EDITORIAL: Recall effort may have merit

Recall elections have been scarce in recent years due to the difficulty of convincing a judge that charges are substantial enough to merit a recall effort. This includes signature gathering followed by an election to ask voters to approve the removal of a duly elected public official.

Years ago, recall campaigns were easier to mount in this state. A simple petition with enough signatures was sufficient to put a recall proposal on the ballot. After a plethora of recall efforts, the Legislature made the process much more difficult by getting a judge involved. Today, only the most egregious examples of incompetence by office holders result in the recall process being followed through to the ballot stage. After all, the theory goes, people are elected to specific terms, and the proper time to remove an elected official is at election time.

The difficulty of mounting a recall campaign hasn’t stopped a feisty Oak Harbor group called Friends of the Pool from leading an effort to remove two elected Park and Recreation District commissioners from office. Targeted are Brien Lillquist and Jan Sabalausky, whose terms are scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2005. They could be gone as early as this fall if the recall effort succeeds.

Members of Friends of the Pool make numerous charges about the targeted two, ranging from behavior at public meetings to how a questionable effort was made to give $20,000 in Park District money to a local non-profit organization for youth recreation programs. The merit of all these charges is debatable, and one wonders if a judge will find them substantial enough to warrant a recall.

The charge that appears most solid concerns the Open Meetings Act, which requires elected bodies to meet in public except to discuss certain specific topics, such as pending lawsuits, the purchase of real property and the catch-all “personnel matters,” which should be narrowly defined but often is not by boards with things to hide. It is our sense that the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners meet too often in private and members allow the discussions to range far beyond the legal limits. This secrecy results in lack of public trust, poor decision making, and generates turmoil in the community.

Of course, suspecting something is one thing and proving that it actually happened in a meeting closed to the public is something else. But the Open Meetings Act is crucial to open government, and violating it is a serious matter.

Our advice to Friends of the Pool: When Judge Vickie Churchill holds her recall hearing Aug. 5, focus on possible violations of the Open Meetings Act. If there is sufficient evidence of this, then you deserve a chance to recall the two commissioners.

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