Local News

Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 07:31 PM

Seals take center stage in Assessor race

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    Assessor-Recorder Jim Fitch

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    Kern County assessor candidate Jon Lifquist, left, discusses his qualifications for the position with Californian Executive Editor Robert Price, center, and government reporter James Burger on "First Look with Scott Cox" on March 31, 2014.

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    Kern County assessor candidate Lupe Esquivias, left, discusses his qualifications for the position with Californian Executive Editor Robert Price, center, and government reporter James Burger on "First Look with Scott Cox" on March 31, 2014.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Retiring Kern County Assessor-Recorder Jim Fitch broke state law and county ordinance Monday when he used department letterhead and a county email account to announce his endorsement of Jon Lifquist's bid to replace him as Assessor.

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said California Government Code prohibits using public resources to advocate for a particular political candidate.

Using county letterhead and a county email account to send out an endorsement press release "would appear to be a violation," Goldner said.

In addition, she said county ordinance code limits the use of the county seal, which is included on Fitch's office letterhead, to "official county business." It was unclear Tuesday whether Fitch would face any penalty.

"We made a mistake," Fitch said.

He said he has been admonishing his staff to be careful not to use county resources to campaign or support candidates.

But when it came time to send out the personal press release supporting Lifquist, he said, habit took over and he sent the missive out in the same way he's sent out scores of official press releases.

Another of the three candidates for the Assessor's seat -- Lupe Esquivias -- has also affixed a county-like seal on his campaign signs and flyers.

His seal, however, has a different picture in its center and the words "Esquivias for Assessor Recorder" around the edges.

Kern County Chief Deputy Registrar of Voters Karen Rhea said it appears Esquivias didn't violate the law because he altered the seal before using it.

Esquivias, who works as an appraiser in the Assessor's office, said Tuesday he wasn't trying to trick voters

"I didn't do it to be misleading," he said. "I wanted something round and something that would incorporate what we do."

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