Court order restrains DCD chief

Clallam County was granted a temporary restraining order against Mary Ellen Winborn, the elected Department of Community Development director, on July 28.

Judge Lauren Erickson granted the temporary restraining order to Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols in Clallam County Superior Court and set another hearing for Aug. 11.

County commissioners were slated to hold an executive session on July 29.

The order cites Clallam County’s concern that it could face “immediate injury” if Winborn were to continue in her role as an elected DCD director since any actions she takes in that capacity could be voided.

“Under RCW 42.12.010, an elected official must vacate their role when they cease to be a registered voter in the county in which they were elected. On July 1, 2022, Ms. Winborn canceled her voter registration within Clallam County,” Nichols said in court on July 28.

Winborn has lived in Mississippi since May. She has said she has been working remotely and that she travels to a rental in Clallam County at least once a month to pursue her duties in person.

Her term as DCD director, a position that pays $101,000 annually, ends on Dec. 31.

She is not running for re-election.

Clallam is the only county in the nation where the Director of Community Development is an elected rather than appointed position.

The temporary restraining order prevents Winborn from performing her duties as the DCD director, including accessing non-public areas of the Clallam County Courthouse and other Clallam County properties, and from using Clallam County computers, phones, servers and email.

The order also prevents her from removing or destroying any records or writing in her possession pertaining to the DCD office.

Winborn told the judge that she canceled her voter registration because she was going through a process to have her address protected via the Washington State Address Confidentiality Program. Once that was finished, she planned to reapply, she has said.

“I had to have an advocate from Olympia to get through the process and he had been sick and hadn’t been able to file the paperwork needed for me to get my address protected,” Winborn said.

The program, established 31 years ago, was designed to prevent people’s addresses from being located by perpetrators of crimes like stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault through access to public records such as driver’s licenses, voter registrations and marriage records.

It later was extended to criminal justice officials and others in government who have had threats made against them.

Winborn said a person had come into the County Auditor’s office requesting to see her voter’s registration.

“I am being stalked,” she said.

“I don’t want people knowing where I live, and I don’t want my landlord drug into this,” Winborn said.

Commissioners held a 75-minute executive session on July 26 abotu the matter.

When reached by phone in Mississippi about the county’s plan to prusue legal action, Winborn called county legal action it “absurd” and “unfair.”

Winborn was elected to the post in November 2014 and reelected in November 2018.

She said she will renew her Clallam County voter registration once she receives her new address from the Washington State Address Confidentiality Program.

The 31-year-old program, through protecting records and providing mail forwarding, offers a safety plan to prevent people’s addresses from being located by perpetrators through public records such as driver’s licenses, voter registries and marriage records.

The intent is to protect survivors of crime. It is available to Washington residents who are targets of stalking, domestic violence, trafficking or sexual assault, as well as criminal justice employees who have been threatened or harassed because of their work.

Participants receive a confidential address where mail can be sent.

According to the state Department of Revenue’s website, “Persons are considered residents of this state for sales and use tax purposes if they take actions which indicate that they intend to live in this state on more than a temporary or transient basis. A person may be considered a resident of this state even though the person is a resident of another state.”

The department presumes a person is a Washington state resident if he or she does any of the following:

• Maintains a residence in Washington for personal use;

• Is registered to vote in this state;

• Has a state professional or business license in this state;

• Has a Washington state driver’s license; or

• Claims Washington as a residence for obtaining a hunting or fishing license, eligibility to hold public office or for judicial actions.

Winborn said she is renting a room in the county for when she visits once a month to carry out her official duties.

“I don’t really know what they are doing,” she said of the commissioners.

“It surprises me they are taking legal action. I’m working every day, fulfilling my obligations. This is really absurd.

“In code compliance, when someone does something wrong, we give them an opportunity to correct it,” she said.

“I’m working online. I’m working a minimum of a day a month,” Winborn said.

“Put it on the ballot if people want to recall me.

“My term is up at the end of the year. They can’t even let me do my time. Let me do my job. I know more about it than anyone. Just let me finish it out. People work online all over the world.”