PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners will have a prosecuting attorney’s office lawyer at the table for all meetings beginning this month.
It will allow documents to be scrutinized more closely at the commissioners’ level, where decisions are made, interim county Administrator Rich Sill said.
“I don’t think that was happening because there wasn’t an attorney sitting there,” Sill said.
The recent retirement of county Administrator Jim Jones provided an opening for adding the participation of the prosecuting attorney’s office to commissioners’ regular meetings, hearings and work sessions, board Chairman Mark Ozias said Monday.
Having a lawyer present “to answer questions that could come up in real time just makes a lot of sense,” Ozias added.
Having a lawyer present “is a best practice that we have just not been utilizing,” Ozias said, adding that the county attorneys began attending more meetings in November, after Jones retired.
There was no one particular occurrence or situation that initiated the change, Ozias said.
“You could look to a number of instances that this might help underscore that this is a good idea,” he said.
“With Jim’s retirement, that has given us the opportunity to really look anew at a lot of procedures and the ways we do things.
“We want to take advantage of that, because of the high level of complexity, the variety of contracts and the breadth of issues that come across the commissioners’ desk every week.”
New Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Stanley, who had been working in the public records office, will be assigned to all meetings on a regular basis when she returns from leave this month, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said.
Ozias said commissioners by March will discuss restarting talks with the Keller, Texas-based search firm Strategic Government Resources on hiring a new county administrator, which is required under the county charter.
Sill, the county’s human resources director, said he initiated adding legal counsel to meetings.
Legislative bodies such as city councils and school boards have lawyers present at all meetings.
“It’s important to have as many sets of eyes on documents as you can when they come through,” Sill said.
Sill also has auditor’s office Chief Accountant Stan Creasey, who is retiring this spring, helping Mark Lane ease into the newly created chief financial officer position, a role that was filled in part by Jones.
Ozias said commissioners will “re-engage” with a search firm by April on hiring a county administrator.
Stanley will continue to advise on public records matters, Sill said.
“It’s kind of a team concept,” he said.
The moves are expenditure-neutral, Sill added.
Former Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Wendt recently became the Port of Port Angeles’ new attorney, replacing Simon Barnhart, who became the Clallam Public Utility District’s lawyer.
Nichols said he attended “virtually every” commissioners meeting when he was a deputy prosecuting attorney from 2004-14, either sitting with commissioners or in the audience, ready to field questions from the board.
“It’s not as though we haven’t had a representative present, it’s just that we haven’t had a person assigned,” he said Monday.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez will fill in for Stanley until she returns, Nichols said.
Not having a regular attorney assigned to commissioners’ meetings “was a workload issue,” 24th District state Rep. Mike Chapman, a four-term Clallam County commissioner from 2001-16, said Monday.
“It was always left up to the prosecuting attorney and the chairman of the board,” he said.
“We tried to keep it more informal, but I can see where they would want to have a more formal process now.
“It’s good news if the prosecutor and commissioners are working together and agreeing to work together.
“That shows really good teamwork.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].