County commissioners circumvent rights of the people - send initiative to court rather than to the ballot box

Citizen Review Online

July 24, 2001 - Clallam County, WA - Patty Rosand, reading a letter from Clallam County Auditor Cathleen McKeown, presented sufficient signatures to place Initiative 6 - Initiative to Repeal the Clallam County Critical Areas Code - to the county commissioners at their regular meeting today.  She stated that the auditor's office had counted and validated the signatures, and they were sufficient to send the initiative to the voters.  The next step in the process would normally be for the commissioners to set a hearing date within 20 days, so the public would have a voice.  Commissioner Mike Chapman (R) moved that a hearing date be set.  The other two commissioners would not respond.

Instead, Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger began to question the legality of the initiative petition.  First, he called upon the county attorney to answer whether a minor technicality could be used to cancel the effort.  Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney Chris Melly stated that the initiative was sufficient to go to the ballot on its face, and recommended that the commissioners call for a public hearing as set forth in the county constitution.  

Tharinger began to badger attorney Melly with leading questions, attempting to have Melly state that there was some glitch that could be used to overturn the matter.

When Attorney Melly insisted that the matter was sufficient, Tharinger turned to another tactic- this time expressing concern that someone "might" sue the county over the initiative, and that the initiative "might" not be valid.  He said that the initiative should go to the courts for determination as to whether there "might" be a problem - and quoted two cases, one in Whatcom County and the other in Snohomish County.  After heated debate with Commissioner Chapman, who continued to insist that the county constitution be followed and a hearing date be set, Tharinger moved that the matter be taken into the court for a decision, and Doherty seconded.  Chapman dissented firmly.

During the public hearing period, many citizens spoke out angrily about the two commissioners ramrodding the public in this manner.  

"Why not let the people decide?" one person questioned.  Several citizens stated that recall might be the order of the day.  

"You have run right over our right to vote!" declared one person.  Another stated that the commissioners are removing the voice of the people by removing the initiative process.  This flies in the face of both the state constitution and the county constitution.

K. Parker Stoops questioned the legality of the commissioners holding a secret session yesterday to discuss the initiative - which he suggested was in violation of the open meetings act.

Dr. John Bennett, a Sequim physician who took time out of his practice to appear before the commissioners, read both constitutions, and declared that the commissioners are in absolute violation of the people's right He sated he would file papers with the state Attorney General's office that county commissioners violated the county charter.  He also says he will start a recall effort against commissioners Doherty and Tharinger.

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