5 planning group members out over Blackwater
Union Tribune (2007-12-12) Anne Krueger
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By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
1:12 a.m. December 12, 2007
EAST COUNTY – Five members of the Potrero planning group were voted off the panel Tuesday night in a recall election that served as a symbolic referendum on a controversial training camp proposed by Blackwater Worldwide.
The five incumbents all supported the proposed facility.
As the five were ousted, five candidates on an anti-Blackwater slate were voted in to replace the incumbents on the rural town's planning group.
“It should send a loud and clear message that Potrero does not want Blackwater in the community,” said Carl Meyer, a leader in the recall campaign and an anti-Blackwater candidate.
The incumbents will leave office next month.
The Blackwater proposal has divided the tiny community near the U.S.-Mexico border in East County. Many say the law enforcement training camp would result in more noise and traffic, while a smaller contingent of supporters says it would bring jobs and a greater police presence.
The vote received national attention because of the underlying political debate about Blackwater's role as a military contractor in Iraq, particularly in light of the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in September by Blackwater guards in Baghdad.
Planning groups are advisory bodies that make recommendations to county officials on land-use issues. The county Board of Supervisors will make the ultimate decision on Blackwater's proposal.
Brian Bonfiglio, a Blackwater vice president, said the recall would not affect the company's plans in Potrero. He said company executives in North Carolina whom he talked to yesterday had no interest in the recall.
“I don't care one way or the other,” Bonfiglio said.
He said opponents should wait until an environmental report is released early next year before deciding what effect the project would have on the community.
Members of the county Registrar of Voters Office counted ballots last night, a process observed by the candidates, reporters and activists. The election was held by mail, although the registrar's office also allowed residents to turn in ballots yesterday at the Potrero General Store.
Martha Preciado was one of two residents who turned in their ballots at the store yesterday morning.
“I'm against Blackwater, and all the people I've spoken to are against it,” she said.
Planning group members Gordon Hammers; Thell Fowler; Jerry Johnson; his wife, Mary Johnson; and Janet Wright lost their seats on the board. They were replaced by five candidates who oppose Blackwater: Meyer, Terry Stephens, Janet Goode, William Crawley IV and Tina Mc Cunney
Three other candidates who favor Blackwater's proposal failed in their quest for a seat on the board: Anita Meneses, Brenda Wise and Edward Boryla.
The nine-member board had voted its support for Blackwater's project last December. As word of the project spread and opposition grew, Meyer and other community members gathered enough signatures for the recall election.
Three members of the Potrero planning group were removed from their seats in the spring when officials determined they were never properly appointed. County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has said she will make those appointments after the recall election.
Planning group member Jan Hedlun, who took office in January, is the only member who opposes Blackwater and was not a recall target.
The unofficial tallies:
Should Jerry Johnson be recalled?:
Yes – 187; No – 93
Should Terry Stephens succeed?:
Yes – 176
Mary Johnson be recalled:
Yes – 189; No – 91
Janet Goode succeed:
Yes – 177
Gordon Hammers be recalled:
Yes – 196; No – 84
Carl Meyer succeed: 170
Brenda Wise succeed: 68
Janet Wright be recalled:
Yes 186; No 94
William Crawley IV succeed: 177
Edward Boryla succeed: 48
Thell Fowler be recalled:
Yes – 176; No – 104
Tina Mc Cunney
Anita Meneses succeed: 55
Note: 280 were counted yesterday; 10 remain to be counted; 509 people in the community were eligible to vote.