Quilcene fire commissioners' recall may delay budget
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Harry Goodrich, left, and Linda Saunders, plaintiffs in the recall of two fire commissioners, celebrate their victory on Election Day last week.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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QUILCENE — The recall of two fire commissioners Tuesday likely will delay the approval of the Quilcene Fire District's 2013 budget since the removal of two-thirds of the board means the three-member commission lacks a quorum.

Department Secretary Jean Morris said she would submit a budget — an updated version of the $319,250 budget for 2012 — that can be revised as needed but noted there is no commission in place to make those revisions.

On Tuesday, voters recalled Commissioners Dave Ward and Mike Whittaker, both by about 60 percent.

Ward and Whittaker faced separate recall actions.

In Ward's case, 483 votes, or 60.75 percent, were cast in favor of his recall, and 312 votes, or 39.25 percent, were opposed.

In Whittaker's case, 479 votes, or 59.95 percent, were cast in favor of recall, and 320 votes, or 40.05 percent, were opposed.

The commissioners were accused of falsifying minutes almost three years ago, in February 2010.

The election is due for certification Nov. 27, which is also the date of the commissioners' next meeting, a budget workshop.

After the election is certified, Whittaker and Ward will no longer be on the board and cannot serve at that meeting or the one Nov. 29, when the budget is scheduled for approval.

The next scheduled board meeting is Dec. 10.

It is undetermined whether a working commission will be in place by that time.

Under state law, when two vacancies occur on a board, the county commissioners fill one with an appointment, and the second is filled by the two fire district commissioners.

This needs to be preceded by an advertisement of the vacancy, which cannot be posted until after the election is certified.

County Administrator Philip Morley said no schedule for the appointment has been determined, but it may be addressed at the Dec. 3 commission meeting.

Whittaker commented on the election results Tuesday night.

“I really didn't care. I knew it could go either way,” Whittaker said after the vote totals were announced.

“There is so much stuff that Dave and I had to deal with that we don't have to deal with anymore. All of a sudden, the slate has been wiped clean,” he added.

“If people didn't appreciate what we were doing, then they are welcome to elect whoever they want.”

Ward did not respond to calls for comment.

Linda Saunders, a plaintiff in the action, said the results were what she expected.

“I thought we'd get around 60 percent,” she said.

“It gives us the justice we need. Now, we can clean house.”

Peggy Ann Bierbaum, a court commissioner and Quilcene attorney, represented the plaintiffs, Saunders and Harry Goodrich, in the recall action.

Of the 1,406 ballots issued, 807 were received at the Jefferson County Auditor's Office for a voter turnout of 57.39 percent.

All the ballots received were counted Tuesday, said County Auditor Donna Eldridge, adding that a few more may trickle in.

The next ballot count will be when the election is certified Nov. 27, Eldridge said.

Allegations of improper conduct stemmed from the board's creation of an $800-a-month job for Ward in January 2010.

Ward was paid to retrieve and decipher district data from outdated computer disks.

At issue in the recall was whether Ward, with Whittaker's complicity, asked Morris to modify the minutes to approve Ward's enrollment in the Public Employees Retirement System to qualify him for a pension.

Recall proponents filed the original paperwork August 2011.

That was approved by Court Commissioner Keith Harper, who was elected this month as Superior Court judge over Bierbaum, his opponent.

Whittaker and Ward appealed the action to Kitsap County Superior Court in October 2011, and Judge Anna Laurie struck down all charges except one concerning the falsification of minutes.

Whittaker and Ward took their case to the state Court of Appeals, which allowed the recall, then appealed twice to the state Supreme Court, which supported the prior ruling.

Whittaker has declined to say how much he and Ward spent for their defense.

Both commissioners were unopposed when they last ran for office, with Whittaker getting 554 votes in 2009 and Ward receiving 510 votes in 2007.

The department now must look ahead, according to Acting Fire Chief Bob Moser.

“We must go forward, and we must go positive,” Moser said.

“We don't have any room for the negative stuff.”

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 14. 2012 6:06PM
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