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Island County auditor to decide authors for levy statements

Wrangling over who should write voters’ pamphlet statements about Island County’s law-and-justice levy led the county commissioners to turn the decision over to the county auditor.

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson argued that the commissioners missed a legal deadline to appoint the individuals to write “pro” and “con” statements about the levy for the voters’ pamphlet.

In an email she sent to the county Auditor’s Office last week, Emerson wrote that the responsibility for naming the three-person committees now falls to the auditor.

Her concern, Emerson told the Whidbey News-Times, is ensuring that both committees get a full 45 days to write the statements.

The commissioners set a special time aside Monday to discuss the issue, though it wasn’t on their regular agenda.

Emerson ultimately got her way on the issue, but she abstained from voting.

Johnson explained that the prosecutor and the sheriff requested to be among the three members on the “pro committee,” but nobody was appointed yet.

Price Johnson was critical of Emerson for sending out the email.

Price Johnson claimed that the prosecutor and sheriff were already appointed to the committee and had already met; she called the allegations made by Emerson very serious.

“I would urge you not to make such inflammatory statements that are untrue,” she said.

Price Johnson said after the meeting that the commissioners received a legal opinion contrary to Emerson’s interpretation of the law.

In a letter to Auditor Sheilah Crider, which was carbon copied to five others, Emerson wrote that “the members of the pro statement committee were agreed upon and may have begun their work already.”

Emerson argued that the commissioners missed the deadline for appointing members of the “con committee” and that the auditor now must do so.

Emerson cited a state law which states that, “for each measure from a unit of local government that is included in a local voters’ pamphlet, the legislative authority of that jurisdiction shall, not later than 45 days before the publication of the pamphlet, formally appoint a committee to prepare arguments advocating voters’ approval of the measure and shall formally appoint a committee to prepare arguments advocating voters’ rejection of the measure.”

The law also states that, “if the legislative authority of a unit of local government fails to make such appointments by the prescribed deadline, the county auditor shall whenever possible make the appointments.”

Island County no longer prints a voters’ pamphlet, but instead posts one online at the auditor’s website.

Crider asked to have the statements for the online pamphlet by Sept. 16, according to Emerson.

During an interview after the meeting, Emerson said the date the online pamphlet is posted should be considered the publishing date.

“It is common sense that the intent of the law would carry on in an online version,” she said.

Emerson said the intent of the law is to give the committees at least 45 days to write the statements.

At the end of the meeting, Price Johnson noted that there are a number of people who’ve expressed interest in being on the committees. She made a motion to ask the auditor to make the appointments on both committees.

The motion passed with Price Johnson and Johnson in favor and Emerson abstaining.

Emerson explained afterward that she abstained from voting because she felt the motion was unnecessary.

Under her interpretation of the law, Emerson said the auditor didn’t need to be asked, but was obliged to make the appointments.

 

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