Quilcene fire recall election Tuesday

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

QUILCENE — After 16 months of controversy, the recall of two Quilcene Fire District commissioners is coming down to an election Tuesday.

“At this point, it all comes down to who you believe and whether you want to have clean government by cleaning out these commissioners and moving on,” said Linda Saunders, a plaintiff in the action

Said Mike Whittaker, fire district commissioner facing recall along with fellow Commissioner Dave Ward: “This is all small-town politics. It depends on who your relationships are.

“Someone might tell you that I am a real dog and you believe them and don’t listen to any other viewpoint.”

As of Friday morning, 758 ballots had been returned out of 1,406 issued, reflecting a 53.91 percent voter turnout.

Jefferson County Auditor Donna Eldridge said she doesn’t have enough experience with recall elections to predict a final voter turnout.

Results will be announced shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Organizers of the recall action began work in July 2011 after Chief Bob Low resigned, saying he couldn’t work with Whittaker and Ward.

Accusations

This followed a year of accusations that Whittaker and Ward aided in the falsification of minutes at a February 2010 meeting.

At issue is whether Ward, with Whittaker’s complicity, asked district secretary Jean Morris to modify the minutes to approve Ward’s enrollment in the Public Employees Retirement System — or PERS — to qualify him for a pension.

Recall proponents filed paperwork August 2011. That was approved by Court Commissioner Keith Harper, who was elected this month as Superior Court judge.

Whittaker and Ward appealed the action to Kitsap County Superior Court in October 2011, and Judge Anna Laurie struck down all of the charges except the one concerning the falsification of minutes.

Whittaker and Ward took their case to the state Court of Appeals, which allowed the recall, then appealed twice to the state Supreme Court, which supported the prior ruling.

When the case began, Whittaker and Ward sought approval to finance their court case with $8,000 of district money, but that was not approved.

Whittaker declined to say how much was spent for his and Ward’s defense.

He said he paid for his defense out of his own pocket.

“Some people think money is important, and some don’t,” he said.

Minutes of meeting

According to recall proponents, Ward instructed Morris to falsify the minutes of the February 2010 meeting.

Both Ward and Whittaker have denied this.

According to Whittaker, Morris is Ward’s ex-wife and had an ax to grind.

“It all comes down to one woman that happens to be the board secretary who is still upset about her divorce 20 years later,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker said he and Ward were reluctant to hire Morris as board secretary in 2000 but were swayed by the late Julie McLanahan, who was then the third commissioner.

“Julie gave us her personal guarantee that [Jean] would not be a problem, and that was true for 12 years,” he said.

“We never thought it would come to this, and Dave never asked her to falsify any minutes.

“It’s her word against his.

“It just depends on who you believe.”

Saunders disagreed.

‘Completely wrong’

“That’s completely wrong,” she said.

“We have copies of the preliminary minutes that were sent out after the meeting, and they made no mention of PERS,” she added.

“We also have sworn statements from people who were at the meeting saying that the matter was never discussed.”

Morris, who owns and operates the Quilcene Liquor Store, said her assertion about the minutes isn’t personal.

“I don’t know what will happen after the vote,” she said.

“But I do know that he asked me to falsify the minutes.”

Quilcene attorney Peggy Ann Bierbaum, who represented the plaintiffs throughout the recall process on a pro bono basis, feels the community will go back to normal after the vote.

“I think people will be glad that it’s finally over,” she said.

“Quilcene is an incredibly resilient community, and there is a lot of activity like Quilcene Conversations and the Linger Longer Theater, and that will continue.

“At this point, we will just let the voters decide.”

________

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 10. 2012 7:37PM
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