Making it easier to recall elected leaders in Washington
How difficult or easy should it be to recall public officials?
State Senator Pam Roach says you don’t need to look beyond the town of Pacific, which straddles the King and Pierce County line, to know something’s not right.
“The city is, I believe, suffering immensely under the great pressure that has been created,” Roach says. “Nobody should have to wait so long to try to change their government if it’s necessary.”
Cy Sun was elected as Pacific’s mayor in November of 2011 on a write-in campaign. He vowed to clean up what he called “corruption” in the small city of about 6,000 residents, but he was immediately at odds with the city council.
Some residents have been trying to recall him since the fall of 2012. They accused him of using the police department as his own personal force, firing people unfairly, and risking the town’s liability insurance by having so many vacant department positions.
Though Sun has denied all allegations, the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the recall vote may go forward.
The recall election is set for June 25, nearly a year after residents first wanted to remove him from office.
Senator Roach says part of the reason it takes a long time to toss someone out is that our state’s recall law is “very vague.”
She’s behind an effort to change Washington’s code for recalling public officials.
Many people who want to recall an individual find themselves going before the State Supreme Court to get an interpretation of existing statute.
“Malfeasance, misfeasance – what exactly does that mean?” Roach asks, noting that it’s up to justices to decide.
It’s by design that the high court is called on to determine whether citizen recall attempts are justified.
Zack Jarvis, an attorney for Mayor Sun, says that’s the way it should be.
“We don’t want false, frivolous information to be put before the voters,” he says. “In this state it is the court’s role to act as a gatekeeper.”
Roach disagrees. She says citizens should not have to finance a trip to the Supreme Court to remove an ineffective, incompetent leader.
The law regarding recalling an elected leader should be more specific and easily understood, she says.
Roach also wants to add DUI convictions as ground for demanding a recall.
“When people break the law, such as with drunk driving, especially with elected officials, there should be some repercussion for that,” says Roach.
“If you’re found guilty of drunk driving that should make you subject to a recall election. Legislators and other elected leaders need to be held accountable.”
Sometimes she says, waiting for the next election is not soon enough to hold leaders accountable.
“We want elected officials to whom our children and ourselves can be looked up to,” she says. “We want them to be good examples for the rest of us.”
The state senator hasn’t always had the most pristine image.
Over the years, Roach has been investigated by the Legislative Ethics Board and has been sanctioned by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee. Most of the complaints stem from her alleged mistreatment of staff.
Earlier this year Roach responded to her critics in a news conference saying she has been the victim of the “largest, most concentrated effort to ruin somebody’s name in the legislature that has ever happened in state history.”
As for changes with the state’s recall law, she says politicians who are doing their jobs have nothing to worry about.
By LINDA THOMAS
Exterior photo courtesy the Committee To Recall Cy Sun Facebook page