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Fire District No. 3 Withdrawal Supporters May Seek New Election

Following Sept. 16 hearing

By SVERRE BAKKE

The Enterprise

The group of citizens that wanted to withdraw territory from Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 to form a new fire district in the White Salmon area is considering renewing its legal challenge to the language used on the Aug. 16 special election ballot.

That's because, on Sept. 16 in Yakima, Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson signed a declaratory judgment in favor of the Committee to Withdraw from Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 and Form a New Fire Protection District.

The order gives the committee the standing to refile its legal challenge in Klickitat County Superior Court and seek a new election.

In a related matter, Gibson also signed findings of fact and conclusions of law prepared by Klickitat County prosecutors that, in effect, temporarily set aside a lawsuit brought in July by the committee, against the county and its Board of Commissioners.

The order signed by Gibson, however, included a modification suggested by committee attorney Lance S. Stryker and agreed to by Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Burr that left the committee with the option to refile its "order to show cause" motion/petition without objection from county attorneys.

Stryker said his client plans to exercise that option. "In accord with Judge Gibson's comments at the last hearing, the committee intends to move forward with a motion to add the Klickitat County Auditor as a party and then to renew its motion/petition for an order to show cause," he said in a Sept. 19 email response to questions from The Enterprise.

The motion/petition for an order to show cause filed in July challenged the wording used by the Auditor's Office for the Aug. 16 special election ballot. The committee alleged the auditor, Brenda Sorensen, should have incorporated the committee's original petition and boundary description for the proposed new fire district into the ballot.

The committee argued that the auditor had erred when she used the modified boundary description that Fire District No. 3 Commissioners had prepared when they adopted their resolution approving the withdrawal petition, and which became part of the resolution County Commissioners approved in calling for the special election.

Gibson, however, did not rule on the committee's motion/petition to find the auditor in contempt for not following the legal direction he set down on March 22, in what amounted to a legal opinion that was unenforceable.

"On March 22, 2011, (Judge Gibson) signed an order granting committee's summary judgment motion. Judge Gibson did not issue an actual judgment," according to the Findings of Fact section in the Sept. 16 order.

That order concluded, "An order granting a summary judgment does not posess the force of law of an actual judgment. If an order granting summary judgment resolves all the issues in a case, then an actual judgment follows. It is the actual judgment that is enforceable, and not the order granting summary judgment. Here, there was no actual judgment, and so there is no enforceable order."

The Sept. 16 order denying the committee's motion/petition without prejudice, moreover, found the County Auditor "is an independent elected official who is not subject to orders from the County Commissioners. There is no enforceable order against the Auditor who is not presently a party to the action."

Nancy Sliwa, a leader of the withdrawal movement and currently a candidate for Fire District No. 3 Commissioner said in an e-mail response dated Sept. 29 that the committee "would like to keep the option open for another election, and resubmitting the motion is the only way to do that."

She added, "To the best of my understanding, in revising the motion and adding the county auditor, we are simply following the directions of the presiding judge. I certainly have nothing against Brenda (Sorensen), and feel she's somewhat unfairly stuck in the middle of this issue, but the fact that she was a contributing elected official to the situation prompted the judge to require her addition to the motion."

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