By Jim Tortolano
Collectors of signatures for recall petitions for the removal from office of Westminster Mayor Tri Ta and city council members Chi Charlie Nguyen and Kimberly Ho were accused at a press conference Wednesday morning of bending, if not breaking election laws.
At the event held at a meeting room adjacent to the Nguoi Viet Daily newspaper in the Little Saigon area of Westminster, Ta and Nguyen accused such signature gatherers of “potentially fraudulent” actions by employing “bait and switch” tactics to get voter to sign the petitions.
Westminster United, which is pursuing the recall of the council majority, was named by Tran, Ta and Nguyen as the organization employing the paid collectors. Allegedly, collectors waiting outside supermarkets and other stores initially approached people to sign a rent control measure and then got them to sign the recall papers as well.
“These are actions that border on illegality,” said Van Tran, who said he was acting as the legal counsel for Ta and Nguyen.
However, David Johnson, one of the officers of Westminster United, said the collectors accused of the “bait and switch” approach were working on behalf of a different pro-recall organization and were not affiliated with his group.
Ta, Nguyen and Ho are the targets of a recall effort stemming from a split on the council between them and council members Tai Do and Sergio Contreras over issues such as alleged nepotism, a code of conduct for council members and a controversial decision to not allow council members to have items placed on the city council agenda without majority support.
In response to that recall, a rival recall effort has been aimed at Do and Contreras. If both factions collect and submit 8,736 valid signatures of registered voters who reside in Westminster, it’s possible that the entire city council could be removed from office and replaced with others.
At Wednesday’s press conference, several witnesses spoke about their encounters with the signature collectors, and a video was shown depicting a contentious exchange between a collector and an opponent of the recall of the council majority.
“A lot of residents are confused as to what they are really signing,” said Ta, and it was suggested at the conference that some elderly persons who did not have strong English skills might sign the petitions without understanding their content.
Tran, who served also as host of the event, is a former member of the Garden Grove City Council. He served one term before being elected to the California state Assembly representing the 68th District in 2004, 2006 and 2008. A Republican, Tran ran unsuccessfully for the 47th Congressional District seat in 2010, but was defeated by incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez.