Judge calls attempt to recall Olympia City Council members frivolous

From left: Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, council member Jessica Bateman and Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones.
From left: Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, council member Jessica Bateman and Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones. City of Olympia

A Thurston County judge has ruled an attempt to recall three members of the Olympia City Council is frivolous and fails to meet the legal and factual requirements to go forward.

Jon Pettit had argued the city for years illegally discounted the stormwater rate it charges itself while overcharging other ratepayers. He said council members’ inaction was malfeasance and a violation of their oath of office, and he sought to recall Mayor Cheryl Selby, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones and council member Jessica Bateman.

Pettit filed paperwork to initiate a recall effort last month. Under state law, a superior court judge must determine if the allegations satisfy the criteria for a recall petition.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy heard arguments in the case. The council members’ lawyer, Jeffrey Myers, argued the discount was legal and that even if there was a problem, individual council members can’t change city policy on their own.

Murphy agreed with Myers that this was a disagreement over policy and found no support for Pettit’s allegations of fraud, forgery and theft by council members.

“Here we have some allegations of the failure to change a city policy. Mr. Pettit alleges changes in policy are required by law or the constitution, but that allegation does not appear to be supported,” she said.

Myers had tried to get the recall attempt dismissed, arguing Pettit does not live in Olympia and the right to recall is limited to constituents. Murphy said the recall could have been rejected at an earlier stage for this reason.

Pettit, who did not have a lawyer, said he likely won’t appeal the decision but that others he is working with — including Olympia voters and ratepayers — might take up the cause.

Pettit had pointed to a sunset clause in the city’s stormwater ordinance passed in 1992 as evidence the city was giving itself an illegal discount. But Myers said the clause was never triggered because it was contingent on bonds that were never issued.

The City Council is set to vote Tuesday on repealing the sunset clause. City Attorney Mark Barber said it had no legal effect and was confusing.

“We’re not really responding to (Pettit’s) concerns, but we did find something based on his concerns,” he said.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869