ENID, Okla. — The recall election of Ward 3 City Commissioner Ben Ezzell will proceed as planned on Feb. 9, 2021, a judge ordered Thursday.
Associate Judge Allison Lafferty, of Blaine County District Court, ruled against Ezzell’s objection to the sufficiency of the recall petition circulated by Enid Freedom Fighters.
“Giving her deference to which (Alissa Lack) is entitled, this court finds the City Clerk’s determination that the second recall petition was sufficient will not be disturbed,” Lafferty wrote in her seven-page ruling. Lafferty was assigned the case after Garfield County judges recused themselves due to having working relationships with Ezzell, an Enid attorney.
Lafferty also on Thursday approved the motion for Enid Freedom Fighters to intervene as defendants in the case, as well as their motion to file a supplemental brief out of time past the initial Oct. 20 deadline. She did not approve Ezzell’s response to their out of time motion asking for 10 days to do the same.
Of the nine initial petition circulators, the five listed intervenors — Ty Atkinson, Brian Henry, Jennifer Henry, Keith Siragusa and Jennifer White — are all Ward 3 residents, Enid Freedom Fighters leader Melissa Crabtree has previously said. Brian Henry was not immediately available for comment on the ruling Thursday.
Ezzell filed his objection in Garfield County District Court on Aug. 17, several weeks after Lack verified 87 of the 204 collected signatures were sufficient for a recall to be ordered under Enid City Charter rules. An in-person hearing was initially set for Oct. 6, though a COVID-19 outbreak the day before at the courthouse resulted in Lafferty’s decision to rule on briefs alone, in lieu of a hearing.
Lafferty in her ruling did not elaborate on Ezzell’s assertion that the efforts to recall him were specifically due to his July 30 city email proposing a mask mandate, but stated that the recall efforts began in response to “decisions and statements he made regarding a mask mandate for the city of Enid.”
The process is available to voters once an elected official has been in office for six months, and a petition must include a general statement of the grounds for removal, as well as a verification that each signature belongs to the person whose name it purports to be. Enid’s city clerk has 10 days to determine the petition’s sufficiency.
This verification followed an amendment to the initial petition, which Lack had on Aug. 4 found insufficient due to unclear verification statements. Circulator Penny Sweet then provided the amendment identifying which signatories were known by the circulator and which had signed the petition in their homes.
Ezzell, representing himself as plaintiff, had named Lack and Mayor George Pankonin as defendants, as representatives of the city of Enid. Stephen Jones filed a motion to intervene on Sept. 11 on behalf of the petitioners.
In his objection, Ezzell argued the petition was insufficient under other statutory requirements besides charter rules, as well as grounds that the petition failed to comply with requirements for truthfulness and that the stated reasons to recall him did not meet “general statement” requirements.
Discussion of the 1998 Oklahoma Supreme Court case Clapsaddle v. Blevins proved central to Ezzell’s argument. That ruling recognized that under Section 15-04 of Oklahoma state statute, initiatives, referendums and recall elections are all constitutionally sanctioned methods for popular intervention in governmental affairs, as a check on officeholders.
“Therefore, ‘all three measures — initiative, referendum and recall (emphasis added) — must hence be treated as falling under the same procedural rubric,’” Lafferty wrote in her ruling.
Ezzell contended this procedural rubric should more broadly include more statutory requirements beyond Section 15-04. The city of Enid and the intervenors, however, contended the requirements were limited to that statute section.
“Without more specific from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, this court is not willing to interpret ‘procedural rubric’ beyond the confines of 11 O.S. 15-204 even though Ezzell makes a compelling argument to do so,” Lafferty wrote.
Ezzell said Thursday he hadn’t yet decided whether he would appeal, based on the judge’s ruling that the state Supreme Court could make a more specific decision on Clapsaddle.
“The decision is, do I appeal it, or do I see what happens at the recall, or do I throw my hands up and say, ‘to hell with it all,’ but I don’t know yet. I’ll probably decide in the next three days,” he said.
Candidate filing is in December. Whoever receives the highest number of votes would win the February recall vote and serve the three months remaining of Ezzell’s term. That same day is the election to choose Ezzell’s successor on the commission, who will take office in May when Ezzell’s term expires.