Measure now off the ballot: Clallam finance department question paperwork late

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners’ plans of putting a measure to create a county finance department on the November ballot have been delayed after paperwork was filed late.

Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to rescind their previous legislation that called for a special election to consider amending the county charter to allow the creation of a county finance department.

Last Tuesday, the commissioners repealed and replaced resolutions related to the measure with minor changes in an effort to address public comment they heard the week prior.

Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Wendt told county commissioners Monday that in order for an election to go forward on a charter change, paperwork needs to be submitted to the Clallam County Auditor’s Office within 90 days of the election.

The commissioners office had submitted most of its paperwork to the Auditor’s Office — which shares a wall with the commissioners’ office — on Aug. 7, or 91 days before the November election.

But one document — the ordinance that would be adopted if voters approved the charter change — did not make it to the Auditor’s Office until Aug. 9, or 89 days before the general election.

“Does that untimeliness make the call for the election fatal?” Wendt asked during the Monday work session. “I don’t really know, to be honest.”

Wendt told commissioners that the situation creates doubt and could make it easier for someone to challenge the outcome of the election.

He said the county could ask a court for guidance, but that would take time. Another option was to rescind the measure and try again at another time.

“I don’t feel good about trying to start something like this by asking the court if we’ve done it the right way,” said Commissioner Mark Ozias.

“My preference — while I am 100 percent supportive of the need for this function — would be to … to hit pause, think about what we can and should do to affect the change internally and think about bringing it to the ballot next year.”

The measure, which county officials have said would streamline the county’s finances as it looks at removing financial responsibilities from the county administrator position, requires a change to the county charter.

The charter change would create a new Department of Finance, headed by a chief financial officer appointed by the county commissioners.

Commissioners questioned whether they could create a finance department without changing the charter.

County Manager Jim Jones said county attorneys have provided analysis that shows the county has the authority to create new departments as long as they don’t affect the statutory duties of elected officials.

He said that it might be possible to have a chief financial officer who answers to the county administrator. The original intent was that the chief financial officer would answer to the Board of County Commissioners.

Ozias asked Auditor Shoona Riggs to call the people who had been selected for the “for” and “against” committees to make them aware that they no longer needed to prepare “for” and “against” statements.

He also asked for more legal advice on how the county could move forward.

“Once we get that legal advice, I recommend we work with the Finance Committee and our new administrator to develop a plan for how we accomplish this function,” Ozias said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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