Belfair bypass: Residents urge commissioners to open meetings to the public

Belfair Herald

Belfair, WA - 8/8/02 - A group of Belfair residents and property owners sent a letter to the Mason County Board of Commissioners last week through an attorney demanding that
closed-door meetings on the Belfair Bypass be opened to the public.

The commissioners went into closed negotiations with Peter Overton and his
attorney in May following an announcement in April that a 1996 Right-of-Way
Dedication Agreement for the Belfair Bypass, which was signed by Overton and
a different set of commissioners, was no longer acceptable. Explaining their
decision at the time, the commissioners wrote in a statement that the
right-of-way agreement was "inherently inequitable and unfair" and created
"a vastly uneven playing field" for development around the proposed county
road above State Route 3. The main problem with the agreement, according to
the commissioners, was that it stipulated development on the 740 acres
adjacent to the right-of-way donation "would not be subject to any new
regulations adopted by the county after September 26, 1996, except for
critical areas and grading and drainage codes."

IT WAS THEN that Commissioner Herb Baze and Darren Nienaber, the county's
land-use attorney, began negotiations with Overton and his attorney, Jack
McCullough, to renegotiate the agreement to current growth standards and
open up the possibility for a future planning process.

But Tracy DiGiovanni, a Port Orchard real-estate, business and commercial
attorney representing Lester and Betty Krueger, Steve and Lenny Johnson, and
Jack and Kathy Johnson, says those negotiations should be part of the public
domain since they directly relate to a publicly funded road project.

DiGiovanni writes that her clients "have the right to participate in any and
all governmental meetings involving the 'Right of. Way Dedication Agreement'
which has a direct impact on the Belfair Bypass, a project funded with tax
dollars.. .Additionally, the citizens of Mason County, community of Belfair,
the press and the Belfair Subarea Planning Committee (charged with duty to
develop specific plan and regulations to guide growth and development of
Belfair within the Urban Growth Area, including area for the Belfair Bypass)
have the right to participate in such meetings and be informed as to what is

IN HER LETTER, DiGiovanni also cites part of the Washington State Open
Meetings Act.

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies
which serve them," DiGiovanni noted from the Revised Code of Washington.
"The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the
right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for
them to know. The people insist cm remaining informed so that they may
retain control over the instruments they have created."

In her letter, DiGiovanni goes on to say that the 1996 Right-of-Way
Dedication Agreement "appears to be in violation of the Washington State
Constitution, Growth Management Act, and numerous provisions of Washington
State law, and thus null and void."

IN A WRITTEN response, Mason County Deputy Prosecutor Darren Nienaber
defends the agreement and the closed-door negotiations to update it.

"The original 1996 Right of Way Dedication Agreement was not 'made in the
dark' as you characterize it," Nienaber wrote to DiGiovanni. He went on to
say that public hearings were held before the agreement was signed and
minutes from that meeting are available.

"Your assertion that the Agreement violates the Washington Constitution, the
Growth Management Act, and other applicable state laws is conclusory in
nature," he wrote. "You do not state how or by what means and you do not
specifically relate the law to any facts of this case."

NIENABER ALSO addresses the closed-door negotiations between himself,
Commissioner Herb Baze and Overton et al.

"A 'meeting' is a meeting where an action takes place," Nienaber wrote.
"Since the sole presence of Commissioner Baze at the negotiations does not
constitute a quorum of the commissioners for voting purposes, an 'action' is
not legally possible.

"Furthermore, Commissioner Baze does not represent Commissioner (Wes)
Johnson or Commissioner (Bob) Holter. The Overtons have been informed that
Commissioner Haze cannot and does not represent the County and that the
other Commissioners may not agree with anything Haze offers. As Commissioner
Holter or Johnson may attest, their agreement has not been sought with
respect to negotiations. There is thus no basis for your 'demand' to 'cease
and desist.'"

Commissioner Haze continued to defend the closed-door meetings this week and
says they make things easier for both sides.

"IT'S HARD FOR the Overtons and the Overtons' attorneys and our attorneys to
get down to the nitty gritty and get down to serious business in a public
forum where you have to be careful about what you say every single second,"
Haze told The Herald.

Baze also maintains his position that the original right-of-way agreement is

"We don't like the agreement," he said. "It, in essence, gives something
away we don't have to give away. How many times do we have to say that
before it's true. We have stated several times that we can't give away what
we don't have. Any concerns that property owners have that we'd offer the
Overtons something we wouldn't offer anybody else are unfounded."

BAZE SAYS THE negotiations with the Overtons have gone "nowhere" and he's
"just trying to get to the point where we have something to talk about."

He also said he isn't sure what will happen next.

"We need to set another meeting," he said. "Hopefully that will be in the
next week, but I'm not sure. We're certainly not going to do anything
illegal and we don't want to saddle the next set of commissioners with
something that they can't live with."

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