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The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office was asked today to investigate allegations of voter fraud after signature gatherers hired by the Downey fire union were accused of lying to residents in order to get them to sign a petition.
A letter from city clerk Adria Jimenez and addressed to Anne Ingalls of the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division requested an investigation after the city received "numerous phone calls" and e-mails from residents alleging misleading statements by petition circulators.
One resident claimed a signature gatherer told a Downey resident she would save $1,000 by signing the petition, according to the letter.
The fire union is gathering signatures in an attempt to amend the city charter, which requires two-thirds voter approval before the city can contract out fire and police protection services.
Union officials say Downey is violating the charter by hiring outside EMTs and jailers, exposing Downey taxpayers "to legal challenges and significant damage awards."
Paid signature gatherers have been camped outside local grocery stores the last few months in an attempt to collect the roughly 7,400 signatures required to place an initiative measure on the November ballot. The measure would allow the city council to contract with another local agency for fire and police services without voter approval.
Residents have complained about the signature gatherers, alleging they are lying and providing misleading information in an effort to obtain signatures. One such complaint came from resident Joyce Doyle, who wrote to the city council on Friday and whose letter was forwarded to the District Attorney.
"Yesterday I was going in Ralph's Market on Firestone Boulevard and observed a man with a petition talking to another gentleman," Doyle wrote. "I stopped to listen and the resident was confused as the man with the petition was telling him this will save you $1,000 on what it cost you now...for the Fire Department. The resident was handed the petition and he said he said he didn't understand and the other man repeated about saving $1,000 and said 'you need to sign this now.'"
Doyle said she interrupted and "told the resident this was not true and it would take away his right to vote on whether we keep our own Police and Fire Departments pursuant to the Downey City Charter. He was shocked when I told him this is an attempt by the Firemen's Association to go Los Angeles County and it would allow in the future three council members to make this decision for him and the residents of Downey with no vote by the residents."
Steve Davis, president of the Downey firefighters association, said the union does not tell petitioners what to say and provides them with a statement to read in case residents request more information.
Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of each resident to read the petition language before they sign, Davis said.
"We ask the signature gatherers to be honest and when we hear otherwise I am in continual contact with the [petition] company to have them rectify the problem," Davis said. "But no matter what people are telling you, read the petition."
The city clerk's letter to the District Attorney also contains two photographs taken by Mayor Mario Guerra, who confronted a signature gatherer outside the Ralph's on Sunday afternoon. Guerra claims petitioner refused the store manager's request to leave the property.
Downey police were eventually called and the petitioner left without incident.