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Commissioners move policy issue to the courtroom

By Lois Krafsky-Perry
for Citizen Review

August 25, 2015

Port Angeles, WA – For the second day in a row, County Commissioner Mike Chapman lashed out at the other two commissioners on the Clallam County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) – Chair Jim McEntire and Bill Peach – for pursuing the possibility of a declaratory judgment regarding the position taken by the elected County Treasurer. The regular Tuesday meeting of the Board took place at the county courthouse starting at 10 a.m. Chapman expressed that he thought it was the wrong course of action.

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols, when questioned, made it clear that such a lawsuit would answer the question once and for all about what the duties and responsibilities of the Board of County Commissioners hold as compared to that of the County Treasurer, and clarify the process being used. A memorandum of opinion to be issued by a judge would include both sides agreeing to the judge’s order, he said.

At issue is a move of funds already budgeted from one area, where it is not needed, to another, where it is needed. Funds that were originally set aside for the Carlsborg sewer project, which has been postponed because of regulations that have not yet been met to satisfy the State Department of Ecology and other agency requirements, were moved to assist new economic development opportunities in the City of Port Angeles and the Port of Port Angeles. The estimated $1.3 million was moved as a budgetary item, covered in open public meetings, and needed no further action on the part of the BOCC.

Two economic, pro-growth projects were to be funded with the transferred funds. The draft had been approved, authorized for disbursement by the elected county auditor, and sent to County Treasurer Selinda Barkhaus for issuance of the checks. That’s where the problem began. Barkhaus refused to issue the checks unless the county commissioners complied with her demands, claiming the transaction had not complied with the law.

For months, Barkhaus has been attempting to convince the county commissioners to change their actions which they had taken in accordance with established county policy – a policy that had been in force since 2002. Ironically, that policy was signed by Chapman and two prior commissioners, who now says he doesn’t like it.

The county commissioners, in an attempt to bring the dispute with the Treasurer to an end, held two additional hearings and issued two resolutions, which were not required, as a compromise to her wishes. Nothing the commissioners have done so far, however, has been satisfactory to the Treasurer, who wants the BOCC to hold a budget emergency hearing or hold the matter over for a new budget season. (A budget emergency hearing is used only for an “increase” in county budgeting, which does not apply to this case, according to County Administrator Jim Jones.)

Treasurer Barkhaus did not agree, and refused to issue the checks when requested by the Auditor.

According to the county policy, established in 2002 and signed by the county commissioner who is now objecting to its provisions, the budgetary move is a normal and acceptable transaction. “This issue affects all counties regarding the process in adjusting the budgets,” said Chair McEntire. “If we take a path inconsistent with our own policy, it affects all counties. It’s not good. Do not set a bad precedent, not only for ourselves, but for other counties.”

“This was a budgeting decision, not a funding decision,” Jones said. He pointed out that all the actions had been properly taken and several additional ones added, in an attempt to compromise with the Treasurer.

Commissioner Chapman railed and filibustered, siding with the Treasurer, and saying that it would go to the State Supreme Court, accusing the other commissioners of “suing” the Treasurer. Commissioner McEntire corrected Chapman, stating that the lawsuit was not against the Treasurer personally, but rather to establish the roles each elected office should play in accordance with the state and county laws. “I’m not interested in suing a person; the third branch of government can declare the process and explain the duties of us all,” he said. “This is a question of law, not one of behavior,” he added later.

Chapman called himself the “lone person in Clallam County” disagreeing with the decision of the other two. He said sometimes he “lets his volcanic temper” get hold of him.

After much discussion, Commissioner Peach moved that the issue be resolved by the Court; Commissioner McEntire seconded. The motion carried with a two-to-one vote, Peach and McEntire in favor, Chapman opposed.

Watch the entire meeting here: 2015 08 25 Clallam County Board Of Commissioners Regular Meeting

Board of County Commissioners

County Commissioners meeting – L to R: Mark Nichols, Prosecuting Attorney, Commissioner Mike Chapman, Commissioner/Chair Jim McEntire, Commissioner Bill Peach, and County Administrator Jim Jones.

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