After a bout of court moves, Black Diamond residents are once again collecting signatures to put a recall measure for Councilwoman Pat Pepper on a future ballot.
On April 10, the local Neighbor to Neighbor group — headed by Robbin Taylor, Johna Thomson and Craig Goodwin — filed recall charges with King County against Pepper for violating the state’s Open Public Meeting Act and violating her oath of office.
King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus ruled May 10 there was sufficient evidence presented with the recall charges to approve of a recall measure.
Andrus did not rule that Pepper was found guilty of the charges.
According to Andrus, Pepper had 15 days to file an appeal with the state Supreme Court.
As that deadline approached, Neighbor to Neighbor planned to start collecting signatures on May 26.
However, Pepper filed her appeal on the last possible moment on May 25, putting the group’s signature collecting on hold.
But as it turns out, Pepper did not take any official court action to stop or delay signature gathering, Thomson said, so they filed with the court a motion to continue collecting signatures, which was granted June 12.
Neighbor to Neighbor’s efforts to collect signatures restarted on June 23.
About 200 signatures have been collected so far, Thomson said on June 29.
The group needs 370 signatures in 180 days before the recall measure can be put on a ballot.
SUPREME COURT HEARING
When Judge Andrus gave her ruling on May 10, she said Pepper had 15 days to appeal her decision to the state Supreme Court, and the appeal, “shall be heard and determined within 30 days,” she said, citing state statute.
However, an earlier Supreme Court ruling says that statute is unconstitutional, and only the court can designate its deadlines, not state legislators, according to Neighbor to Neighbor lawyer Tyler Firkins.
The schedule for the Supreme Court recall hearing was then set under the Rules for Appellate Procedure, which made Pepper’s final brief in this case due, at the very most, 270 days after Andrus made her ruling, around February 2018.
To move up the timetable, Firkins filed a motion for expedited review on June 2.
This was granted June 12, setting the court’s en banc conference (meaning the entire bench will discuss the case) for Sept. 7, 2017. The ruling would come after, although a deadline was not set.
On June 27, Pepper and her lawyer Dennis Reynolds filed for both a stay on signature gathering and a request that the state Supreme Court stick to the original Rules of Appellate Procedure schedule.
In the reply about the expedited schedule, Reynolds argues that Pepper’s time to work on a defense is “extremely limited due to (City) Council activities,” and that “any compressed schedule for the recall case will have the effect of making it difficult for Ms. Pepper to also complete Council business at the same time.”
Reynolds added that city business can take up to 40 hours a week, if not more, because Mayor Carol Benson “provides little information to Council and obstructs their work at Council meetings.”
As to the signature gathering, “if there is a change in the wording or removal of even one of the charges, the signatures gathered would be invalid because there would be a change required to the petition,” Pepper’s brief reads.
There is no deadline for when the court will rule on what schedule it will stick with or whether Neighbor to Neighbor will have to pause signature gathering until Pepper’s appeal process is finished.
Pepper maintains that the recall effort is based off false information.
“The recall effort is led and funded by the Taylors and Goodwins, who lost the last election,” she wrote in a June 30 email. “The choice for the voters is this: Do they want a rubber stamp Council and dictatorial mayor, or do they want a Council that is independent and a mayor that does her job properly?
“All my actions on Council are based on what is best for the citizens and the need to uphold the law,” she continued. “The rumors I hear are nonsense, and in reality the City needs to do a much better job of holding itself and developers accountable to the law. “