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SLO County declines paying cost difference to election recount requester 

The San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder's Office refused to pay an election recount requester $640 after a SLO Superior Court judge ruled to delete "extended hours" from the total cost of the manual count's efforts.

"Ms. Stebbens did not file a timely claim or counter claim in small claims court and therefore we do not believe the clerk-recorder is legally obligated to refund Ms. Stebbens," Deputy County Counsel Ann Duggan told New Times on April 17.

In January, San Miguel resident Darcia Stebbens won the small claims lawsuit filed against her by the county Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano. The case stemmed from Stebbens not paying a reported $4,448.21 balance of the roughly $53,000 recount bill after she requested a manual recalculation of votes cast in the 2022 2nd District supervisor race.

Judge Rita Federman's trial de novo ruling reduced the actual recount count costs by $5,088.27, stating that Cano and her salaried staff members didn't receive overtime or additional compensation for the extra hours they worked on the manual recount. Stebbens didn't file a counterclaim to the lawsuit that holds the Clerk-Recorder's Office accountable to pay the difference owed.

Cano pushed back on Federman's verdict.

"The court's decision will have far reaching impact on the [Clerk-Recorder's] Office with respect to how it conducts future recounts and therefore, clarification of the court's ruling as it relates to 'extended hours' is of considerable import," read the county's Feb. 9 motion to set aside the ruling.

The motion requested a rehearing on what makes up "extended hours" of salaried county employees and asked the court to set aside the ruling and reduce the excluded amount to $1,756.10.

Duggan alleged in the motion that the county sought to correct a clerical error in judgment. Alternatively, the motion also wanted the court to vacate the judgment on an "erroneous" legal basis.

Federman denied the county's motion on March 22. She rejected the notion that she committed a legal error in her analysis of the actual costs incurred in the recount.

The judge also challenged the motion's statement that neither Cano nor Stebbens raised the issue of overtime compensation during the trial. Federman's initial decision deemed Deputy Director Clerk-Recorder Melanie Foster's testimony about extended-hour payments being actual costs as unpersuasive.

"To the contrary, this issue was raised during defendant's cross-examination of Ms. Cano and by the plaintiff's direct examination of Ms. Foster," Federman wrote in the order to dismiss the county's motion.

Duggan told New Times that the county will not be appealing the decision anymore.

"The clerk-recorder could file a petition for review with the Court of Appeal, but given the time and expense of doing so, the clerk-recorder will not be seeking further review," she said.

Cano didn't respond to New Times' request for comment. Duggan added that Cano and the county "respectfully disagree" with Federman's rulings.

Stebbens didn't respond to New Times' request for comment before press time. Some of her supporters urged the SLO County Board of Supervisors to compel the county Clerk-Recorder's Office to pay Stebbens the difference after the bill reduction.

"They should stop beating a dead horse over this issue," said Edna Valley resident Joe Rouleau at the March 26 meeting. "The difference between a supervisor and a leader was that a supervisor does things right, but a leader does the right thing." Δ

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