Press "Enter" to skip to content

Recall sufficiency

Pat Davis

Pat Davis

Politics watchers will want to keep a lookout for the just-out Washington Supreme Court case in re Recall of Davis, in which the court does a careful parsing of the standard of “sufficiency” for recalling Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis.

Washington’s approach to recall strikes us as far superior to most states, and to those in Oregon and Idaho. Beyond the usual petition gathering, Washington law requires specific charges be brought and that a court review them for sufficiency; as the Supreme Court said, “The recall process is governed by statute, RCW 29A.56.110, which provides the charges must: (1) set forth the name of the officer subject to recall and the title of his or her office; (2) recite that the officer subject to recall has committed an act or acts of malfeasance while in office or that such person has violated on oath of office; (3) state the act or acts complained of in concise language; and (4) give a detailed description of each act. Recall petitions must be both legally and factually sufficient, and courts must ensure that persons submitting the charges “have some knowledge of the facts underlying the charges.” Some serious legal offense needs to have occurred, and the bringer of the charges actually has to know what they’re talking about – two conditions that alone would wipe out most recall elections in Oregon and Idaho.

The Davis case grew (most directly) out of a memo: “On October 10, 2006, Comm. Davis signed a memorandum discussing the ‘transition away from the organization’ of M.R. Dinsmore, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Seattle. The memorandum appears to assure Dinsmore up to a full year’s pay upon his resignation from the Port. No dispute exists as to the existence of this memorandum and that Comm. Davis signed it.” From there, it’s a matter of interpretation. According to the petition:

1)Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by signing an agreement to
provide a “gift” of public money to an individual outside the employee contract
approved by the Port of Seattle Commission.
2) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by obligating the Port of Seattle
to pay monies not voted on or approved by the Port of Seattle Commissioners at a
regularly scheduled public hearing.
3) Comm. Davis committed an act of misfeasance and malfeasance by using her
position as Port Commissioner to provide a “gift” of public money to her personal
friend and political ally Mic Dinsmore.
4) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by voting on an issue in an executive session on or about January 10, 2006, in violation of the Washington
State Open Meetings Act.
5) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by voting on an issue in an
executive session on or about June 8, 2006, in violation of the Washington State
Open Meetings Act.
6) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by knowingly violating the
limited context of the executive session exclusions of the Open Meetings Act to
improperly negotiate and vote on a “gift” of public money.

Not all of those allegations survived trial court, and the Supreme Court rejected others. (The whole analysis is worth reading.) Crucially, though, the Court upheld one of them: “We find, when read as a whole, the petition is legally sufficient in charging Comm. Davis with an act of malfeasance by signing an October 10, 2006, memorandum addressed to then chief executive officer of the Port of Seattle, Dinsmore, which had the potential effect of obligating the Port of Seattle to pay Dinsmore, an outgoing Port of Seattle employee, at least $239,000 outside of his employment contract. Additionally, we find these additional moneys were not voted on or approved by the Port of Seattle commissioners at a regularly scheduled public hearing and conclude charge one of the ballot synopsis is legally sufficient.”

The lines set by the Supreme Court in this case should clarify for the next round of recallers what is enough and what isn’t, even if that’s a little hard to quantify.

Davis has been on the commission since she was first elected to it in 1985, but the Port has become unpopular in recent years. Davis, last elected in 2005, is in mid-term. This could be a hot recall election.

Share on Facebook