Group petitions to recall Sonoma Valley school board trustee John Kelly

Stating that he has ‘engaged in relentless acts of deception, dishonesty and persuasion,’ a group of 10 Sonoma Valley residents was approved to begin circulating a petition to recall John Kelly from the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees.|

A group of Sonoma Valley residents are working to create a ballot measure to remove John Kelly from the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees.

On April 12, the residents — Robert A. Alice, Eric Benzon, Flor Canela, Delia Chavez, Cesar Estrada, Rachael Hairston, Teresa Hernandez, Alida Navarrete, Angelica Pulido and Walt Williams — filed a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition to remove Kelly. On May 16, their application was approved by the Registrar of Voters, meaning they can start soliciting signatures.

“You neglected your duties as a board member and instead used your position to advance your own interests without regard to students,” part of the notice states. “You have engaged in relentless acts of deception, dishonesty and persuasion. You have ignored requests for your resignation. Your record demonstrates that you have acted with a lack of ethical and moral behavior when executing your duties as an elected official that has created a continuing and substantial mistrust.”

The notice alleges that Kelly refused to comply with public records requests, did not adhere to requirements when he was censured last year, disrupted the board’s process for school configuration by promoting his own plan and provided favorable treatment for construction trade unions after benefiting from its campaign contributions.

As per Sonoma County Registrar of Voters policy, Kelly was given seven days to respond to the notice of intention, and did so.

“This attempted recall is nothing more than a timeworn personal grudge,” he wrote. “The highly inflammatory, deceitfully crafted text is riddled with half-truths and innuendo, expresses personal opinion as fact, and rehashes issues which have long been publicly and satisfactorily resolved.”

Proponents would have 60 days to circulate the petition. It will require 1,049 signatures to become a ballot measure — 25% of the 4,196 registered voters in “Area 3,” which Kelly was elected to represent. Only residents of that area, in El Verano, would be eligible to sign the petition, and if it is placed on the ballot, a simple majority of those voters would be needed for it to pass.

Kelly was first elected to the board in 2016, when he unseated Gary DeSmet with 55.7% of the vote. He was re-elected in 2020 when he ran unopposed. His current term ends in December, 2024.

Registrar of Voters Deva Proto said it is unclear when a recall measure would be put on a ballot.

“This would be dependent on many factors, including how long it takes the proponents to circulate the petition, how long it takes the ROV office to signature-check and when the scheduled school board meetings are,” she said.

Once an election is called, it must be held within 88 to 125 days. The deadline for it to be put on the Nov. 7 ballot would be Aug. 11, but to meet the required 60-day window, petitioners would need to file by July 15.

Deva said that it would cost $5.50 to $23 per voter, or a total of $23,183 to $96,945, to put the measure on a ballot.

Editor’s note: After this story published, the group’s petition to the Registrar of Voters was approved for circulation. This version of the story reflects that update.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at

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