News

Recall effort moves ahead

By JESSIE STENSLAND

Staff reporter

The recall effort against two North Whidbey Park and Recreation commissioners is moving forward despite some glitches.

Vickie Churchill, an Island County superior court judge, ruled against a motion to reconsider her earlier decision that one of the petitioners’ charges against the commissioners was legally and factually sufficient to be put on the ballot.

Yet Churchill also asked one of the petitioners to state in court that he has destroyed all the signatures he’s gathered so far for the recall.

Three members of the group Friends of the Pool — Tom Johnson, Grace Horn and Harvey Prosser — began the recall effort last month against commissioners Brien Lillquist and Janet Sabalausky. Churchill dismissed all but one of the charges against the two commissioners. It relates to their vote to allocate $20,000 to the Boys and Girls Club for a summer youth program.

The petitioners argued that the commissioners attempted to illegally gift the funds to the non-profit agency.

Mark Theune, the attorney for the commissioners, argued that it was appropriate for the commissioners to allocate money to the club because it was “for a recognized government purpose.” Specifically, the purpose of the district is to provide leisure activity in the community. Also, he said the commissioners did not have “donative intent,” but expected something in return for the money — namely youth activities.

Joseph Broadbent, attorney for Friends of the Pool, countered that the two commissioners never described that allocation of the funds as anything but a gift during the meetings.

In addition, he said “giving money is not a government purpose.”

Churchill agreed with Broadbent, saying that what the commissioners’ intent was is “a disputed issue.” In upholding the charge, she emphasized that she wasn’t ruling on the truth of the accusation, just that the charge met the standards of being legal and sufficient. She said it was up to the voters, if the recall gets on the ballot, to make the decision.

Churchill also certified the findings and conclusions in the case, as well as the official ballot synopsis, over the objection of Broadbent. He said there is “no point in entering findings and conclusions” and that it is inconsistent with the recall statutes.

This issue caused some confusion earlier. Churchill sent a letter to the two attorneys stating that she was waiting to get paperwork from Broadbent before officially certifying her decision regarding the recall. She said her decision wasn’t official until she certifies the paperwork.

The petitioners, however, thought that her oral decision was official, so Johnson and Grace started gathering signatures 16 days after the last hearing. They thought that the commissioners had missed the deadline to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Yet Theune pointed out that the decision hadn’t been officially finalized, so he couldn’t file an appeal yet. He filed a motion against the petitioner asking for a restraining order to stop them from gathering signatures or filing them with the auditor until it’s proper to gather signatures.

Churchill opted against a restraining order, but asked Johnson to state before the court that he destroyed the petitions and has stopped gathering signatures.

What this all means is that Johnson and his supporters can begin gathering signatures in 16 days, unless the commissioners appeal to the Supreme Court. Then the Supreme Court has 30 days to make a decision on the appeals.

The Friends of the Pool have to gather over 1,400 signatures for each candidate in 180 days in order to get their names on the ballot. With the time frame, it seems impossible that the recall will be placed on the November ballot.

Instead, there will probably have to be a special election that the Friends of the Pool has to pay for, according to Lillquist.

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

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