Rare recall effort moves forward in Black Diamond

KING 5's Heather Graf reports.

The effort to force a council member out of office is now moving forward in the small city of Black Diamond.  That's a big deal because the successful recall of an elected official in this state is not only difficult, it's extremely rare.

According to elections officials, it's only happened twice in King County since 2004.

The most recent successful recall was in 2013 when the City of Pacific voted out Mayor Cy Sun.

Now, a group of citizens in Black Diamond are fighting to force out Black Diamond City Council member Pat Pepper.

"Well Pat Pepper has been in office for a year and a half, so she still has two-and-a-half-years in office.  So the best way to get her out of office is to enact a recall," said Johna Thomson.

Thomson is with a group called Neighbor to Neighbor Black Diamond.

The group originally filed petitions with the King County Elections Office to initiate the recall of both Pepper and council member Erika Morgan as well.  But they withdrew the recall effort against Morgan since she is up for re-election in November.

KING 5 has reported on the ongoing political power struggle taking place among Black Diamond City Council members.

It started out as a dispute over several large development projects that would add five times the population to Black Diamond.  That wound up pitting council members Pepper, Morgan, and Brian Weber against Mayor Carol Benson.

The trio has the majority vote on council, and Thomson feels they've used it in a manner that is hurting Black Diamond.

"It's been chaos in Black Diamond for about the last 18 months," said Thomson.  "They're making decisions that are not in the best interest of the city.  For example, our budget situation that happened this fall.  They brought our city to a budget crisis twice, once in December and again in March.  So it really created a lot of stress for citizens, employees, and business here in Black Diamond."

That's one of several examples that was listed on the petition to initiate Pepper's recall.  The petition also says Pepper violated her oath of office when she refused to attend council meetings and failed to approve minutes.

As part of the council majority, she's also accused of convening and conducting closed meetings without public notice and improperly voting to change Master Development Review Team contracts that resulted in threatened legal action against the city.

On Wednesday, a King County judge determined that those allegations against Pepper were factually and legally sufficient to move forward with a recall.  That basically means the recall is one step closer to being on a ballot.

"I'd like to say that I was elected on a platform to reform city hall," Pepper told KING 5 shortly after the judge's decision.  "I am a person who wants to be able to make good decisions based on the large changes that are coming to Black Diamond now and in the future, and these decision are based on research and best practices."

Does she want to continue serving the people of Black Diamond?

"Certainly!  Of Course!  I was elected by the people. I'm here and I have every intention of staying," she said.  "The way that I would not stay is if the people choose to - how they vote."

In a statement she read before the judge, Pepper expressed concerns that the recall effort is a political ploy being pushed by allies of the mayor.

"Given the negative relationship between three council members, including myself, and the mayor, this filing might suggest the mayor hired an attorney to try to build a case against her political opponents and then participate in a recall effort against them," Pepper told the judge.

In an e-mail to KING 5, Pepper also pointed out that the main proponent of the recall petition is the wife of a former council member.  That former council member, Ron Taylor, lost the November 2015 election to Pepper.

"They are allies of the Mayor and want her to be re-elected.  In my opinion, this recall petition is a political ploy to divert attention away from the Mayor and her conduct," Pepper wrote to KING 5.

Pepper has 15 days to appeal the judge's decision.

"I have hardly had a chance to think about it," she said.  "So I'm sure I'll get to think about it more, maybe tonight."

If she chooses not to appeal, Thomson and the others behind the recall have to gather about 400 signatures in order to get the recall on a ballot.  At that point, it will be up to the voters to decide whether Pat Pepper stays or goes at Black Diamond City Hall.

"This is a great day for the citizens of Black Diamond, because the court determined we could move forward with the recall," said Thomson.  "We're really excited to get the city of Black Diamond back to a good healthy strong governance."

© 2017 KING-TV


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