Recall issues haunt council
May 23, 2019
By Rick Nelson
Monday's meeting of the Cathlamet Town Council had a bit of everything: Council members amended their 2019 budget, agreed to hold workshops, covered other business, and ended with a heated discussion about the effort to recall the mayor and three council members.
Early in the meeting, the council agreed to hold two yet-unscheduled workshops; the first with John Morgan, a consultant who the council engaged to lead them through a goal setting process, and the second to discuss findings from two previous workshops to collect public input on the development of the former Butler Street parking lot.
When it was time to approve the contract with Morgan, Council Member Jean Burnham was opposed.
"I think it's way too much money to be spending on another study," she said. Instead, she said, the council should work with the group evolving from the bi-partisan listening workshops that took place earlier this year, she said. The expense, set at a maximum of $20,000, could be used for other purposes, such as developing the Butler Street park.
Colleagues Sue Cameron, who initially proposed the goal setting process, and Laurel Waller wanted to continue with the process, which Waller suggested, would lead the council down a path they want to follow--having clear goals upon which to base budgeting and priorities.
When it came time to vote, Cameron and Waller voted to sign the contract; Burnham and Ryan Smith voted against signing, and newly appointed Council Member David Olson abstained, saying he knew too little about the history of the issue.
"You're welcome to abstain," Mayor Dale Jacobson told Olson, "and I'll vote to break the tie and vote yes."
Jacobson, Smith, Burnham and Cameron have been targets of a recall filed by Cathlamet resident Bill Wainright on behalf of an unnamed group, the Concerned Citizens of Cathlamet. A Superior Court judge in January ruled the grounds for recall were insufficient, but Wainright and the group have appealed to the state supreme court.
As the council did for the earlier action, the council again voted to cover the costs of litigating the appeal. Each of the four recused themselves as the others acted on the motions to cover the costs.
Olson read a prepared statement describing his research into the issue and stating why he would support covering the expense. Both sides in a legal action need to be represented, he said, "Otherwise, the process doesn't work."
"I could and would support reimbursement of the legal expenses of council members to defend the town decision regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with the recall petitioners," he said. "To do otherwise is to send a message to every citizen of the state that it is not prudent or safe to give public service to elected bodies that may later not defend decisions duly made."
Town Attorney Fred Johnson said the state law regarding the process requires him to agree to the expenditures, and he recommended paying the attorney fees [he isn't involved in the litigation--editor].
He further commented that the recall statutes require petitioners to submit petitions signed by voters six months before the general election, and that deadline passed May 5 without the signature filing. As neither Smith, Burnham nor Cameron have filed for re-election (their terms end this year), only Jacobson would be subject to the recall action.
The meeting ended with a hot discussion of the recall, but first the council voted to amend its 2019 budgets.
Cameron said she was concerned that expenses discussed at a special meeting last week weren't included, but Waller pointed out that the budget could be amended again once when figures are updated.
In a change from long standing practice, the time set on the agenda for public comment had been moved from early in the meeting to the end, and Wainright took the opportunity to address the recall.
In April, he said, he had written to the four recall defendants and offered to discuss a process to end to end the action, but the four hadn't take up his offer, which, he said, would have saved litigation costs and toned down the controversy.
He also pointed out that there will be four new council members next year--counting Olson and three who will be elected this fall--and they should if and when to proceed with the Morgan goal setting process.
In response, Cameron said their attorney had recommended against the proposed discussion about the recall.
The discussion quickly heated up, and Jacobson adjourned the meeting.