The recall election for Friend City Mayor Jewels Knoke, set to happen later this year, has been called off by Saline County Election Commissioner Daryl Fikar because the required number of verified signatures on the petition for the recall was not met.
Two other recall elections for Friend City Council members Phyllis Ryan and Shane Stutzman were called off in March for the same reason.
Friend citizen Rebecca Williamson citied “gross misuse of funds” as her reason for filing the recall petitions in early March, referring to the 2019 state audit which found more than $1 million of city funds misused by former city employee Patrick Gates.
For a recall election to move forward, 75 signatures for both Knoke and Stutzman would have had to be submitted, with 54 signatures sent in for Ryan.
Ryan and Stutzman’s were thrown out earlier last month, with Stutzman saying in a previous interview, “I understand the grounds of the recall. It did happen and it’s embarrassing.”
Those numbers are determined by a percentage of registered voters in the office holders' respective districts, based on state statute.
After Fikar's office verified the signatures, none of those thresholds were met.
To verify the signatures, the election office looked at whether each signer was a registered voter, whether there were any duplicate signatures on each petition and whether the petitioner was present during the signing.
Fikar prepared a document outlining the petitions' invalidity, dated April 1.
According to that document, Fikar received an affidavit in late March from one of the signatories that indicated Williamson was not present when that person signed the petition. Therefore, his signature was invalid.
The election office then conducted an investigation and found that all 19 signatures on that particular page of the petition had to be thrown out because Williamson was not the one circulating the petition when they signed it.
According to Fikar, the person who files a recall petition must be the one to gather signatures in person. Nebraska Revised Statute 932-1546(2) says legal action may be taken against those who don't follow that rule.
“Any person who falsely swears to a circulator's affidavit on a petition...shall be guilty of a Class IV felony,” the statute says.
Fikar wrote in his document that it's up to the county attorney whether to pursue legal action.
Results for the number of petition signatures turned out to be 66 for Knoke, 40 for Stutzman and 40 for Ryan.
In a call with the Friend Sentinel April 23, Knoke said she is happy the Friend community will not have to pay for a special election this year.
“I understand that people were misinformed, but I hope to be the best mayor I can be for Friend,” Knoke said.
Calls to Williamson and Ryan were unanswered.