Nels "Chris" Djernaes

Djernaes

An effort by a coalition of Solvang residents to recall City Councilman Chris Djernaes failed to clear the first hurdle due to lack of verifiable signatures.

The coalition began the recall process for Djernaes citing his support of a large development as well as repeated incidents lacking common courtesy, perceived acts of mockery and disdain for citizens, defamation, bullying and harassment.

The Intention to Repeal notification posted June 20 to Djernaes and Acting City Manager Xenia Bradford opened the door to a petition process which could have placed the recall on the November ballot. Another Intention to Repeal may be filed.

"The county verified signatures on the petition and found four signatures to be invalid. We have reviewed the requirements and determined that the petition is invalid due to an insufficient amount of signatures,” Bradford confirmed via e-mail.

The proponents would need to resubmit the petition with the required number of signatures to restart the process, then would need to gather signatures of 25% of Solvang’s roughly 3,700 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

“Djernaes’ failures to be respectful and civil include, but are not limited to, his obvious disdain of constituents; mockery of speakers at City Council meetings; blatant disregard for the wishes of the voters; disrespectful remarks directed toward both current and former City Council members; frequent defamation of organizations and individuals; and bullying and harassment of a number of employees of the city of Solvang both inside and outside of City Council meetings,” the initial notice of recall stated.

The notice also mentioned “repeated actions and statements demonstrating a blatant disregard and contempt of the Brown Act … repeated violations of the Solvang City Council Code of Ethics (which are simple rules of common courtesy) at every City Council meeting.”

Djernaes handily won his council seat in 2018 on a campaign platform that called for streamlining city permitting and planning processes, and cutting the city budget with a strong emphasis on reorganizing the city’s tourism marketing efforts. During a candidates’ forum prior to the election, Djernaes voiced his support for developing an urban growth boundary.

“This is not new,” Djernaes said said of the recall effort, during council member comments Monday. “Before I ran there were members of our own city staff who were trying to prevent me from even running. We found the e-mails. And I will hopefully get that out to the community so they can see that. They tried to prevent me from being seated on Dec. 10 because I campaigned on the idea that we needed to clean up corruption and scandal and right-size city government. They then went after me time and again to recall me in 2019. For whatever reason it didn’t take. Then they tried to smear me in January.”

In the face of significant projected budget shortfalls prior to the COVID-19 economic downturn, Djernaes and Mayor Ryan Toussaint led the charge which resulted in the dismantling of the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau and reduced city funding for the Solvang Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes, I made enemies because I campaigned on this and I led the movement to get rid of four married couples that straddled the council, the planning commission and the (board of architectural review). And we did that as a council. Congratulations. That was a great move on our part. We then changed the budget, right-sized it, just like Mr. Toussaint said earlier. That was a Herculean effort and … we had a fight on our hands because the previous city managers didn't want us to discuss it,” Djernaes said during council comments Monday.

Since his election, Djernaes has been investigated by the Fair Political Practices Committee for allegedly failing to report a personal loan over $10,000 on his campaign-related forms and was admonished by Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office when he asked prosecutors who had reported alleged Brown Act violations by Solvang City Council.

Signatories on the recall petition include Lammy Johnstone-Kockler, James G. Banakus, Jack R. Clark, Gerda Willis, Joanne Clark, David Blanchard, Heather Blanchard, Perry Baker, Jane Schwarzwalter, Joe Pouley, David Pick, Mindi Christian, Coni Goodwin, Matt Goodwin, Matthew Pudwin, Rikka Rasmussen, Patrick Meyer, Elizabeth Jensen, Richard Jensen and Semiha Jensen.

In a letter to the editor, Joanne Clark specifically noted Djernaes’s “unprofessional, demeaning, disrespectful and infantile behavior towards Solvang residents at the May 26 council meeting,” and called it “unacceptable and deplorable.”

“I don’t feel he’s appropriate. I think he lacks integrity, candor,” Jack Clark said.

Council members Daniel Johnson and Karen Waite as well as Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke all said they will refuse to sign the petition.

“I just want to make it clear that I have not signed it nor will I sign it. I understand it’s their legal right to go ahead with these proceedings, but I don’t agree with them. I don’t agree with their reasonings,” Johnson said during Monday’s meeting.

“That’s why we have elections,” Clarke added.

“He was elected pretty strongly by the people for the platform he presented. If the people have decided now they don’t like what he’s doing, then when his turn comes up in two years, don't reelect him,” Waite said in a phone interview.

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