Commissioners approve … something, but we’re not sure what


MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners approved something on Monday.

They won’t say what. They won’t say how much it will cost or who’s involved. All the public is allowed to know is they approved something.

The county commissioners conducted a 30-minute executive session Monday morning. After, they emerged and approved the following motion: “Counsel is authorized to institute proceedings relating to certain public officers.”

County Commission Chairwoman Terry Willis declined to provide any further details. On a yellow sticky pad, her assistant wrote the following statement: “There will be no public comment on the topic due to confidentiality requirements by law.”

What confidentiality requirements? What law? Willis declined too say.

As for the action the commissioners took, Willis declined to elaborate.

Who are the public officers involved? Is the county suing someone? Is the county just writing a letter to someone?

“I can’t say,” Willis said.

Who is the counsel involved?

“No comment. You can look to see who was in the meeting,” Willis said.

The counsel involved probably is Special Deputy Prosecutor Tom Fitzpatrick. The commissioners had announced on a meeting agenda that they planned to meet with Fitzpatrick regarding the lawsuit the Superior Court judges had filed against the county commissioners for budget cuts. The judges are represented by a special deputy attorney general.

The executive session wasn’t unexpected because the commissioners had slated to meet with the judges for an early morning budget session. Today’s meeting will be the first time that all three judges will meet with all three commissioners in probably a year. Other meetings have taken place between one judge and one commissioner or during a mediation session with both parties in different rooms and a mediator shuttling between rooms.

Does that mean the judges are involved in the “proceedings” the commissioners unanimously voted to initiate? Willis won’t say.

Another theory could be that the state Attorney General’s Office could be the “certain public officers” involved in Monday’s action. Just last week, the commissioners wrote a letter to Attorney General Rob McKenna requesting a “prompt reply” to their request for McKenna’s office to stop funding the judges’ lawsuit. There’s no proof, of course, because no one’s talking in the commissioner’s office.

A third theory is that the commissioners may have authorized Fitzpatrick to appeal a ruling in the judges’ lawsuit to the state Supreme Court. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham told both sides he didn’t want to hear the case but couldn’t find another judge to take the case and had done a special certification to allow them to have the state Supreme Court figure out who should rule on the case.

County Commissioner Herb Welch said he’d like to say more, but that their attorney has absolutely forbidden them from making any other public statements.

“Unfortunately, this is what it is,” Welch said.

Prosecutor Stew Menefee said he didn’t have enough information to decide if the commissioners potentially violated the state’s Open Public Meeting Act laws by approving an ambiguous motion.

“It’s possible they approved a motion without knowing what legal proceedings they are taking or who against,” Menefee said. “I just don’t have enough information to give an opinion on this.”