Judge to rule on recall merit
January 24, 2019
The effort to recall Cathlamet's mayor and three council members took two steps forward this week.
In a special meeting last Thursday, the council voted to pay initial legal expenses for the four respondents to the recall petition.
On Tuesday, the petitioners and respondents appeared before Superior Court Judge Donald J. Richter for a hearing for a ruling on whether or not the charges for recall are specific enough to meet legal test and whether or not the ballot synopsis proposed by Wahkiakum County Prosecuting Attorney was acceptable.
The judge, after listening to 60 minutes of debate from attorneys Jeffrey S. Myers, Olympia, representing the mayor and council members, and Matthew J. Andersen, Longview, representing the petitioner, announced he would review the attorneys' latest filings and make a ruling by Friday afternoon.
The petition against the mayor and council members, filed by Cathlamet resident Bill Wainright, alleges they committed misfeasance and malfeasance and violated their oaths of office by voting to purchase a vacant lot from former Council Member Bernadette Goodroe. The petition states they agreed to pay $68,000 for a contaminated lot appraised at $40,000, which constitutes a gift of public funds and violated their oath of office.
The petition also alleges that Mayor Jacobson exercised control of a vacant lot across 2nd Street from his house for personal gain, also misfeasance and malfeasance and a violation of his oath of office.
In a reply to the allegations, Myers said the court needed to decide that the actions of the mayor and council were a clear showing of misfeasance and malfeasance and violated their oaths of office; he contended that they were not but were the deliberations of elected officials.
"They exercised discretionary authority," he said.
They had negotiated with the seller for a lower price than the originally sought $75,000, he said.
Myers said the council knew there was a restrictive covenant on the property from a leaking underground gasoline storage tank. Only a small portion of the lot can't be disturbed, he said; the rest of the lot is usable.
"These allegations are simply inadequate to go to the voters to overturn a previous election," Myers said.
As for Jacobson's use of the vacant lot, Myers pointed out that when Wainwright asked town office staff if he could use the lot, he wasn't denied use; he was just advised to talk to the mayor.
"There was no exclusion to others," Myers said.
Anderson countered that the council purchased the lot to benefit a friend--Goodroe--and that the lot itself would be a long term liability for the town.
The mayor and council agreed to buy the lot at almost double the appraised value, he said, and he submitted statements from citizens testifying that council members admitted selling the lot to do a favor for a friend--getting a worthless lot off her hands.
"They were told of the liability," Andersen said. "We have property that incurs liability forever.
"They have all these excuses--tell it to the voters."
Anderson also commented that Jacobson has parked vehicles on the lot throughout the five years he has been mayor.
"If he's going to use it that way, he ought to pay rent," he said. "You can't find that this is a casual use; it's a special privilege."
If the judge rules the synopsis and charges are sufficient, petitioners have a period of time to gather signatures of Cathlamet residents to call for an election to vote on whether or not to recall each of the four persons named in the recall.
To qualify for a ballot, petitioners must gather signatures from "legal voters equal to thirty-five percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office to which the officer whose recall is demanded was elected at the preceding election, according to statute."
The council met in a special meeting last Thursday and voted to use town funds to cover the legal expenses of the mayor and three council members in the initial stage of the proceeding; the expense is allowed under state law if the council and town attorney approve.
The council voted four times, once for each respondent, and each time, the person who would be covered by the funding recused themself from participating in discussion or voting. All motions passed by four 4-1 votes, with Laurel Waller joining Cameron, Burnham and Smith in voting in favor and Tanya Waller voting against.
Town attorney Fred Johnson supported the payment, saying the recall isn't about a crime such as embezzlement but is a dispute over discussions and decisions that are in the scope of council deliberations.