Petitioner appeals recall decision
February 14, 2019
The effort to recall Cathlamet's mayor and three council members has gone to the Washing State Supreme Court.
The attorney for petitioner Bill Wainwright filed a notice to appeal on February 7. The state justices will review the filing and decide if they want to hear the appeal, let the Superior Court ruling stand, or send it back for another hearing.
Wainwright had filed the charges alleging misfeasance and malfeasance and violation of oath of office against Mayor Dale Jacobson and Council Members Sue Cameron, Jean Burnham and Ryan Smith.
The charges alleged that all four participated in the purchase of a vacant lot contaminated with gasoline at an exorbitant price that benefitted a friend and that Jacobson exercised control over a town owned lot for his personal privilege.
Wahkiakum Superior Court Judge Donald J. Richter ruled January 25 that charges were legally insufficient under Washington law to proceed toward election.
Washington recall law requires a judge to review recall charges to make sure they merit an election. Judge Richter acknowledged this at the beginning of his opinion.
"The Court at the onset understands its role in this process is a limited one," he wrote. "It is to act solely as a gatekeeper to insure the recall process is not used to harass public officials by subjecting them to frivolous or unsubstantiated charges.
"In this role, the Court is to accept all factual allegations in the Recall Petition as true. To meet its gatekeeping function, the Court must determine if the Recall Petition is both factually and legally sufficient, and the person submitting the charges has ‘some knowledge of the facts underlying the charges.'"
Richter ruled that the council had acted within the parameters of their authority.
Further, he wrote that the allegation of a gift of public funds to purchase the lot was legally insufficient.
"The purchase of property for public use by town officials is a fundamental governmental purpose," he wrote in his opinion. "This precludes the Court from delving into the adequacy of the consideration that was exchanged for the purchase price, or the alleged donative intent of the Town Council Members and Mayor.
"As there is no legal basis for the claim of gift of public funds, a recall based on the discretionary decision to purchase a lot for public use cannot be said to be manifestly unreasonable."
In rejecting the charges specifically against Jacobson, Richter cited Wainwright's declaration that he had inquired at town hall about parking on the lot used by Jacobson and was told, at first, by town hall staff that he couldn't use the lot, but later that he could use the lot if he consulted with Jacobson about logistics of where to park.
"This is not ‘substantial conduct' on the part of the Mayor that ‘clearly amounts' to misfeasance, malfeasance or violation of oath of office," Richter said.