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Judge rules against recall for Vancouver port’s Wolfe

Decision: Commissioner didn't knowingly violate state open meetings law

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
Published: June 17, 2015, 12:00am

A Clark County Superior Court judge has ruled against a petition to recall from office Port of Vancouver Commissioner Brian Wolfe, saying the charges leveled against Wolfe weren’t enough to allow the petition to move forward.

The written ruling filed Tuesday by Judge Robert Lewis concerns several allegations made by Vancouver resident Christopher Clifford. The allegations included that Wolfe knowingly violated the state’s open public meetings law in discussing in closed-door executive sessions a lease for what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal.

To support a recall petition based on a violation of the meetings law, “evidence must support an inference that the violation was knowing and intentional,” Lewis said in his 11-page ruling. “All of the evidence presented by both parties indicates that Wolfe, relying on advice of counsel, did not believe that his actions violated” the meetings law.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Clifford said he will likely file a motion asking the judge to reconsider the decision. “I think they misled the court,” he said of court documents filed by the port’s attorneys and port officials. “They’ve presented things to the court in a way that are not true.”

In a statement emailed to The Columbian on Wednesday, Lawson Fite, an attorney with the Portland law firm Markowitz Herbold that’s representing Wolfe, said: “We are pleased that the Superior Court, after thoroughly reviewing the recall petition filed against Commissioner Wolfe, found the petition was not sufficient under Washington law.”

Phone messages left for Wolfe were not returned. In a court declaration filed last week, Wolfe said he has extensive experience with the public meetings law and that he currently represents the city of Battle Ground. “However, in my role as a port commissioner, I rely on advice of the port’s legal counsel, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt.”

Each of the multiple executive sessions that were held between February 2013 and July 2013 “was announced as being held within one of the statutory exemptions provided by the (meetings law),” Wolfe said. “I believed that each session I attended was being held within one of the announced exemptions.”

In asking the judge to reconsider the ruling, Clifford said he will file additional documents, including a slide presentation proponents of the oil terminal gave to commissioners during an executive session on April 9, 2013.

“The bar is being set so high one has got to question what does it take to get a recall anymore,” said Clifford, who’s representing himself in the case. In 2008, the state Supreme Court decided unanimously to let Clifford move forward with a recall of former Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis.

Clifford filed two recall petitions on May 19: one against Wolfe, the other against Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver. The petition against Oliver has yet to be heard in court. In a recall petition, the lower court’s decision may be appealed to the state Supreme Court. If a recall moves forward, the petitioner must collect the number of signatures equal to 35 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last election for a port commission office.

The final step is the recall election.

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter