Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley, left, Philip Hunsucker, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, and Austin Watkins, civil deputy prosecuting attorney, present the final draft ordinance for the hearing examiner code to the county commissioners Monday morning. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley, left, Philip Hunsucker, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, and Austin Watkins, civil deputy prosecuting attorney, present the final draft ordinance for the hearing examiner code to the county commissioners Monday morning. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson County commissioners approve hearing examiner code

Ordinance expands position to handle cases unrelated to land use

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson Board of County Commissioners has approved a new hearing examiner code after weeks of drafting, public comment, discussions and revisions.

The commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance implementing the new code during their Monday morning meeting in the Commission Chambers of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker and Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Austin Watkins presented the final draft of the amendment, which incorporated changes recommended by the commissioners and through public comment.

A hearing examiner is an appointed position that conducts quasi-judicial hearings on both land-use and non-land use matters that are delegated to them by commissioners.

The subject matter of a hearing can include administrative appeals, code enforcement, road vacations and land-use cases.

Each hearing will stay consistent with code requirements, rules of procedure and other applicable law, as the hearing examiner listens to all sides of the case — which normally includes public comment — and adjudicates the case with written findings, according to commission documents.

Previous county commissioners implemented the initial hearing examiner code in 1991, to adjudicate land-use applications and appeals, road-vacation applications and other proceedings it was assigned, the documents said.

Recently, the current commissioners have adopted legislation delegating additional non-land use proceedings to the hearing examiner, such as the public nuisance ordinance and operating permits under the commercial shooting facility ordinance, the documents said.

The ordinance states the county has a need for the hearing examiner to adjudicate land-use and non-land use applications, hearings and appeals in a single combined quasi-judicial system, except where appeals to the Jefferson County Board of Health are required.

For the hearing examiner to amend the current code, the changes must be presented before the county commissioners to approve and adopt, Watkins said.

The code was created with four goals in mind: increase transparency, increase prospects of self help, upgrade due process compliance and provide tools for the hearing examiner to have the authority and resources to adjudicate both land-use cases and those unrelated to land use, Watkins said in a prior presentation.

Watkins plans to have a website put together where the final code may be easily accessed.

The approved ordinance can be viewed here.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].

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