Critical Areas Ordinance opponent considers county lawsuit a personal attack, affront to voter and property rights

Peninsula Daily News from

Clallam County, WA - Bob Forde is calling a county lawsuit to preempt the possible repeal of the Critical Areas Ordinance a personal attack and an affront to voter and property rights.

Forde, a Sequim resident, led the petition drive to repeal the ordinance, which governs development near streams, wetlands and slide areas countywide.

``This lawsuit is coming after me as an individual,'' Forde said Monday.

Commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, said the lawsuit is not a personal attack.

``The decision we made to pursue a declaratory judgment was based on legal grounds, not personalities,'' Tharinger said.

According to Tharinger, that decision was based on case law, which suggests the initiative may exceed state home-rule laws.

Last week, county Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory ruling to prevent the repeal measure from being placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Melly has since been unavailable for comment.

Forde named defendant

The lawsuit named Forde as the defendant and as representative for the “Committee to Repeal the Critical Areas Ordinance.”

Forde has 20 days to respond to the legal action in Superior Court.

The lawsuit asks for a judgment “declaring the proposed initiative to be beyond the scope of the initiative power of the people” and for “such further relief as the court deems just and equitable.”

That clause, Forde said, is an effort by the county to make him pay for the lawsuit.

“When the county initiates a lawsuit, you better have deep pockets.  They don’t care how much money they spend,” Forde said.

Tharinger said he could not comment on whether the county would seek reimbursement for legal costs incurred if a judge rules in favor of the county.

According to Forde, he and other property right activists will respond to the lawsuit, which alleges state law and the Clallam County Charter do not give voters the power to repeal the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Ordinance passed in June

The most recent draft of the ordinance was approved in June by a 2-1 vote of the county commissioners.

Commissioners Tharinger and Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles favored the ordinance.  Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, was opposed.

Forde filed the petition July 9 seeking the repeal of the ordinance.

On July 24, commissioners voted 2-1 to seek a court ruling on the repeal initiative and directed Melly to file suit.

Chapman opposed the action and called on his colleagues to follow the charter, which requires public hearing following a petition’s certification for the ballot.

But Tharinger and Doherty voted in the majority to seek a court ruling.

“To get the opinion of the court is proper,” Doherty said at the time.

Melly also informed commissioners at that time that case law suggests the county could preempt the ballot initiative.

State guidelines set Sept. 21 as the deadline for including a measure on the general election ballot.

“The county may have to call a special election just to deal with this,” Forde said.


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