Recall effort under way for official - Property-rights activist targets commissioner

By Kyle Orten, Peninsula Daily News

Clallam County, WA - 9/20/01 - Making good on his threat to recall Clallam County commissioner Steve Tharinger, a Sequim doctor has filed paperwork initiating the process.

Dr. John Bennett filed allegations with the County Auditor’s Office against Tharinger, D-Sequim, claiming the commissioner violated provisions of the county’s home-rule charter.

According to the Clallam County Home Rule Charter, when commissioners certify a petition, commissioners “shall hold a public hearing and shall adopt or reject the petition on a roll call vote.”

Bennett, a property rights activist and Libertarian Party member, is alleging Tharinger violated the charter by failing to agree to a public hearing on a petition to repeal the Critical Areas Ordinance, which establishes development buffers near streams, wetlands and slide areas.

Because Tharinger preferred to seek a court decision rather than slate a public meeting, Bennett contends the commissioner breached his oath of office.


            Bennett asserts in his allegations:

            “Commissioner Tharinger knew that the charter required a public hearing, yet arrogantly decided to defy the mandate of the charter.”

            Tharinger called the allegations “political.”

            “I think this is more a political move than a legal one,” he said.  “I certainly haven’t broken the law.”

            Tharinger said he only sought to determine the legality of the original petition before allowing the measure to proceed to the Nov. 6 election ballot.

            Bennett threatened to recall Tharinger and Commissioner Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, in July after they opposed scheduling a public hearing.

            Although Doherty also opposed scheduling a public hearing, Bennett is only taking action against the Dist 1 representative.

            “Instead of complicating things, I thought I would only file in my own district,” he said.

Recall requirements

            According to Clallam County Elections Coordinator Patty Rosand, state law requires the county prosecuting attorney to develop a synopsis of the recall effort within 15 days.

            “This starts the ball rolling,” she said.  “He’s taken the first step.”

            That synopsis is then presented in Clallam County Superior Court, where a judge has 15 days to determine if the language of the synopsis is adequate and if the reason for the recall meets state requirements for the measure to proceed to an election, she said.

            If the judge approves the language and certifies that the recall effort meets state requirements, the petitioner must then gather the signatures from 25 percent of the voters in that district who cast ballots in the last election for the measure to proceed to the ballot, Rosand said.

6,257 signatures needed

            Bennett must collect 6,257 signatures from registered eastern Clallam County voters in commissioner District 1 for a recall election to be held.

            Bennett anticipates a successful recall effort.

            “I expect it to go through without any significant difficulty,” he said.  “He (the prosecuting attorney) will only determine if the charges are sufficient, not guilt or innocence.”

            But Rosand said recalls are far and few between in Clallam County.

            “It’s been many years since there’s been a successful recall,” Rosand said.

            If the recall effort is successful, the seat would then become vacant.

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