Recall Effort Begins Against Three Westminster City Council Members

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

From left: Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, Councilwoman Kimberly Ho and Councilman Charlie Nguyen at a March 2019 City Council meeting.

A recall effort has begun against the three-member majority of the Westminster City Council, Kimberly Ho, Charlie Nguyen and Mayor Tri Ta.

“I respect the voters’ right to start this process,” said Ta to Voice of OC though he added his record for being an “honest, ethical and fair” elected official “speaks for itself.”

Nguyen in a statement called the recall “unfortunate,” despite his belief it will have “no chance of success.”

He added that those who wish to see him out of office “really lose sight of what really benefits the city and its residents and do not see the damage that this recall would bring to the city.”

Ho did not respond to requests for comment.

The city received the initial recall paperwork against the council members, known as the Notice of Intention, on Monday, July 1, and the paperwork was qualified by the Orange County Registrar of Voters the same day, according to City Clerk Christine Cordon.

That means the recall effort under state law can proceed. It’s the first step toward gathering signatures from 20 percent of the city’s registered voters or 8,736 signatures, according to Cordon.

If enough signatures are collected, the Council would be required to call an election where voters would decide whether or not Ho, Nguyen and Ta can stay in office.

Now it’s up to members of the recall team, known as “Westminster United,” to meet a set of paperwork deadlines set by the California Secretary of State before they can proceed with the official signature-gathering process.

The recall group is led in part by David Johnson, a city commissioner and vocal critic of the three council members, who said over the phone that interest in recalling Ho, Nguyen and Ta originated in the city’s Vietnamese community.

“This is certainly a well-rounded community effort,” he said.

Johnson also said in a text message that the recall team has done fundraising for the effort, but didn’t respond when asked how much money they’ve raised or how much they plan on raising. The group’s website has a page set up for donations.

If the group raises over $2,000, state law will require them to register as a campaign finance committee with the state and the city. Cordon said she hasn’t received any filings under the group’s name.

The potential recall is the result of continuous public clashes between the council majority — Ho, Nguyen and Ta — and council members Tai Do, a newcomer to city politics, and Sergio Contreras, who’s also a candidate for the 1st District Orange County Supervisor seat.

Ho, Nguyen and Ta also have critics among members of the public, who frequently refer to the council majority as the “Gang of Three” and accuse them of corruption during public meetings, largely due to discussions initiated by Do over the past few months on ideas about ethics and accountability at City Hall.

But the majority council members, along with their own supporters in the public, have maintained that Do is “grandstanding” for his own political gain by forcing public discussions on corruption allegations against the three council members meeting after meeting.

Ta said the recall, if certified for election, would result in “an expense the city cannot afford.”

That expense would fall somewhere between $333,000 and $362,000 if the recall went to a standalone special election, according to numbers provided by the Orange County Registrar of Voters. A recall election that consolidated with the March 2020 Presidential primary would cost somewhere between $143,000 and $167,000.

If the recall petition gathers enough signatures for certification, it will be handed to the City Council at a public meeting. State law requires the City Council to call for an election within 14 days from that meeting.

Ta in his statement claims voters and the people behind the recall effort “are being misled” by Do, accusing the first-time Councilman of “false statements, verbal attacks, and cyber bullying” against him.

“During the last seven months I have suddenly and inexplicably been made the subject of numerous false accusations from a new Council member, who hasn’t taken the time to get to know me or learn the true facts,” Ta added.

Do said over the phone Wednesday “it was only a matter of time before the people of Westminster would come together and voice their concern,” adding that over the last six months he’s seen the three council members “repeatedly operate like they are above the law.”

“I am an open book,” Ta said. “If there is any evidence of actual wrongdoing, please present it.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.