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Recall Charges Filed Against County's Assessor

Formal process begins

By JESSE BURKHARDT

The Enterprise

Two White Salmon residents who want to see Klickitat County Assessor Van Vandenberg recalled from office have filed an "affidavit of charges" against him.

The formal process calls for the Klickitat County Prosecutor's Office to prepare a synopsis of the charges against Vandenberg and present them to a Superior Court judge. The judge determines whether the allegations against Vandenberg meet the criteria that would allow a recall effort to move forward.

"Once the judge gets the charges, there will be 15 days to hold a hearing on whether or not the charges are `recallable,'" explained Richard Lyons, one of two men leading the effort to see Vandenberg recalled. White Salmon resident William R. Harrison is the other recall organizer.

Lyons is one of a number of residents of the west end of the county who appealed his 2008 property revaluation, contending his property values were much higher than he believed was justified. Although Lyons won his appeal before the Board of Equalization, the Assessor's Office then appealed the Board of Equalization's decision to the state.

In their filing in the case, Lyons and Harrison made seven allegations against Vandenberg, which were summarized by Klickitat County Prosecutor Tim O'Neill as follows: "1) On an undisclosed date(s), the Assessor is alleged to have knowingly and intentionally over-assessed and inflated the values of many parcels of the subject properties; 2) Assessor is alleged to have knowingly and intentionally utilized an incorrect/flawed methodology and data in assessing the subject properties; 3) Assessor allegedly failed and refused to utilize government-mandated standards in his valuation procedures and assessment of subject properties; 4) Individuals allegedly contacted the Assessor to complain/contest assessments, and in response, the Assessor allegedly made false and fraudulent representations to induce these persons not to file appeals with the Board of Equalization; 5) The Assessor and his representatives allegedly attempted to intimidate and coerce unidentified tax appellants to abandon their appeals; 6) The Assessor and/or his representatives are alleged to have knowingly presented information that misrepresented or contradicted trended values or actual assessed values posted on the Klickitat County Assessor's Web site of comparable home sales; and 7) Assessor and/or his representatives are alleged to have falsely and knowingly testified under oath during Board of Equalization appeal proceedings."

"The judge decides if the charges are allowable under the state constitution as grounds for recall," Lyons said.

When and if a judge makes a determination that supports the underlying reasons for a recall, a signature-gathering period begins.

"If the judge gives the go ahead, we have 180 days to gather the needed signatures," Lyons said. "Then, it's up to the voters."

Lyons pointed out that Superior Court Judge E. Thompson Reynolds recused himself when White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen was faced with a recall petition, and it remains to be seen whether Reynolds will do the same in this case. If another judge is required to review the case, the process could be delayed.

To place the recall measure on the ballot, recall supporters would need to gather 60 percent of the number of voters who voted in the most recent election for the Assessor's Office. That election was in 2006. Vandenberg ran unopposed in his bid for a four-year term in that year, and 5,304 votes were cast in the race (Vandenberg had 5,198 votes, with 106 write-ins.)

As 60 percent of that total is required to place the recall measure on the ballot, that indicates that approximately 3,200 valid signatures of Klickitat County voters would be needed.

Vandenberg, whose current term as Klickitat County Assessor ends on Jan. 1, 2011, did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the recall effort.

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