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Write in campaign grows for clerk position

A grass-roots campaign to elect a recently fired chief deputy clerk to the job of Island County Clerk, potentially replacing the very woman who dismissed her, is gaining support among some voters.

Perhaps the most forceful support comes from Marilee Black, who recently retired after a long career as the county’s elected clerk.

Sharon Franzen, a 22-year worker in the Island County Clerk’s office, was told Aug. 19 to clear out her desk by Clerk Jane Koetje. Koetje, a Republican, was appointed to the position after Black retired early last fall, causing some to wonder why someone with less experience was chosen over Franzen, who was also a Republican at the time.

Franzen and others, such as Black and Oak Harbor resident Arthur Morris, contend that the timing of the dismissal is suspicious and, in Morris’ words, might amount to “dirty pool.”

At issue is the fact that Franzen was let go after the July 31 deadline for registering to run for Island County office, which effectively prevented from running against Koetje for clerk in this year’s election.

News of Franzen’s dismissal, along with the surrounding air of controversy, has sparked an outpouring of grass-roots support for Franzen as a write-in candidate vying for Koetje’s job. Franzen said Monday she hasn’t decided whether to get behind the campaign, though the encouragement she’s received has caused her to seriously consider it.

“I’m not discouraging people from doing it,” Franzen, now a Democrat, said about putting her name on the ballot for the clerk’s position. She said she’s received numerous calls from people wanting her to run. “It just seems to be snowballing,” she said, adding that she’s currently weighing the possibility of running. “Of course I’ve thought about it. I’m going to research this further, though I’m not on a time frame.”

Franzen’s cause got a big boost when a letter from former county clerk Black arrived at the Whidbey News-Times office this week. In the letter, Black, a 28-year veteran of Island County government, is highly critical of the Island County Commissioners’ decision to appoint Koetje over Franzen, whom Black claims was far more qualified for the job. She also takes Koetje to task for firing Franzen, at one point writing, “Shame on you Jane!”

“What an appalling way for Island County management to treat an employee with 20 years of service to the county,” Black writes. “Mrs. Koetje has every right to put anyone in that position that she chooses to, however she waited until after filing for the office was closed to ensure she had no competition from Ms. Franzen... There are all kinds of political moves, and I for one, think that was dirty politics.”

Koetje did not immediate return calls from the News-Times.

Franzen said she is weighing a number of factors in deciding whether personally to get behind a write-in campaign. It boils down to three key issues, she said. First, can she come up with the funds to run an effective campaign? Second, would she receive the necessary backing? Third, Franzen said she must ask herself if she is “committed enough to this write-in campaign to pursue it.”

“I haven’t answered those questions for myself yet,” Franzen said. “I’m still digesting all of this.”

However, she added, the amount of support she’s received definitely has pushed her closer to jumping in. “It certainly has made me look at this in a different way,” she said. “This was just very unexpected.”

If Franzen receives one percent of the total vote in the Sept. 17 primary, her name would in fact be included, by state law, along with Koetje’s on the general election ballot on Nov. 5 ballot for the clerk’s position, according to the Island County Auditor’s Office. Even were this not to happen, she could still be a write-in candidate for clerk in the general election.

Auditor Suzanne Sinclair pointed out that, in order to be a valid write-in nomination, the candidate’s full name, party and position must be included in the space for write-in candidates, which is located at the top of the ballot. “On our ballots, a person who wishes to cast a write-in vote puts it at the top of the ballot,” Sinclair said Tuesday. “Under Washington State law, a write-in vote has to be written in by the voter.”

Sinclair said candidates in this state are not required to register with their chosen parties, which means Franzen’s declaring herself a Democrat is valid, though it must still be written in on the ballot by voters.

Sinclair said she and her staff have been boning up on the rules and regulations surrounding write-in candidates. “Write-in votes don’t happen very often,” she said, “so it’s not something people are familiar with.”

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