November 9, 2007

No ruling yet on recall effort over Kittitas County wind farm

Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper did not rule Thursday on a recall petition that seeks to oust all three county commissioners over their handling of a local wind farm.

Cooper heard from both sides in court but said he won’t rule until next week on whether the recall effort can move forward.

However, there is some question over whether he can wait that long. The statute outlining the procedures for recalling public officials says the court must rule on the sufficiency of a recall petition within 15 days of receiving the ballot language it would use. Today is the 15th day.

Cooper was unavailable for comment after the hearing. But Kittitas County Auditor Jerry Pettit, with whom the petition was filed, said earlier that he believed Cooper was subject to the deadline.

After the hearing, Pettit declined to discuss the issue.

At issue during the hearing was whether the allegations outlined in Desmond Knudson’s recall petition add up to malfeasance, misfeasance and violation of oath of office on the part of commissioners Alan Crankovitch, David Bowen and Mark McLain.

Knudson, a land-use consultant and owner of an Ellensburg espresso stand, argued that the commissioners’ decision to appeal Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project goes against citizens’ wishes.

The proposed wind farm, 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg, has been the subject of controversy for nearly five years. Its siting was denied by the Kittitas County commissioners based on proximity to homes.

The developer of the 65-turbine project, Horizon Energy of Houston, appealed that decision to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which approved the project. Gregoire gave final approval in September, prompting the commissioners to appeal her ruling.

Knudson, who represented himself at the court hearing Thursday, cited a poll that said 78 percent of the people wanted commissioners to drop the wind farm issue. He argued that the appeal and several other land-use decisions by the commissioners constitute offenses worthy of a recall.

Cooper asked: “OK, so we’re going to rely on polls to govern?”

“They have violated the oath of office by not listening to the constituents,” Knudson answered.

He also cited his informal polling of customers at his Sunrise Espresso stand.

Kittitas County Prosecutor Greg Zemple, representing the commissioners, focused on the legal threshold for recall and suggested Knudson didn’t have the evidence to meet it.

“It is more than disagreement,” he said. “It is more than not liking what they do. There must be wrongful conduct.”

If Cooper rules that Knudson’s petition meets the legal criteria, Knudson will have six months to gather enough signatures to put the recall before voters. He would need enough signatures to equal 35 percent of all votes cast when the commissioners were elected.

Knudson estimated that means about 6,000 signatures.

“I’m assuming I’ll have 6,000 petitions signed within a week” of a favorable ruling, he said.

By Pat Muir

Yakima Herald-Republic

9 November 2007

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