Hyer takes leave from city

Olympia: After drug-related arrest, mayor pro tem taking a few weeks off

February 20, 2010 

Hyer takes leave from city Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Joe Hyer announced Friday that he’s taking a leave of absence from the City Council, a day after his drug-related arrest put his chances of becoming the next Thurston County treasurer in doubt.

“On advice of counsel, I cannot speak about pending legal matters. I hope the public will give me the presumption of innocence that is offered to all Americans,” Hyer said in a brief statement to The Olympian. “I will make no political decisions for the immediate future and will be on personal leave for the next few weeks.”

He declined to discuss details of his case and referred inquiries to his attorney, Ken Valz. Hyer met with Valz for about an hour late Friday morning.

“He’s innocent of all the allegations,” said Valz, who declined to answer specific questions about the case, saying he had limited information. “He will use all legal protections, including his right to a jury trial.”

Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson, who will handle the case, said he planned to make a charging decision next week.

Hyer, who has no felony convictions, faces a standard range of up to six months in jail if he’s charged and convicted of the three crimes he was booked on Thursday night. However, a stiffer penalty is possible. Jackson reiterated that the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office could charge fewer or more crimes after it reviews information collected during the investigation.

Hyer’s announcement comes as pressure on him to drop his bid for county treasurer appears to be mounting. His arrest puts the Thurston County and Olympia city governments in a political lurch.

Asked if he could begin serving as the county treasurer if county commissioners appoint him to the job, which they tentatively agreed to do earlier this week, Hyer responded, “I can’t answer that yet.”

“Whatever they determine, I will support,” said Hyer, who co-owns The Alpine Experience and Olympic Outfitters in downtown Olympia. Hyer also is the treasurer of the Thurston County Democrats and has been active in the Democratic Party for years.

‘SAD AND UNFORTUNATE’

Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who spoke with Hyer on Friday morning, said county commissioners were “disappointed and saddened” about his arrest and that “it’s unlikely that we would appoint Joe at this point.”

County commissioners have not formally met to discuss the situation. Commission Chairwoman Sandra Romero said after learning of the arrest Thursday night, “We’re all trying to process the information. We don’t know (about the future of the process). It does not look good.”

Added Thurston County Treasurer Robin Hunt, whom Hyer was in line to succeed: “I think it’s sad and unfortunate. He hasn’t been charged and hasn’t been tried, but clearly the situation indicates him being treasurer is not in the best service of taxpayers.”

In a written statement, Scott Roberts, the chairman of the Thurston County Republican Party, called on Hyer to resign.

“The city of Olympia and Thurston County have real business to conduct, and need to be able to move forward in a positive way,” the statement read. “Joe Hyer (D), in his current predicament, could only serve as a distraction. He should resign his position(s) and focus on his personal issues.”

Olympia Mayor Doug Mah also issued a statement in which he called the arrest disturbing and disappointing.

“It is an unfortunate situation,” the statement read. “Councilmember Hyer is an active member of the council and this community. At this time, Councilmember Hyer has not been charged with or convicted of any criminal act. For myself, I do not intend to presume the outcome of the criminal process, and I urge the community to do the same.”

Mah, who also spoke briefly with Hyer, said the council will choose a temporary mayor pro tem at each council meeting in Hyer’s absence, beginning Tuesday, and that there are no plans to temporarily appoint someone to replace him. Such a move is allowed under the city municipal code. The council will be left with six members during Hyer’s absence, creating the potential for deadlocks.

State law requires a public official to forfeit his or her office if convicted of a felony.

SEARCH WARRANT SEALED

Details were sketchy Friday. The available information about the case comes from a Thursday night news release announcing the arrest, as well as information from Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball, who is handling media inquiries regarding the case.

A judge approved and sealed the search warrant Thursday afternoon that was used to serve Hyer to gain access to his home. Jackson said that the warrant, which contains additional information, will be sealed for 90 days, standard procedure in drug cases.

Jackson declined to discuss details of the case. Lt. Loreli Thompson, the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force’s supervisor, also declined to comment, referring inquiries about the investigation to Kimball.

‘CONCERNED CITIZENS’

Kimball, who noted that the investigation is ongoing, said Friday that he met in person with two “concerned citizens” in early January who said that Hyer might be involved in drugs. He passed the information on to the narcotics task force.

Kimball refused to answer any questions about the citizens or reveal their identities.

An unidentified confidential informant purchased marijuana from Hyer at his home on the 1000 block of Legion Way Southeast twice in the past month, Kimball said. He refused to say whether the confidential informant was one of the concerned citizens who had approached him with the tip.

The task force served a search warrant at Hyer’s house Thursday afternoon. Kimball said detectives found packages containing small quantities of marijuana.

Hyer was arrested at 5:20 p.m. at the house and booked into the county jail Thursday night on suspicion of two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, a felony, with potential enhancements for both counts because they allegedly occurred within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop or school grounds. Madison Elementary School is a short distance east of Hyer’s home. Hyer also was booked on suspicion of illegal use of a building for drug purposes, also a felony.

POTENTIAL PENALTIES

Hyer could face an exceptional sentence above the standard range of up to six months if he is charged with the two drug-trafficking enhancements and a jury determines the transactions occurred within the protected zone near the school bus stop or school. The judge then would be required to hand down an exceptional sentence of two years to two years, six months. The judge also would have discretion to run the enhancement penalties consecutively rather than concurrently, potentially resulting in a prison term of between four years and four years, six months.

If Jackson files charges, a judge will review information about the case the deputy prosecuting attorney provides to determine whether there’s probable cause to issue a summons for Hyer to be arraigned.

The investigation was occurring as the Thurston County Democratic Party was considering nominees to succeed Hunt, a fellow Democrat, who announced she is leaving her post March 1 for a new job.

On Tuesday, county commissioners informally selected Hyer as the interim county treasurer. Their action is not legally binding but was intended to assist the pending transition. The formal appointment and swearing in of the new treasurer was scheduled for March 1.

WHAT'S NEXT

Hyer’s arrest and leave of absence put Hunt’s successor in question.

County Manager Don Krupp said Friday morning that he will consult with county attorneys to determine what options are available and provide that information to county commissioners. Commissioners have scheduled an executive session, which is closed to the public, to hear this advice early next week.

One possible option is to appoint Noah Crocker, a state treasury program manager, as interim treasurer. He was one of two other nominees for the county treasurer post forwarded by the Democratic Party; the third, Heather Highmiller, a precinct committee officer from Scott Lake, is not a serious candidate, and her nomination was solely intended to fill the slate of three names.

Another option is reopening the nomination process.

The state constitution gives commissioners 60 days to appoint someone once the vacancy occurs. It then goes to the governor.

State law allows commissioners to appoint a deputy or assistant of Hunt to serve as the acting treasurer until they can sort out the appointment mandated by the state constitution.

“We do have time,” Valenzuela said. “Our responsibility is to make sure our work is not affected by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.”

Staff writer Matt Batcheldor contributed to this report.

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