Clallam challenges repeal bid
Panel seeks court's opinion on citizen petition


By Roger Harnack 
Peninsula Daily News from

Clallam County, WA - A citizen's petition calling for the repeal of the county Critical Areas Ordinance is headed to court.

Clallam County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to seek a court ruling on the validity of the petition.

At issue is whether the public has the right to repeal a local law required by the state.

The petition, which has met the signature requirement to be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, calls for the repeal of the Critical Areas ordinance, which establishes development buffers near streams, wetlands and slopes in unincorporated Clallam County.

Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, cast the lone vote opposing court action.

"I believe this board would be in violation of Clallam County code to do that," he said.

"The charter directly tells the commissioners what to do. The charter does not say seek a declaratory judgment."

Doherty, Tharinger disagree

Commissioners Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, disagreed.

"To get the opinion of the court is proper," Doherty said.

Tharinger suggested the court action after some debate on the petion's validity and whether the next step should be a public hearing.

"I think it's inappropriate to have a public hearing on this referendum," Tharinger said.

The decision to challenge the petition in court drew reaction from the more than 30 property rights supporters in attendance.

One by one, nearly a dozen speakers took turns calling for Doherty and Tharinger to be recalled.

Speakers said the two commissioners had failed to uphold the county charter, which requires ballot petitions certified by the auditor to receive a public hering.

"I'd like to publicly charge this board with contempt of the people," said John Bennett of Sequim.

"We signed this petition in good faith. I believe we've been insulted."

Prior to the vote to go to court, Chapman twice called for a public hearing.

Both times his motion failed due to the lack of a second.

'Pursue a recall'

Bennett said the decision leaves the public no choice but to recall Tharinger and Doherty.

"Today, I will file charges with the attorney general in Olympia for your violations of this charter," he said.

"I will actively pursue a recall of Mr. Doherty and Mr. Tharinger."

Don Roberts of Port Angeles accused the board with violating state law for holding a closed door meeting Monday to discuss the petition.

Commissioners convened that executive session on the advice of county Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly.

Bob Forde of Sequim, who led the petition effort, also blasted the commissioners for the executive session, calling it a "clandestine meeting."

"I beg of you on bended knee, do not prevent the natural course of this thing, he said."

"If it's going to die, let it die at the polls. If it's going to live, let it live at the polls.

"For God's sake, give us a chance."

But Tharinger and Doherty would not be swayed.

In the 2-1 vote, commissioners directed Melly to file a motion in Clallam County Superior Court seeking a ruling on the legality of the petition, which was signed by 3,781 people.

A timeline for the filing and hearing has not yet been determined.

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