Black Diamond Councilwoman Pat Pepper held a community meeting late last week to address the recall charges brought against her earlier this year.
The meeting, held at the Black Diamond library, was a chance for voters to have “an opportunity to hear from both sides before the decide to sign,” the recall petition, Pepper wrote in an announcement for the meeting.
Five recall charges were submitted to King County by city resident Robbin Taylor in April, but only four were approved by the King County Superior Court. Pepper appealed the court’s decision, and the state Supreme Court approved of three of the four charges.
Beyond claiming the recall charges brought against her are false, one of Pepper’s biggest points at the meeting is that when a court approves a recall charge, that charge doesn’t have to be proven true.
“I was very interested to learn the courts do not have to have proof that the charges are true,” Pepper said. “This was something I could hardly imagine or believe, and it took me a while to recognize that statement. As allegations are made, the court does not have to prove that the charges are true.”
King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus said as much in her May ruling, approving four recall charges brought against Pepper.
“A review in court must not consider the truthfulness of the charges, but instead must accept the allegations as true, and then determine whether those charges, if true, support the conclusion that the officer abused her position,” Andrus said May 10. “I do not decide whether the allegations are true or not true, and therefore by finding the allegation legally and factually sufficient, I would not be finding that Ms. Pepper violated that law — merely that there is sufficient evidence to support the allegation to let that go to the electorate to decide.”
Pepper also said any alleged violation has to be committed “with illegal intent,” though in the October Supreme Court ruling, the court wrote in their decision that, “the recall statute… does not require an act to be unlawful in order to form a legally sufficient basis for recall.”
The three charges allege Pepper violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by conducting meetings with other council members outside the public sphere, refused to attend meetings or approve minutes, and failed to enact a city budget.
Pepper denied that she violated the OPMA and said there were no “secret meetings” happening between council members.
The “A Plan” document was a document Pepper had in her council notes during the April 21, 2016 meeting. The document appears to be a list of actions for Pepper and council members Brian Weber and Erika Morgan to perform during the meeting.
For example, the documents states during an executive session, “do not agree to anything. You are on solid ground, just hold off. Adjourn the exec session if you are cross-examined. Say: ‘we are done with this exec session, do you agree Pat, Erika, Brian?’”
Weber and Erika have denied having this document.
The January 2016 email Taylor submitted as evidence of an OPMA violation is an email between Pepper and Morgan, as well as private citizens Brian Derdowski and Kristen Bryant.
“… Are we all still committed with resolve to knock Janie [Edelman] out of any chairmanship of any committee?” the email reads.
Weber was not a recipient of this email, which means only a minority of council members were communicating. OPMA violations typically involve a majority of elected officials — in Black Diamond’s case, that would be three councilmembers.
“The Open Public Meetings Act, in my opinion… was never intended to be weaponized the way it’s being now,” Pepper said at the meeting. “The constant allegations by the mayor that there was some willful violation is inaccurate and slanderous to elected officials, and hampers the city’s ability to get work done. This relentless repetition of untruths is shocking.”
Pepper also denied charge two, relating to her refusal to attend some meetings or approve minutes.
Along with Weber and Morgan, Pepper was absent during the May 19 and May 25 council meetings, although the council members have claimed the council has the ability to cancel meetings, and they cancelled those meetings because their agendas for the meetings were not recognized by Mayor Carol Benson.
Pepper said at the meeting that her and the two other council members properly requested those meetings to be cancelled, but Taylor argues in her recall effort that their absence purposely defeated quorums “to obstruct the functioning of the city,” and missing the meetings meant they neglected their duties as elected officials.
Taylor argues Pepper also caused the early end of the June 2, 2016 meeting early when Pepper, Weber and Morgan walked out.
During that meeting, Benson asked Police Chief Jamey Kiblinger to remove Pepper from the council chambers after Pepper attempted to gain the floor multiple times.
Kiblinger said she suggested a recess first, and Benson agreed.
However, Pepper — followed by Weber and Morgan — left the chambers and did not return. Pepper later said she left because the mayor ordered her removed, and the other council members said they left in solidarity with Pepper.
“We had been seriously attacked all meeting,” Pepper said at the time. “I was kicked out and I left.”
As for failing to approve minutes, Pepper said council meetings have been so chaotic, it was difficult to decipher the audio recordings of meetings, and there were many edits that needed to be made.
Of the third charge, that Pepper as part of the majority council failed to enact a city budget, Pepper pointed out a budget was eventually passed and city services were not interrupted, so there was no harm done to city services or residents.
The council passed a budget Dec. 22, but Benson vetoed it, saying the budget wasn’t balanced and there were illegal provisions inside the document.
Taylor argues, “even though the council ultimately passed a budget, Pepper’s wrongful conduct in delaying that passage can still support a recall.”
Pepper disagrees, and said at the meeting, “At no time was the city’s essential services compromised, or even close, yet the mayor and her staff continue to frighten citizens with this kind of rhetoric.”
She also told her audience that if she is recalled, the council will be allowed to appoint a new council member, rather than let the electorate vote someone in.
The meeting, while short, was occasionally derailed by recall supporters, who were there to give their side of the story (quoting Pepper’s flyer about the meeting) and ask Pepper questions.
To organize all this information about the recall, Pepper has launched a website — patpepper.com — for residents to visit.
Signature collection update
Robbin Taylor and her group, Neighbor to Neighbor Black Diamond, had to recollect signatures after the state Supreme Court struck down one of the charges brought against Pepper.
They announced after Pepper’s meeting they submitted 496 signatures to King County Elections on Nov. 29 in order to try and get the recall measure on the Feb. 13 special election ballot.
They needed to collect 366 signatures if the measure was to get on a ballot.
King County told Taylor the signatures will be verified Dec. 6, and if enough signatures are OK’d, an election date will be set.
More information from the pro-recall side, visit www.recallBD.org.