PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners have extended the deadline for written public comment on the hearing examiner code to Friday afternoon.
All written public comment is due by 4:30 p.m. that day, while verbal comment was heard during a public hearing at the commissioners’ regular meeting Monday morning at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
The deadline decision was made after a presentation by Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker and Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Austin Watkins outlining the changes and impacts the new county hearing examiner code will have if commissioners approve it.
The commissioners will not hear the prospective final draft of the hearing examiner code for another two to three weeks, as staff works to address questions raised by the commissioners and the public.
A hearing examiner is an appointed position that conducts quasi-judicial hearings regarding 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 Monday’s presentation.
“The rules would be better set in writing,” Hunsucker said. “We believe it would upgrade due process.”
During public comment, Peter Newland, resident and board member of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, said he saw no major concerns with the code update aside from one complaint.
He said the goal that “it would be so clear no one would need an attorney, was not achieved.”
District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton said the team is working on simplifying the process, but it’s not there yet.
“[You] still need a lawyer, but it’s better,” Brotherton said. “We’ll get it right eventually.”
According to the presentation, the current hearing examiner code is under the Title 18 Unified Development Code and requires amendments to rules to be made by the commissioners, and the code itself lacks key rules such as timelines, computation of days and the involved groups’ roles and responsibilities.
The draft 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.
The draft ordinance had been reviewed by the commissioners three times before Monday’s meeting and was reviewed by county departments and the hearing examiner at least twice.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].