Jon Lifquist did not obtain a majority in the June 3 primary despite this array of federal, state and local politicians who endorsed him for the office of Kern County Assessor-Recorder. The Kern County D.A.'s office is said to be investigating the use of Assessor-Recorder office resources to support his campaign efforts.
By Patric Hedlund
In November there will be a run-off election between Jon Lifquist and Russell Johnson for Kern County Assessor-Recorder. Johnson is on the Bakersfield City Council. Lifquist has drawn a paycheck as a public civil service employee in the assessor’s office since 1985.
The laws of the State of California and the civil service rules of Kern County both prohibit use of public facilities and equipment for personal use, including political campaigning.
Evidence published by The Mountain Enterprise online on Thursday, May 29 as breaking news indicates Lifquist’s campaign spilled over into the workplace of the assessor’s office. His boss endorsed him on Kern County letterhead, and a principal adviser was a work colleague who appears to have used office time and resources for the campaign.
Bakersfield resident Paul Stine distributed a package of documents to Kern County news media on Wednesday, May 28.
In an interview, Stine said, “I heard about a month ago that [Assessor-Recorder] James Fitch (who is retiring) had used his official stationary to make a political endorsement. I’ve been a public school administrator. I know that is not right. I made a public records request.”
Although Lifquist collected political endorsements from current Assessor James Fitch and regional rank and file Republicans, including U.S. Congressman Kevin McCarthy and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove plus Supervisors Zack Scrivner and Mick Gleason, the results of Stine’s Public Records Act request created an “October Surprise” in May, on the eve of the June 3 election.
The revelations may have gained some traction with Kern County voters. The race was fairly close, with Lifquist at 43% and Johnson 39% of the vote in the preliminary tally.
Under Political Activities of County Employees, Kern County code 3.04.100 says: “No person employed under the system created by this chapter shall participate in any political activity on county time or in any manner involving the use of county property or expenditure of public funds, nor conveying the implication of county endorsement or support for a candidate for local, state or federal office….”
Stine requested emails and telephone logs associated with the upcoming election. Logs from Lifquist’s phone in the Kern County Assessor’s office include a call to political consultant Mark Abernathy, Kern County’s political kingmaker. Stine circled the date and time of the call, 9:06 a.m.
He also points to Lifquist’s frequent use of the Kern County email system for brainstorming campaign strategies and slogans with co-workers, even how to conduct his election night party—complete from decor (red, white and blue balloons) to menu (barbecue burgers and sausage).
In another note, a realtor pledges support for Lifquist’s campaign, while asking the assessor-candidate to send his company new business.
The Mountain Enterprise checked with Kern County’s Deputy County Counsel Devin Brown to confirm the data received from Mr. Stine was authentic: “The records we provided are retrieved from the county computers,” Brown said in an interview Thursday, May 29. “I can’t confirm whether those were sent from his office computer, but if he used his county assessor account it would route through the email server system of the county,” Brown added.
“Mr. Stine [submitted] an initial request to search all emails of Mr. Lifquist and Mr. Esquivias, plus Mr. Fitch, the County Recorder (an elected public official),” Brown explained.
“We worked with him to pare down that request to use keywords such as ‘campaign,’ ‘election,’ and ‘candidate,’ then worked with the county’s IT (information technology) department to define the records to be retrieved. They worked with the assessor’s office to secure those records.”
Does the county counsel alert public employees to the laws of the state and the rules of the county about personal use of public resources?
“If they ask us, we provide that information,” Brown replied.
Readers can review the records, plus California Government Code and Kern County code, at the original story .
Jon Lifquist with some of the local officials who endorsed him for Kern County Assessor-Recorder
This is part of the June 6, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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