Judgment needed for SARC petition

The petition submitted by Citizens for Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center to the county auditor’s office is in question.

SARC special board meeting

When: 4 p.m., today, Wednesday, May 13

Where: Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave.

More info: www.sarcfitness.com



The petition submitted by Citizens for Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center to the county auditor’s office is in question.

More than 4,400 voter signatures were submitted April 29 to place a measure on the August primary election ballot for the creation of a metropolitan park district. The same day, City of Sequim Attorney Craig Ritchie contacted the county’s prosecuting attorney’s office to express concerns about the warning statement against improper signatures on the petition, according to Clallam County Superior Court case documents.

“Any petition for an MPD has to follow the law,” Ritchie said. “I assume the prosecutor would have read it (the petition) and I’m sure they would have found the same thing.”

After reviewing the form of the petition, Shoona Riggs, Clallam County auditor, noticed the petition includes an incorrect citation to a state-revised code; it doesn’t provide numbered signature lines and it includes warning statements that do not adhere to the verbatim language of Revised Code of Washington 35.21.005, according to court documents.

In reaction, a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment was filled with the Clallam County Superior Court to provide Riggs the guidance needed to continue processing the petition.

“In my opinion, the law is unclear whether the petition in question is sufficient and the proposition should be submitted to the voters because the statute that governs the sufficiency of petitions uses both ‘mandatory’ and ‘directory’ terms when prescribing the ‘essential elements’ for a petition,” Riggs said according to court documents.

The motion hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, May 15, at the county’s Superior Court, 223 E. Fourth St., is intended to set a briefing schedule and ask court officials for a priority trial, Mark Nichols, Clallam County prosecuting attorney, said.

“This particular case is complicated because it’s a situation where law appears less than clear,” he said.

Nichols also noted that no previous court cases appear to have addressed similar statutes in regard to a metropolitan park district.

How the court decides on the motions Friday will dictate what happens next, Nichols said, noting Riggs’ desire to have the issues at hand fully resolved by May 22 to allow time to meet deadlines associated with the August ballot.

Normally, candidates already would have begun to file for positions on the metropolitan park district’s governing board so if the new taxing district got approved in August, voters also may elect the five board members, too. Because a declaratory judgment action is needed before candidates can file however, Riggs may have to authorize a special filing period.

Riggs must certify the petition to form a metropolitan park district for the primary ballot by June 5, according to court case documents.

To legally prepare, SARC officials are working with both their attorney Craig Miller and K&L Gates, a Seattle law firm with expertise in election law.

“I’m optimistic,” Virginia O’Neil, spokesman for Citizens for SARC, said. “Our attorneys believe we have a strong case to go forward.”

Although both city and SARC officials seek and support the creation of a metropolitan park district, the two entities have different ideas as to when to create one and what it should initially include.

Aimed at providing financial support to the community’s recreation center and public pool, the metropolitan park district proposed by SARC commissioners would instate a tax of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation within Sequim School District boundaries. However, any metropolitan park district has the legal ability to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

While SARC officials have opted to pursue a metropolitan park district sooner rather than later because of SARC’s financial status, City of Sequim officials are looking to propose a metropolitan park district that includes a wide array of community organizations on the February 2016 ballot.

The development of a broad-based metropolitan park district “is only relevant if the current proposal is not on the ballot in August or fails,” Steve Burkett, Sequim city manager, told the Gazette in a previous interview.

“I’ve lived here 20 years and I’ve never seen lines drawn like this, especially when there is no logical reason why this (MPD) can’t be broadened down the road,” O’Neil said.

City officials have expressed they “strongly” support SARC and want it to continue, Ritchie said, but argued he “can’t get around the statute.”

Regardless of what city officials say, their actions have said otherwise, O’Neil said.

“The city has been opposed to SARC’s efforts from day one and this latest tactic is truly underhanded and undermines the intention of the 4,600 voters who signed the petition supporting a vote of the people in August to form a metropolitan park district.”

“Bottom line is you don’t sue people you support,” she said.


Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.