Many within the City of Black Diamond were elated when election results were posted Tuesday night, November 7th, showing Mayor Carol Benson with a wide lead over opponent Judy Baxley. Also coming in with wide leads over their opponents were newly elected Councilmembers Erin Rose Stout and Melissa C. Oglesbee, who will be replacing Erika Morgan and Brian Weber (both deciding not to run for office again). While numbers have changed slightly over the week, Benson, Stout, and Oglesbee continued to show comfortable leads over their opponents.
Hot on the heels of election results being posted, Councilmember Pat Pepper, who has been facing a possible recall, placed a resolution on the upcoming Thursday, November 16, Council meeting that if passed would obligate the City to pay for her defense in the recall efforts. Backing placement of the resolution on the City Council’s Agenda was Morgan.
As part of their defense, Pepper and Morgan referenced the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 35.21.203 – which refers to the expenses of defending an elective city official. It states that the official makes a request, and then it is up to the council as to whether it wants to pay for the defense or not.
Another part of the resolution seems to anticipate Pepper not being allowed to vote on the resolution about herself. The small clause within the Pepper and Morgan resolution states “…the courts have found that an elected official may vote upon such a request that she or he makes…”
In short, Pepper is looking for the City to pay her mounting legal fees regarding the recall effort. Her expectation through the resolution is that not only would her current mounting bills be paid, but so also any services incurred after everything is settled. Nowhere is it listed in the resolution that the funds will not exceed a certain amount – nor is there any sunset clause within the resolution.
Meanwhile, the recall efforts of Pepper continue to move forward despite setbacks here and there since it was first filed with King County Elections on April 7th. The latest setback came on October 30th when the King County Elections Director canceled the December 5th Special Election.
Originally, King County Superior Court issued an order finding that four of the charges filed were considered “factually and legally sufficient” for a recall. Pepper decided to appeal the decision to the Washington Supreme Court, who then ruled in support of 3 of the 4 charges being “factually and legally sufficient,” thereby changing the original ballot synopsis that had posted all 4 charges.
Due to the removal of only one of the 4 original ballot synopsis charges, King County Elections decided to cancel the December Special Election that had already been set up. It is also made the decision to require recall petitioners to resubmit the signature gathering effort with a new set of 366 valid signatures gathered within 180 days beginning October 27th.
On Monday, November 6, community member Robbin Taylor’s attorney for the recall efforts of Pepper submitted a Motion for Reconsideration and Declaration of Robbin Taylor in Support of Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration to the Supreme Court. The documents contend that while the Court did not direct the King County Elections Director to cancel the recall election, it also did not indicate that signature gathering would have to start anew. The Reconsideration document further pointed out that the Court had denied Pepper’s motion to stay the collection of signatures on June 12, giving a green light to recall organizers to begin signature gathering immediately.
Some of the other points included that the original petitions already contained 3 of the four charges which the petition signers already agreed to. There was also the point that the Court did not order the cancelation of the recall election or that more signatures needed to be collected. “Nevertheless, the Elections Director took inappropriate, independent action and canceled the recall election it had previously scheduled based on the signatures submitted.” As pointed out in the Motion for Reconsideration, “…the only statutory authority provided to the Elections Director is to verify that the petition bears the legally required number of signatures.”
Wrapping up the arguments for Motion for Reconsideration, Taylors attorney writes, “The purpose of this directive was to permit voters to exercise their constitutional right to recall before the elected official comes up for regular election. This matter has already suffered significant delay at the hands of Ms. Pepper, through baseless motions, late-filed briefs, and spurious attempts to admit newly created evidence. Now, the King County Elections Director has created another delay by refusing to acknowledge the validity of the signatures gathered while this appeal was pending.”
Spokesperson for the recall, Johna Thomson stated, “We are committed to seeing the recall of Pepper through. The results of the General Election in Black Diamond unequivocally showed that voters are not supporting Pepper and her removal from office is imminent. We hope the Supreme Court will rule quickly on our Motion to use the signatures we’ve already collected and to proceed with an election. However, if we don’t hear from the Court by November 17th, we will begin collecting signatures again, so we can meet the Elections Department’s timeline to submit the new signatures by early December to ensure the measure is included on the February 13, 2018 ballot.”