PORT TOWNSEND — All oral testimony given on Oct. 1 about a proposed county shooting range ordinance will be expunged from the record, Jefferson County commissioners decided unanimously.
Commissioners voted on Monday to set a new hearing for Oct. 24 and to invalidate the Oct. 1 public hearing on the draft Commercial Shooting Facility Ordinance, which would regulate outdoor shooting ranges, because of concerns raised about the earlier hearings compliance with the state Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
The deadline for written comments has been extended. It is now at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 26. They can be addressed to P.O. Box 1220, Port Townsend, WA 98368 or e-mailed to [email protected] Written comments from Oct. 1 will be entered into the new hearing.
An estimated 325 people turned out and 68 provided oral testimony in the Oct. 1 hearing, which was scheduled to be held in the Superior Court courtroom at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
No room in the courthouse was large enough to accommodate the crowd, so people also were seated in the District Court courtroom, the commissioners’ chambers and the first-floor conference room. Real-time video of the proceedings was streamed into the rooms from Superior Court courtroom.
“The staff made a real effort to accommodate a large number of people on both sides of this issue,” County Administrator Philip Morley said.
“We provided sound throughout the building and even outside,” he added. “Everyone that evening who wished to speak and who stayed in attendance had the opportunity, such that we were able to adjourn before we thought we needed to. Everyone had been heard that night.
“Nonetheless, despite those efforts, concerns have been expressed by those in attendance and afterwards, whether the way we conducted that hearing comported with the OPMA.”
Among those objecting was Joe D’Amico, who seeks to create a shooting range near Tarboo Lake and who was one of the members of the committee that wrote the draft law. He arrived at the hearing and was told he would have to wait to be seated. He left after waiting a few minutes.
Morley said that the Open Public Meetings Act contains a provision that any actions taken in a meeting that do not comply with the Act are null and void, including taking public testimony.
“Even though we believe the meeting complied, we recognize it is a gray area of the law about what attendance at a public meeting means,” Morley said.
The new hearing will begin at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Worden.
The facility holds 1,200 people and can be expanded by opening the side doors. It is the largest meeting facility in the county.
“Anyone who verbally testified on Oct. 1 is welcomed and invited and encouraged to come on the 24th and testify again,” Morley said.
Commissioners Kate Dean and Kathleen Kler were regretful that the public devoted a lot of time coming to the Oct. 1 hearing.
”It was a long night for all of us and our intentions were very pure, trying to provide access to as many people as possible,” Dean said.
”I want to recognize that a lot of people invested a lot of time to be there. It’s unfortunate, but to be cautious, we want this do-over and encourage the public to voice their opinions.”
Dean said she planned to take a tour of the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association, a shooting range in Port Townsend, to better understand its design.
“I’m regretful that for all of the effort made that again the questioning is going to involve more citizen effort, more staff effort, and cost to the county,” Kler said. ”We are doing it in order to make sure this ordinance is discussed and heard.”
Kler said the commissioners have been accused of not liking or agreeing with the testimony.
”My response is we are not at a place to agree or dislike. We are in the place of listening and reading and evaluating by ourselves before we can even begin to discuss.
“We are in process. We are not at a decision point.”
Commissioner David Sullivan said he was concerned that he heard “so much testimony that was based on fear and misinformation. And yet it isn’t our role before a hearing to call that all out before people talk.”
Sullivan said he hopes people take the time to read the ordinance, ask questions and understand what it says, especially in regard to the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association.
“We have been partners with the Sportsmen’s Club and the gun range from its inception. It’s on county property. It is something we benefit from in various ways, with the training that happens there for the benefit of our citizens.”
He said it was possible to extend the moratorium.
“We’d rather avoid that and get the job done on time.” he said. “We still have a couple months to go before the Dec. 17 deadline.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]