The beating death of a mentally ill homeless man for which two police officers are on trial was the catalyst for major change via the ballot box in Fullerton Tuesday.
Voters in the Orange County city voted overwhelmingly to recall Councilmen Richard Jones, Don Bankhead and Pat McKinley -- who had been in office just 18 months.
McKinley said Tuesday that he was initially puzzled by the recall effort. Organizers of the recall had cited a lack of transparency and leadership from the council as reasons to support their effort.
"When I first heard that somebody was going to try to recall us, I thought: Why?" McKinley said.
But on Tuesday, city voters apparently had their reasons. They elected three newcomers to replace the outgoing councilmen.
"Obviously, people want change," said Doug Chaffee, who won a seat on the council.
The violent death of Kelly Thomas allegedly at the hands of two Fullerton police officers in June 2011 prompted the controversial recall campaign. Thomas was brutally beaten and died in the hospital five days later, prompting outrage. Fullerton Police Department Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli are on trial for the Thomas' death.
"When you have a department where officers aren't being disciplined properly and you have a history of cultural problems, that responsibility falls directly on the council – and that's the reason they've been recalled," said Travis Kiger, another election winner Tuesday.
The third Fullerton man to win a seat on the council, Greg Sebourn, said there's even discussion about outsourcing police services entirely.
But Chaffee said the Thomas case is only part of the problem in Fullerton. There are also budget concerns and low morale at City Hall, he said.
Chaffee, Kiger and Sebourn were among 13 candidates who vied to replace the councilmen targeted by the recall effort.
Voters approved the recall of each current council member by more than 65 percent. The newcomers won their seats with varying degrees of voter support: Kiger, 55.6 percent; Chaffee, 42.4 percent; and Sebourn with 40.5 percent.
Election results, compiled by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, are preliminary and must be certified by the council. The three councilmen-elect are expected to take their seats next month.
More political tumult is on the way for Fullerton: a regularly scheduled council election – at which three seats will be up for grabs -- is set for Nov. 6. Kiger, who is replacing Jones, will have to face re-election at that time if he wants to stay in office. Jones' term was set to expire in November.
The other two newcomers are slated to hold office until 2014, according to a city elections website.
The Orange County Register reported that Bankhead had previously been recalled in 1996, an election that until Tuesday marked the only successful recall in the city's history.