Supreme Court rejects council recall appeal
September 19, 2019
By Rick Nelson
The Washington Supreme Court last Thursday announced its opinion in the appeal of the recall charges against Cathlamet's mayor and three council members; the court upheld the ruling of Wahkiakum Superior Court Judge Donald J. Richter that the recall charges were insufficient.
Following is the opening of the state court's opinion, written by Justice Susan Owens:
"This case concerns a recall petition filed against the mayor and three members of the town council of Cathlamet. All of the charges against the councillors and most of the charges against the mayor pertain to Cathlamet's purchase of a parcel of real property. The remaining charges against the mayor pertain to his use of separate town-owned lots to park his personal business vehicles. We hold that the charges pertaining to Cathlamet's property purchase are legally insufficient because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and a discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable in this instance. We hold that the charges pertaining to the mayor's use of town-owned lots are also legally insufficient because the mayor's alleged conduct was not substantial. Accordingly, we affirm the superior court."
The justices voted 6-3 in making their decision.
Writing for the dissent, Justice Steven Gonzalez said he felt the council had erred by paying $68,000 for a parcel valued at approximately $40,000 by the county assessor and a private, independent real estate appraiser.
Gonzalez wrote, "But "[a] clear abuse of discretion may be shown by demonstrating the discretion was exercised in a manner which was manifestly unreasonable or exercised on untenable grounds or for untenable reasons." Id. at 284-85 (emphasis added) (citing Wilson v. Bd. of Governors, 90 Wn.2d 649, 656, 585 P.2d 136 (1978)). It is clearly untenable, and a clear abuse of discretion, for a town to purchase property at a vastly inflated price out of a desire to make a gift that would violate article VIII, section 7 of our state constitution and RCW 42.23.070. To the extent the majority opinion finds that paying an inflated purchase price out of a desire to give a gift of part of the sale price is not a recallable allegation, I respectfully dissent."
Bill Wainwright, the lead plaintiff in the recall effort, comments in a letter to the editor on Page 2 of this edition of The Eagle.
The opinion, including the statement of the dissenting justices, may be found online at https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.recent.