Citizen confronts county commissioners for acting against the will of the people

Port Angeles, WA – On Friday, Dec. 22, 2000, Bob Forde called the Clallam County Courthouse to issue his protest against the County Commissioner’s suggestion to join in a lawsuit against Initiative 722 (I-722)– an initiative passed by Washington State voters to reduce property taxes and fees.  The County Commissioners were meeting for a “work session” that day, and Forde learned that they would be discussing the proposal, so he headed to the meeting.  Arriving about 10 minutes late, he learned that Commissioners Steve Tharinger and Mike Doherty had already discussed the issue and were preparing to pass the motion.  

Generally, a workshop precedes the public meeting by one day, and allows the commissioners to discuss with staff the pending items on the agenda.  Citizens are allowed to attend, but are not allowed to testify; this is reserved for the regular meetings where action is actually taken. 

 This particular meeting, however, was different.  The only individuals present were the two commissioners (the third, Carole Boardman, was absent), the county treasurer, Ruth Gerdon, and the county assessor, Linda Owings-Rosenburgh, and the county attorney, Chris Shea.  Bob Forde was the only private citizen present, along with a reporter from the daily newspaper, Ken Short.

The motion was made by Steve Tharinger to join in the lawsuit, and was quickly passed by both commissioners.  The meeting was then closed.  Forde was shocked, and approached Tharinger, saying “You should be ashamed of yourself.  I think it’s appalling that the county should take such a position when 59% of the voters of Clallam County voted in favor of the initiative.” 

Tharinger responded that “this isn’t about politics.  This isn’t about popularity.  It’s about ‘risk management’.”  He said he was “protecting the taxpayers of Clallam County from a possible lawsuit.  If we don’t join in this action, we leave ourselves exposed so that someone like you could sue us for not being part of Thurston County’s stay order issued by a judge in Thurston County.”  The stay order, Tharinger explained, stops the machinery of I-722 from causing county staff going through all the tax rolls and records and calculating the potential rebate/refund; therefore, “we must join in this action as a ‘risk management’ procedure.” 

Forde replied, “Who’s going to sue you?  Someone who doesn’t want their taxes reduced? Nonsense! You’re just protecting your revenue by trying to overturn I-722.” 

Doherty commented that they’d already budgeted around that eventuality.  “We’ve taken that money out of the budget, should we have to refund it,” he said. 

Forde queried, “Then why get involved in this lawsuit at all”?  Tharinger responded, “I told you, it’s about ‘risk management’.” 

Forde said, “Steve, the county didn’t hire you to be an insurance actuarial, projecting ‘risk management’.  You were hired by the voters to do the will of the people, and 59% of the voters are in favor of I-722.  Your action flies in the face of the will of the people.” 

Tharinger stated, “The voters didn’t know what they were voting for.” 

Forde responded “Who are you to presuppose whether the voters understood what they were voting for or not?   The fact is not supposition.  The fact remains that 59% of the voters are in favor of tax reduction, and by your taking this action with this very thin ‘risk management’ argument, it smacks of going against the will of the people.”

Ken Short asked why  Clallam County didn’t do what Jefferson County did –  roll back the fees and permits while waiting for the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of I-722? Tharinger exploded.  Pointing his finger repeatedly at Short, he said, “You’ve already written your headline; you don’t have an open mind.  You have a preconceived story in mind.”  Short said, “I don’t write the headlines.”  Tharinger continued, “I have nothing to say to you!”

Examples of county fee hikes include a 400% rate hike in final plat approval permits (from $25 to $125), and conditional use permits – up from $300 to $750.

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