Letter to the Editor: San Juan County voters prevail

Posted August 19, 2022 at 10:30 pm by

Last week, due to the unlaw­ful actions of our own Coun­ty Coun­cil, two San Juan Coun­ty cit­i­zens had to file in court to defend our demo­c­ra­t­ic right to vote after the Coun­ty Coun­cil blocked cer­tain amend­ments from even being on the ballot.

While our Coun­ty Coun­cil, Coun­ty Man­ag­er and Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney sug­gest­ed they had the right to inter­fere with our right to vote, Supe­ri­or Court Judge Chris­ton Skin­ner ruled this week that the San Juan Coun­ty Coun­cil vio­lat­ed the law and that the coun­ty must imme­di­ate­ly put the Char­ter Review Com­mis­sion Amend­ments on the ballot.

Days after the judge’s deci­sion, the Coun­ty Coun­cil released a state­ment sug­gest­ing that they had poor legal advice and were now doing the right thing. In fact, it was our incred­i­ble Coun­ty Audi­tor, Milene Hen­ley who – imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the Judge’s deci­sion – began tak­ing the nec­es­sary actions to restore our right to vote. To be clear, it took a judge order­ing the Coun­cil to act for them to do so.

Fur­ther, the court deci­sion specif­i­cal­ly stat­ed that the Coun­ty Coun­cil actu­al­ly had no author­i­ty to make any deci­sion regard­ing for­ward­ing the Amend­ments to the Coun­ty Audi­tor in the first place.

The judge also found the Coun­ty Coun­cil was delib­er­ate­ly attempt­ing to lim­it cit­i­zens’ abil­i­ty to ques­tion their action due to the tim­ing of their actions as they made their deci­sion after the dead­line and sev­er­al months after they first received the amendments.

In his deci­sion, Judge Skin­ner wrote:

“The Coun­cil wait­ed until August 2, 2022 to make its deci­sion to reject the last four pro­posed amend­ments. This deci­sion was based on the Council’s erro­neous con­clu­sion and belief that the CRC mem­bers’ term of office end­ed in July of 2021 and that any fur­ther sub­mis­sions were pro­ce­du­ral­ly invalid. Not only was this con­clu­sion erro­neous in the Court’s view, but it was also not the Council’s deci­sion to make.”

The judge also wrote:

“Clear­ly, the tim­ing of the Council’s deci­sion was intend­ed to sub­stan­tial­ly lim­it the CRC’s abil­i­ty to respond in an effec­tive and time­ly manner.”

In the words of Alyssa Koepf­gen, the attor­ney who rep­re­sent­ed the plain­tiffs, “We are very pleased with the court’s deci­sion today, which pro­tects the cit­i­zens of San Juan County’s right to vote and con­demns the Coun­ty Council’s attempt to arbi­trar­i­ly inter­fere with that right. The court ulti­mate­ly agreed with our posi­tion that not only did the Coun­cil com­mit a legal error by fail­ing to place the Commission’s pro­posed amend­ments on the bal­lot, but that it also act­ed inequitably by fail­ing to say any­thing to the Com­mis­sion for over a year even though it cer­tain­ly knew the Com­mis­sion was con­tin­u­ing to meet and would be sub­mit­ting a sec­ond set of pro­posed amend­ments. This is a deci­sion which pro­motes trans­paren­cy and fair­ness, as well as the rule of law.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to the actions of our own coun­ty offi­cials, the only choice was to go to court. But in the end, jus­tice pre­vailed, and all San Juan Coun­ty cit­i­zens will now have their demo­c­ra­t­ic right to vote restored and can decide for them­selves if they sup­port the char­ter amend­ments this November.

In the end, whether one is sup­port­ive of the pro­posed Amend­ments or not, hav­ing the abil­i­ty to vote on them is our fun­da­men­tal demo­c­ra­t­ic right – one that must be pro­tect­ed. It is our hope that we can all learn from this and work togeth­er in a more trans­par­ent and pub­lic man­ner that allows each of us the abil­i­ty to engage with our gov­ern­ment in a mean­ing­ful way.

Sharon Abreu
Orcas Island

Janet Brownell
Orcas Island

Pat­ty Garcia
San Juan Island

Robert O’Connell
Lopez Island

Olivia Rose­ber­ry
Orcas Island

Mau­reen See
San Juan Island

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.


Categories: Around Here

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0