COEUR d'ALENE - Petitioners gathering signatures to springboard a recall election on four Coeur d'Alene incumbents will have less than 75 days to collect enough autographs to make that happen.
That's the verdict after the Secretary of State's office reversed its initial interpretation of statutes that govern the process.
The 75-day timeline to gather signatures includes the 15 business days the Kootenai County Clerk's office will have to certify them, the Secretary of State's office wrote Wednesday in a letter to Coeur d'Alene City Clerk Susan Weathers.
That means the city had been correct all along, and the 15-day certification time frame has to be factored into the 75-day window - not added to it.
"We agree with you," Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst wrote. "In order to avoid a court challenge of the recall election, petitioners need to submit their petitions to you well in advance of the June 19th deadline so the signatures can be examined and certified by the county clerk within that deadline."
Staff from the offices of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reviewed the statutes in light of Coeur d'Alene's interpretation.
The statute says signatures on the petitions have to be certified to show proof they are registered voters by the time the petitions get to the city clerk's office, which Coeur d'Alene's legal department pointed out. In order to be certified, it said, the county clerk has to certify them.
Earlier in the week, the Secretary of State's office had said the 15-day certification time frame should be added on top of the 75-day signature gathering period.
Questions about "perfected" and "certified" signatures caused confusion between the county and city, but Hurst's letter said Idaho statute 34-1807 clarifies the requirement.
"We're all in this together, to make sure everything is done right," said Mike Gridley, city attorney. "We're just trying to deal with something that's a very unusual situation, and dealing with it fairly and correctly."
The change means recall petitioners will have less time than originally thought to collect 4,311 signatures from valid Coeur d'Alene voters. They're trying to get a recall election on the ballot for City Council members Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander and Mayor Sandi Bloem.
How long the county would need to certify thousands of signatures on four petitions, Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes couldn't say.
But however long his office would need would directly affect how long signature gatherers will have to collect them, so long as the finished product is at the city clerk's office by 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 19.
"That's a bit of disappointment," Hayes said Wednesday, after he had sided with the earlier opinion that the 15 days should be added to the 75. "The Secretary of State said one thing, and now they're saying something different."
Hayes is meeting with Coeur d'Alene officials Friday to talk about the state's opinion.
"There are a lot of questions," he said.
It's the first time the recall statute dealing with the timeline has been questioned since 2004, when it was amended from 60 days to 75 days. While there have been recall elections since then, Hurst said, none has been in a district as large as Coeur d'Alene, so deadlines never played a prominent part.
"This is the first one that's come up that's been large enough to push that date," Hurst said.
The citizen group, RecallCdA, is seeking the ouster of the four incumbents largely for their support of the McEuen Field redevelopment project - and not supporting a public advisory vote on it.
Frank Orzell, RecallCdA organizer, said the flip-flopping on the June 19 deadline since Orzell launched the recall effort has been frustrating.
"We're confused by this turn of events," he said. "And there is a question of trust."
He said the recall group is confident it will meet the 4,311 signature threshold regardless of the cutoff date, but added it wouldn't be surprising if dates shifted again.
"We got what we thought was a definitive statement, now that's been retracted," he said. "How do we know that's any more definitive than the one that's been retracted?"
The change also means - if the process gets that far - that a recall election could be Aug. 28, not Nov. 6.
That would be the first available date the city clerk could select for an election.
The other three dates are in November, March and May, but it is the Secretary of State office's opinion that the clerk choose the earliest allowable election date as not to delay the constitutional right of the electors for a recall, Hurst said.