Clallam board mulls hearing examiner selection; extension of current arrangement possible

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PORT ANGELES — The search for a Clallam County hearing examiner might be shelved until next year.

County commissioners said Monday they would consider contract extensions with current hearing examiners Lauren Erickson and William Payne as an alternative to hiring one quasi-judicial officer this spring.

“We have a process that’s in place,” Board Chairman Mike Chapman said in the commissioners’ work session.

“I wonder if we don’t just extend the contract[s] this year.

“It’s only seven more months,” he added.

A an-hoc committee has screened applications from five candidates who are vying to be Clallam County’s primary hearing examiner.

Hearing examiners adjudicate land-use matters, including appeals of Department of Community Development decisions and a variety of land-use permits.

Candidates

The five candidates are Erickson, Payne, Michael McCarthy of Tacoma-based McCarthy & Causseaux, and Andrew Reeves and Ted Hunter of Seattle-based Sound Law Center.

Commissioners Bill Peach and Chapman identified Erickson and Payne as their top choices.

“Personally, I like the ones that demonstrated that they have a connection and understanding of Clallam County,” Peach said.

“I do think Clallam County’s land-use issues are quite diverse in what you’re dealing with on the West End and what you’re dealing with on the East End. Hire someone that knows there’s a difference. My bias would be for folks that understand Clallam County.”

Erickson, a Port Angeles attorney and Payne, a Sequim attorney, have been rotating hearings for a flat fee of $2,250 per case.

Clallam County’s existing contracts with Erickson and Payne will expire at the end of May.

Erickson and Payne are willing to continue the current rotation, County Administrator Jim Jones told commissioners.

“Both of them when they talked to me said they were comfortable with the workload and they were comfortable doing it,” Jones said.

“Both also said they would be willing to be the primary, anticipating that the flood [of hearings] that we had in the last couple years is slowing down to a trickle.”

Commissioners issued a request for proposals from hearing examiner candidates in January after Community Development Director Mary Ellen Winborn suggested one hearing examiner rather than a split rotation.

Committee

Members of the ad hoc committee independently reviewed the applications and provided comments to the board.

“We chose not to do any mathematical tabulation on that simply because there was a lot of subjectivity to it,” Human Resources Director Rich Sill said after the work session.

Peach said the feedback from the screening committee was “quite helpful.”

Commissioners are expected to discuss the hearing examiner’s position in a work session next Monday.

“Why don’t we think about it?” Chapman said. “We could all look one more time.”

Clallam County hearing examiners conducted nine hearings in 2011, 11 in 2012, 20 in 2013, a record 22 in 2014 and 18 last year.

Officials attributed the spike in hearings in 2013 to conditional-use permits for siting recreational marijuana businesses in the wake of state Initiative 502.

“My perception is since the marijuana ordinance was put in place, there was a dramatic decline [in hearings],” Peach said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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