Black Diamond residents file recall vote charges

Black Diamond residents have tossed around the idea to file a recall vote for two councilmembers

For more than a year, Black Diamond residents have tossed around the idea to file a recall vote for two of the city’s council members.

Talk has turned to action as the first steps toward initiating a recall vote were taken April 10, when a group of Black Diamond residents filed a recall charge with King County Elections.

The charges were filed by two Political Action Committees, named “Citizens to Recall Pepper” and “Citizens to Recall Morgan.”

Both PACs were formed under the umbrella group “Neighbor to Neighbor Black Diamond.”

President of both PACs is Robbin Taylor, a Black Diamond resident and staple at the council meetings. Former council member Craig Goodwin is the treasurer, and resident Johna Thomson is the secretary.

The recall charges only target council members Pat Pepper and Erika Morgan, not Brian Weber.

According to a press release, the recall charges are being made against Pepper and Morgan because they’ve been “violating their oath of office by not upholding Washington state laws regarding city governance and their actions constitute malfeasance and misfeasance of office,” by impairing city functions, subjecting the city and residents to financial risk and litigation, violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), usurping the authority of Mayor Carol Benson, and failing to perform their duties of office, among other allegations.

While a recall charge was filed against Morgan, the timeline for getting her recall vote on a ballot is shorter than Pepper, because Morgan is up for election this year.

According to Kafia Hosh, a King County Elections communications specialist, recall charges against an elected official that is up for election in the same year must stop collecting petition signatures six months before the election.

That means the deadline for collecting enough signatures for Morgan’s recall vote must be submitted to King County Elections by May 7.

Signatures can only be collected after the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s review and the county Superior Court hearing, which is planned to take place between now and May 10, meaning its possible there will be no opportunity to collect and submit signatures for Morgan’s recall.

Despite this, Thomson said the PACs decided to move forward with Morgan’s recall vote to “take advantage of the month ahead to get the word out to the community and voters about her actions being bad enough to be recalled for.”

“Fighting this will also add to the financial/time constraints she is already under with the lawsuit,” Johna wrote in an April 11 email, referring to Oakpointe’s current OPMA lawsuit against the city and Pepper, Morgan and Weber.

As for why the group hasn’t filed recall charges against Weber, “Brian has actually been willing to compromise,” Johna wrote. “He’s voted to benefit the city/citizens on a couple occasions (not often) — but it was significant enough to recognize that his actions have not been as extreme as Morgan and Pepper.”

The council members did not mince words in their response to the recall charges.

“The allegations in the recall petition do not meet the legal requirements in state law. They are false and misrepresented. We have not engaged in any wrongful or improper conduct,” Pepper and Morgan wrote in a joint email. “Anyone can file a recall petition. There is a legal process to protect the public against frivolous recalls. We are confident that process will work. But even if this petition makes it to the ballot, Erika and I are confident that the people of Black Diamond will see right through it.”

Pepper and Morgan went on to allege that the recall charges were filed as a “political ploy to divert attention away from the Mayor and her conduct,” since Benson is up for election this year, alongside Morgan and Weber.

“The proponent of the recall petition is the wife of a former council member who lost the last election by 70 percent. They are allies of the Mayor and want her to be re-elected,” Pepper and Morgan wrote, referring to Taylor, the wife of former Councilman Ron Taylor, who lost the 2015 election to Pepper, who garnered 725 votes (68.6 percent) to Taylor’s 323 votes (30.6 percent).

Although Weber isn’t named in the recall charges, in his opinion, “this is just more politically motivated garbage.”

THE RECALL PROCESS

After the recall charges were filed with King County Elections on April 10, the department forwarded them to the county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

From there, the office conducts a technical review of the charges, according to Hosh.

If the charges meet the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office standards, a ballot synopsis is written by the office and sent to the King County Superior Court.

The deadline for the synopsis is April 25.

The court then holds a sufficiency hearing after receiving the charges and the ballot synopsis, evaluated against RCW 29A.56.110.

Due to county deadlines, a hearing must be held between now and May 10.

If the court deems the charges sufficient, the ballot synopsis is approved and the sponsors of the recall charges have 180 days to obtain and file signatures before the recall vote becomes a ballot measure.

“Each signature requirement is different for each council member,” Hosh said in an April 12 interview, adding that it’s 25 percent of the number of votes the official received in their last election.

For Pepper, 262 signatures need to be collected based on the 1,048 votes she received in the Nov. 2015 election.

Morgan received 1575 votes in the same election, which comes down to 393 signatures.

If enough signatures are gathered, then Black Diamond is responsible for paying for the recall measures to be on the ballot.

If the recall measures are successful and council members are removed from office, new council members are appointed by the City Council, and the appointed individuals could run for the position when the original council member was scheduled for re-election, Hosh said.

HISTORY OF THE RECALL IN WASHINGTON

According to Ballotpedia.org, there have been 31 attempted recall votes between 1996 and 2017.

The vast majority, 26 recall efforts, ended with the charges being ruled invalid by the courts or with the petitions being withdrawn.

Only three recall measures have been sent to the ballot.

Of the three successful recalls, one was James West, former mayor of Spokane after the “Spokesman Review” published several stories concerning a sex scandal in 2005.

Another was Cy Sun, former mayor of Pacific. Out of the nine charges the original recall petition alleged, the courts approved only two: that Sun attempted to use the city Police Department as his own personal police force, and Sun’s actions put the city’s insurance in jeopardy. Sun was recalled in 2013.

Former mayor of Bridgeport Marilynn Lynn was recalled in 2014 for illegally hiring a city employee against the City Council’s wishes.

Two other recall efforts were approved by the courts but failed to gather enough signatures to put the measures on the ballot.

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