IMPERIAL COUNTY — After the April 23 verdict convicting Imperial County Board of Education and Imperial Valley College Trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner of two counts perjury, one count filing false declaration of candidacy, and one count of grand theft, the ICOE and IVC boards will soon be left with a decision on their hands on how to proceed to fill the respective seats once they become vacant after the upcoming May 27 sentencing for her crimes.
Imperial County Registrar of Voters Linsey Dale said, “Pursuant to Government Code §1770(h) an office becomes vacant upon conviction of a felony or of any offense involving a violation of his or her official duties. An officer shall be deemed to have been convicted under this subdivision when a trial court judgement is entered.”
ICOE Board President Victor Jaime and IVC Board President Mark Edney said Gonzalez-Buttner is currently suspended from activity on either boards until the sentencing.
“She can come in as a member of the public virtually and listen and put in a public comment that's read for her but she can't come on and be part of the (board) panel,” Jaime said.
“Once it's sentenced, there are statutes that say if you're a convicted felon in these areas regarding voter fraud or anything having to do with your election constitutes you not being able to serve on the board,” he said.
Dale confirmed, saying the trustee seats become vacant on both boards at the official sentencing, yet there is some conflicting information regarding when Gonzalez-Buttner is actually officially suspended from the boards in the interim.
Dale and an attorney from San Diego, both independently, said Gonzalez-Buttner remains on both education boards until official sentencing has occurred.
“The boards have to actually suspend the person,” the attorney said. “Whatever happens on the criminal side doesn't mean it impacts them on their job. There's different roles for different agencies — so it just depends on what the bylaws are for that particular agency.”
“One would think that they would just resign but it’s up to the board or governing body of the board to suspend them or cause for the removal of their seat,” the attorney said. “The suspension (would be) until that person is either reinstated or removed from office.”
Dale said the conviction means Gonzalez-Buttner “will not be eligible as a candidate for any state or local elective office.”
Dale also said it would be the decision of each district to either appoint a new board member or hold a special election to complete her former terms, respectively.
“If it is requested that this office hold a special election, the cost associated would be charged to the district requesting the election,” Dale said.
As to the dollar amounts of the costs themselves, Dale said without a deep analysis per district it would be difficult to estimate how much a special election might cost, but “if they hold a special independent election, the costs will be much higher.”
Jaime — who said the situation had been ongoing since before he came on as a board member in April 2019, being made ICOE board president in December 2020 — said even before her conviction, ICOE had been asking Gonzalez-Buttner to resign from the Board due to questions arising of the location of her legal domicile, or permanent residence. A resident of Santa Clara alleged Gonzalez-Buttner’s permanent residence (domicile) was in Santa Clara and not Calexico due to her residence with her boyfriend Christopher Stampolis and her children attending school there, as previously reported by this newspaper. Gonzalez-Buttner previously denied these claims saying that she has held the same permanent residence in Calexico while going to school herself in Santa Clara starting in 2014, as previously reported.
Jaime said the ICOE Board passed a resolution in January 2021 that reiterated the Board must follow California Code and others regarding no candidate being able to serve on two “incompatible boards” at the same time. Jaime said holding seats on both ICOE and IVC boards would enact this since both entities hold contracts with each other “…but she hadn’t resigned.”
He said California Code dictates that the candidate elected to two incompatible boards must take the seat of the board in which they were most recently elected, which would have meant Gonzalez-Buttner would have had to vacate the ICOE Board as she was elected to the IVC Board over incumbent Louis Wong in the election held November 3, 2020.
“We just kept saying, 'You need to resign, you need to resign,' well she wouldn't,” Jaime said, “and she said she doesn't believe she has to so we did a resolution … according to the California Code and all these other codes, you must resign from the previous board (and take a seat at the most recent board you were elected to).”
“I've never really known Ms. Buttner, I knew her as she was sitting next to me on the Board but other than that … I just happened to be president of the Board when it finally came to fruition and came to trial,” he said.
“It's up to each entity as to whether they are going to do a special election or an appointment but I've rarely seen (the latter) because all they're doing is filling the remainder of the vacant seats until the next election,” Jaime said.
Though Edney said, “The Imperial Valley College has made no comment officially or otherwise on this matter,” he also did say “the case is not about the IVC election, it is about the ICOE election.”
Gonzalez-Buttner was elected to the IVC Board of Trustees in the November 2020 election by an 18.94-percent margin of victory. Dale said Gonzalez-Buttner was elected to the ICOE Board of Trustees during the November 5, 2013 election, by a 16.51-percent margin of victory over her then-opponent Herlinda Belcher, according to County voting records.
The sentencing hearing for Gonzalez-Buttner is scheduled for Thursday, May 27, at the Imperial County Superior Courthouse in Brawley.