents, “In determining whether elections official has abused its discretion, the court may not substitute its judgement for that of the elections official, and if reasonable minds may disagree as to the wisdom of the elections official’s action, his determination must be upheld.”
Schultz told the Mountain Democrat late Wednesday that his review of the qualifications summary submitted with Briggs’ candidacy paperwork supported his decision. Schultz thus accepted the candidate’s description of his role as a county supervisor who “developed superior, intimate knowledge in developing budgets, identified funding sources, service impacts and established investment standards and practices…” the statement reads in part. Although the document states that his role as a county supervisor has been continuous for “three” years, Briggs was elected to a second term and has actually been in office for more than seven years. Schultz also noted that Briggs had signed his candidate documents “under penalty of perjury.”
The documents further cite section 13.5 of the Elections Code concluding that “the elections official made that determination based upon competent evidence.”
“The court finds that the County Clerk did not abuse his discretion when he determined that ron (sic) Briggs meets the criteria to run for the office of Treasurer/Tax Collector — Petition is denied without prejudice,” Judge Smith wrote.
Schultz said, “We’ve been good friends for years,” and therefore he was a bit “shocked” when he was served with Raffety’s petition on Monday. He was not required to attend the court proceedings Wednesday morning but was represented by Chief Assistant County Counsel Patricia Beck.
Reached out of town by phone, Raffety commented on the suit Thursday morning. She described a case in Orange County in 1994 wherein the duly elected, but later admittedly “under-qualified” Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert Citron, was instrumental in causing the county to go into bankruptcy to the tune of $1.6 billion. He was also convicted on several counts of financial fraud and served prison time the next year.
“Just because you’re on the Board of Directors of the hospital doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be the head of surgery,” Raffety said. She noted that in 1995, the legislature had added language that qualifications should include some kind of technical financial experience as opposed merely to “management.” Specifically some reasonable amount of experience as an accounting assistant or accounting technician, she said. “He’s trying to say that his experience on the Board of Supervisors is (comparable) to that kind of experience.”
Acknowledging that the Board of Supervisors is the ultimate authority over county financial matters, she noted, “The board delegates authority to the Treasurer-Tax Collector annually.” The court documents confirm that with emphasis saying the “authority to invest or re-invest funds of a local agency, and to sell or exchange securities, sits first and foremost, with the Board of Supervisors of the county.”
Although the court’s ruling may be appealed, Raffety said, “I could appeal after the election, but I really think I’m going to win. And I believe the citizens of El Dorado County will think the same.”
Briggs, of course, thinks differently. He told the Mountain Democrat Thursday morning that he had been “served” the court papers at 3 p.m. Monday and described a hectic night and day scrambling to get an attorney and be ready to go into court Wednesday morning. “I was nervous. We flat just weren’t prepared for this,” he said during a phone conversation.
“Her basic argument was that senior financial management is not equal to the technical experience, and I hung my hat on the description of management as opposed to ‘manager,’” Briggs said. He also described the board’s “ultimate authority” with respect to supervisors’ participation in numerous other governmental entities such as the water agency and special districts. Under the elections code standard, “Bill (Schultz) made an informed, fair, good faith judgement, and there was no second-guessing by the court.”
Citing his notes from the hearing, Briggs said, “She thinks the Board of Supervisors are a bunch of idiots, and she may be right some of the time. She also said Bill made his decision based on personal knowledge of me rather than on my experience and qualifications. Before this, my campaign was good, now it’s a great campaign. I think what she was doing was giving the voters the finger, because she doesn’t trust them. She needs to let them decide who is qualified. Let the voters decide.”
For a more thorough explanation on the petition for a writ of mandate, click here.
To read the petition, click here.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected]