Rumors fly about prosecutor candidate selection

Grays Harbor Democrats are gearing up for a potentially dramatic meeting tonight as rumors fly about the selection process for county prosecutor candidates.

Some Democrats have suggested there may be a movement under way to keep former prosecutor and Superior Court judge Mike Spencer off the list of three candidates the party will submit to the County Commissioners to replace recently retired prosecutor Stew Menefee. Spencer declared his interest in the position shortly after Menefee announced he would retire, as did Senior Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda.

The rumor goes that the list could be stacked in favor of the commissioners picking Svoboda.

“There’re rumors going around they’re trying to pull some hocus pocus. I don’t think because it’s been brought out in the light it’s going to happen now,” County Commissioner Frank Gordon said on Wednesday.

“There’s just been a persistent rumor even before I announced any interest in the job that that plan was going to be implemented against whatever viable candidate might arrive. I don’t know whether it’s true or not, it keeps surfacing. I think it would be really unfortunate to hold any viable candidate off that ticket in that way,” Spencer said.

Svoboda wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday.

A recent column by Montesano Vidette editor Steven Friederich criticized the idea of filling out the list with Svoboda and two “sham candidates” with no actual interest in the position, shutting out Spencer, who has is a former County Prosecutor and a former Superior Court judge.

“All parties do that, I’d just like to see us commissioners have the ability to sit down and pick from the three best candidates we can possibly find,” Gordon said.

Gordon, the lone Democrat on the Commission, said he can’t intervene directly in the selection process within his party since he’s also going to be voting on the final appointment from the list.

“I’ve really got my hands tied, but I’ve been squeaking as much as I possibly can,” he said.

“I don’t have any information at all about it,” party Chairman George Smylie said of the rumors. “I’m thinking if there’s that many Democrats that know about it, and a county commissioner, someone might have mentioned it to me.”

Smylie did note the party can create the list of candidates however it chooses. He said Thursday’s meeting will consist of precinct committee officers voting on whatever candidates come forward, then ranking them in order of preference. If more than three candidates are put forward, the lowest-ranked ones will be cut from contention.

“I’m doing what I can, I’m trying to contact people and continue to get endorsements,” Spencer said. “I’m just doing what I can to convince people I’m the right person for the job.”

Two names that have surfaced as possible candidates who could crowd Spencer off the list: former party chairwoman Vini Samuel and Smylie. Both are attorneys.

Asked if she would consider taking the job if the commissioners offered, Samuel said, “It will depend when and if they ask. I think there are some things that I would certainly consider, but I would have to think about that with my family.”

To her, the most important thing is that the person selected for the post is both a competent prosecutor and a strong leader for the Democratic Party.

“This is not just about being a Democrat, you have to be someone who will lead the party,” Samuel said.

Smylie said he hadn’t been asked to throw his name into consideration, and wasn’t sure he would be tempted by the office if offered.

“I would tend to think maybe not. I have a nice state job” working for the Division of Child Support, he said. “If people nominate me and they want me to be on the ballot, I’d be OK with that.”

The commissioners can only choose from the list of three candidates provided by the Democrats when they consider who to appoint to fill the rest of Menefee’s term, expiring in 2014.

And party politics are an issue to consider, warned Samuel. For the first time in about 80 years, the commission has a Republican majority, which could be a facet to the process Democratic party officers will consider Thursday. Samuel said there was some concern about how politics might play into the commissioners’ decision.

The Democrats’ meeting is set for 7 p.m. tonight at the Polish Club Hall, 823 W 1st St., Aberdeen.