It looked like the recall of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles was “dead in the water” a couple of weeks ago. But times have changed. There is now a more concentrated — or at least much better publicized — effort to have Knowles kicked out. Signatures are starting to be collected and press reports note that petitioners need about 1800 signatures (15% of registereds) in 60 days. The move may simply be a way to pressure Knowles into resigning (a common result in a recall). But if Knowles doesn’t resign, there is an open question — and possibly conflicting statutes — as to whether he can be recalled for his leadership of the city. There may also be a question of how many signatures are actually needed for the recall. The problem here is that the state law may conflict with the local law.
The first statute at play is Ferguson’s basic recall law. It requires the signatures of 15% of registered voters in 60 days. It also appears to allow recalls for any reason whatsoever (i.e. political recalls). As a point of knowledge, almost every recall that you have heard of has been a political recall (think Gray Davis, Scott Walker, the Colorado state Senators, Arizona Senate President, etc.)
However, the state of Missouri has a (possibly overriding) statute. Missouri doesn’t provide a recall for state officials, but it does have them for Class 3 cities (cities with a population between 5,000 and 29,999). This recall law is not a political one, but instead it is what has been called a judicial recall or malfeasance standard. What this means is that a specific charge has to be put forward in the recall petition, and (in Missouri’s case) it has to allege “misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform duties prescribed by law.”
The statute also requires the signatures of 25% of registered voters, so according to this law, more signatures would be needed.