News

Group tries to recall Park commissioners

California Gov. Gray Davis may not be the only one facing a recall vote this fall.

Members of an Oak Harbor group, Friends of the Pool, delivered recall charge sheets against two North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners to Island County Auditor’s Office this week. The petitions accuse Janet Sabalausky and Brien Lillquist of misfeasance, malfeasance, violations of their oath of office and various other inappropriate acts.

But whether a recall vote would actually be on the ballot isn’t certain at all.

Before that would happen, a Superior Court judge will have to decide if the charges are legally and factually sufficient. A hearing before Judge Vickie Churchill is set for Aug. 5 at 9:30 a.m.

If the judge decides there is sufficent cause, the proponents of the recall will then have to gather about 1,400 signatures for each commissioners to put the issue of the November ballot, according Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair. She said the number is based on 35 percent of the total number of votes cast for the positions in the last election.

Tom Johnson, a self-proclaimed pool watchdog, is the driving force behind the recall effort. He explained that he made a promise to former Park and Rec director Jim Shulock that he would try to get three commissioners kicked out of office after they refused to extend Shulock’s contract, effectively firing him earlier this year.

If Johnson has his way, Shulock will be working at the pool this fall. “One of our objectives is to get Jim back as director,” he said, “and not working under any animosity or pressure from the board.”

Since one of the commissioners, Fred Smyth, is up for reelection this year, Johnson said he also decided to run for his seat while handling the recall effort against the other two. He said he promised that he would cover half of the cost of the recall, which he estimates will run a total of about $10,000.

The board of commissioner are having a special meeting Sunday at 11 a.m. to hear Lillquist and Sabalausky’s requests to have the district pay the costs of defending against the recall petitions.

Lillquist said Thursday that he had little to say about the recall effort because it was so early in the process. “I don’t agree totally with the charges,” he said, adding that he doubts any of them are legally sufficient to support a recall. Sabalausky had no comment since she didn’t have a chance to read the documents.

Johnson is joined by District Commissioner Harvey Prosser and pool supporter, Grace Horn. They each submitted individual charging documents against the two commissioners, totalling 75 charges.

“All we need is one charge against each of them to stick,” Johnson said.

The biggest hurdle in the trio’s recall effort will likely be convincing the judge that any of the charges are serious enough to rise to the level of, for example, malfeasance. A recently filed state Supreme Court decision regarding a recall effort in the city of Des Moines, the justices wrote that “legal sufficiency means the charge must define substantial conduct clearly amounting to misfeasance, malfeasance or a violation of the oath of office.”

The charging documents accuse Sabalausky and Lillquist of committing “misfeasance, malfeasance and violation of oath of office” by inviting Roosevelt Rumble of the Boys and Girls Club to make a presentation to the commissioners — without board approval — and then voting to provide the organization with $20,000 for summer children’s program.

This action caused a fracas between the commissioners and pool supporters, who felt that the needs of the pool should come before youth programs. Nester Newman at the state Auditor’s Office told Prosser and other community members that the actions may violate state law, which doesn’t allow a government entity to simply give money to a community group with no “quid pro quo.”

The majority of the commissioners, however, argued that their intent was to contract for services with the Boys and Girls Club, which is perfectly legal. The battle finally ended when the Boys and Girls Club withdrew the proposal and refused the money.

The documents also point out that Lillquist lost his temper at a June 17 meeting and insulted commissioners, as well as members of the public. The charges accuse Lillquist of committing malfeasance and misfeasance when he voted against a motion of censure that Commissioner T.J. Harmon-Fisher made against him. The documents also accuse Chairperson Sabalausky of malfeasance and misfeasance for allowing him to vote, which the documents claim is a violation of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Other charges state that Sabalausky and Lillquist violated the Open Public Meetings Act by participating in improper executive, or closed-door, sessions; they voted to reduce the director’s authority to spend district funds without amending the bylaws; they violated the First Amendment by not allowing Johnson to post information at the pool; and they refused to correct a heating problem in the swimming pool locker rooms for a few months.

Director search

Commissioners with North Whidbey Park and Recreation offered the director position to a second canditate after their first choice turned them down. See story page A3.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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