Black Diamond supports recall as OPMA lawsuit comes to an end

Councilwoman Pat Pepper will most likely be recalled as soon as the February special election is certified Friday, Feb. 23.

Votes may still be trickling in, but it appears Black Diamond residents have spoken — recall Councilwoman Pat Pepper.

As of the morning of Monday, Feb. 19, 844 votes (66 percent) approved the recall measure, and 423 (33 percent) votes disapproved.

While King County won’t certify the election until Friday, Feb. 23, it seems likely Pepper will be the third elected official to be recalled in Washington state history.

“Voters used their ballots to hold Pepper accountable for her actions over the past two years, while she made an abundance of illegal decisions that were embarrassing and costly to Black Diamond residents,” said Neighbor to Neighbor Black Diamond spokeswoman Johna Thomson. Neighbor to Neighbor was the group that filed a recall measure to the county in April 2017. “The election results send a decisive message that Black Diamond residents are done with Pepper’s poor leadership.”

Once the election is certified and the measure officially approved by voters, the recall will take effect immediately, said Kendall Hodson, chief of staff at King County Elections.

Mayor Carol Benson announced at the Feb. 15 council meeting that applications for those who want to apply for Pepper’s council seat (Position No. 5) are due by 4 p.m. Feb. 27.

The council will interview applicants during the March 1 meeting, and likely select an appointee after an executive session.

The appointed council member will serve the rest of Pepper’s term through 2019, and will have a chance to be elected during the 2019 November general election.

With this last meeting likely being the last Pepper will attend as an elected official, she gave some closing remarks.

“The people have voted, thus bringing to a close a ten month process,” she said. “Many thanks to the people who worked tirelessly to support me endlessly and selflessly. Your work and commitment are greatly appreciated. I am beyond grateful for your efforts.

“To the young people of the area, I encourage you to practice the civics lessons learned and participate in associated student body government and other school and community activities. I urge you to register to vote and use this right wisely. A thoughtful informed vote is the basis for democracy. When your turn comes, use your vote.

“To all Black Diamond residents, it was a privilege to represent you. You now have the government that you wish. Be proud of that government and your community. I wish you the best now and in the future. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

OPMA SETTLEMENT

Earlier this month, the Black Diamond City Council also accepted a settlement agreement with developer Oakpointe, ending a two-year long Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit brought against the city and Pepper, as well as former council members Brian Weber and Erika Morgan.

The agreement was approved during the Feb. 1 meeting 4-0, with Pepper abstaining.

Councilwomen Janie Edelman, Tamie Deady and Erin Stout all seemed to agree they would have liked the see the case go to trial, but realize how cost-prohibitive such an action would be, and called the settlement a good deal.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s the best deal that our attorneys in the city can come up with,” Councilwoman Janie Edelman said after an executive session discussing the settlement.

“We need to move forward and start respecting our taxpayer’s money,” Deady said.

Stout said the agreement was also “an abomination,” because the city is already paying for its legal fees and half the legal fees for Pepper, Weber and Morgan, but added a trial would have been expensive and, “it would have caused an awful lot more pain and discontent in this community.”

The agreement stipulated Pepper, Weber and Morgan violated the state Open Public Meetings Act several times, but they were only fined $500 each for the one instance King County Superior Court Judge Janet Helson found they knowingly violated the OPMA.

The $500 fine can be paid to the Black Diamond Community Center.

In return, Oakpointe dropped the lawsuit, and will write to the King County Superior Court to stay proceedings in another lawsuit against the city and Pepper, Weber and Morgan until Dec. 31, 2018.

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