Saturday, April 1, 2023
April 1, 2023

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State Supreme Court declines to hear case against Stevens County commissioners


SPOKANE — An appeals court decision that ruled three Stevens County commissioners were improperly removed from office in 2020 stands now that the state Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, settling a four-year dispute over how the commissioners spent homeless assistance funds.

The Supreme Court this week denied Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen’s petition for review of Court of Appeals Division III’s March 31 decision. That decision found Wes McCart, Don Dashiell and Steve Parker were acting as a legislative body and are not individually liable for a decision to award $121,000 of public homeless funds to a couple whose home was damaged by flooding. The county also awarded money to two nonprofit organizations that built a transitional home for people with spinal cord injuries.

“My clients have now spent years defending themselves against a meritless attack that never should have been entertained in the first place,” attorney for the commissioners Julie Watts said in a statement, “so I am very pleased that this matter was resolved in their favor and that the matter has now finally come to a close.”

Rasmussen, who is retiring at the end of this year, said he was disappointed in the court’s decision, but he is ready to put the case behind him. “I’m glad to see the whole sad situation is over,” he said.

The ruling of the appeals court has implications for every noncharter county in the state, Rasmussen said. It means county commissioners can gift public funds — even if the Washington State Auditor finds it to be unlawful — as long as every commissioner agrees, he said.

In 2019, Rasmussen sued the commissioners after the state auditor found their use of homeless housing and assistance funds were “an unallowable gift of public funds” not in alignment with the county’s homeless plan.

A Spokane Superior Court ruling effectively removed the commissioners from office in 2020. (McCart was re-elected a few months later.)

The appeals court reversed that decision in March. After Rasmussen filed his motion for review with the Supreme Court, current commissioners Greg Young and Mark Burrows, who were not involved in the case, wrote an open letter to the citizens of Stevens County criticizing the continued litigation.

McCart recused himself from signing the letter.