Judge dismisses second recall attempt against Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser
Martín Bilbao / The Olympian
A judge has ruled against a local activist who sought the recall of Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser for the second time.
In an opinion released Thursday, Visiting Judge Kevin D. Hull found that the five counts against Menser “lack factual and legal sufficiency” to support a removal request. The decision comes eight days after Hull virtually heard arguments for and against the petition.
Jon Pettit, a frequent speaker at board meetings, originally filed a 58-page complaint against Menser with the county auditor‘s office on January 7, but later amended and resubmitted the complaint on January 20.
Had the judge found the allegations sufficient, Pettit would have had to collect signatures totaling 25% of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for Menser’s office when he was last elected in 2018.
Over the years, Pettit has repeatedly asked to recall officials and appeal decisions he disagrees with. In 2020, his motion to recall Menser failed after a visiting judge also dismissed his charges as legally and factually insufficient.
Notably, another judge also dismissed her challenge to Carolina Mejia’s candidacy for Thurston County Commissioner in 2020, dismissing her claim that she was not a U.S. citizen. She is now chair of the board.
Two of the most recent charges against Menser were so similar to Pettit’s 2020 charges that Hull barred them by res judicata, meaning they can no longer be used as a basis for a recall since they were previously dismissed.
Both charges alleged that Menser misappropriated public funds by voting to approve two expenses that had not previously been budgeted.
These charges stemmed from Pettit’s opposition to how the county purchased the Mottman complex and created a fiscal stabilization fund.
In June, the county spent $5.6 million to purchase the Mottman complex at the intersection of Ferguson Street Southwest and 29th Avenue in Tumwater at the request of auditor Mary Hall.
Hall’s office previously rented space in the complex to hold elections and process ballots. Now that the complex has been purchased, the county has recently begun planning how it will use and improve the space.
In 2021, the county also set aside $2 million for a Fiscal Stabilization Fund, an inclement weather fund intended to provide financial stability.
In Pettit’s 2020 charges, he challenged Menser’s votes for the six-year capital improvement plan in 2019 and a budget amendment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“patently unreasonable manner”.
Pettit’s petition did not contain facts showing that Menser’s actions were “patently unreasonable”, according to Petrich.
Hull agreed with Petrich in his opinion and wrote that state law allowed mid-term budget amendments for transfers or revisions within departments.
Pettit also accused Menser of violating his oath of office by failing to provide minutes and records for open inspection and access to records of all proceedings.
For this, Hull found that Pettit failed to provide facts independently showing Menser and deliberately failed to provide court records and tapes.
In addition, the Board Clerk is responsible for recording meeting minutes and maintaining appropriate records. Pettit has provided no facts showing that Menser prevented the clerk from doing his duty, according to Hull.
In his fifth accusation, Pettit alleged that Menser, as chairman of the board, failed to schedule enough public meetings after he canceled some meetings in the run up to the holidays.
Hull wrote that Pettit failed to identify the duties breached by Menser that are separate and distinct from the broader board. In doing so, he agreed with Petrich who argued that holding regular meetings is the collective duty of the council rather than that of an individual commissioner.
In response, Pettit told The Olympian that he disagreed with Hull’s decision and stood by his case against Menser.
“It is the responsibility of every citizen to get involved,” Pettit said. “When we see things not being done right, it is our responsibility to act.”
Although he does not support Menser politically, he said his actions were never personal.
“It’s not just directed at Commissioner Menser, I would hold any of the other commissioners responsible if I found they were directly involved in any wrongdoing.”
Menser told The Olympian he was pleased with Hull’s findings and called Pettit’s accusations unfounded and frustrating.
“The things that hit the pitch are just the tip of the iceberg,” Menser said. “We get dozens and dozens and dozens of allegations of illegality and threats of legal action from Mr. Pettit. … There is no basis to any of them. I just hope that he will get the message that this has to stop. It’s wasting a lot of taxpayers’ money to answer.”
In 2020, Menser said he thinks Pettit makes it a “full-time hobby” to scare elected officials into taking whatever action he prefers.
On Thursday, Menser said Pettit’s behavior prompted the council to seek legal counsel often, but never influenced his actions.
“It makes things stressful for everyone because it not only attacks Commissioner Mejia and myself, but also the staff,” he said. “It creates a difficult environment all around.”