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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Stevens County voters return one ousted commissioner as interim board governs

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 4, 2020

The Stevens County Courthouse in Colville is seen in January 2019.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The Stevens County Courthouse in Colville is seen in January 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Republican Wes McCart is poised to become a Stevens County commissioner again, two months after a Spokane judge effectively removed him and the other two county commissioners from office.

McCart held a comfortable lead of nearly 22 percentage points over Democratic challenger Michael Bell after election returns were reported Tuesday. The next round of returns will be reported at noon Friday, according to the Stevens County Auditor’s Office. McCart will be joined by fellow Republican Greg Young, who was leading former Stevens County Commissioner Malcolm Friedman, now running as an independent.

The third Stevens County commissioner will be decided by those two, or Gov. Jay Inslee, and they will take over from an interim board of commissioners Inslee appointed earlier this fall. Local party and elected officials assume the governor will be required to act on a list of nominations prior to certification of the new office-holders, which would allow him to appoint the third commissioner from a list of Republican candidates. That person would stay in office until after an election in fall 2021.

Inslee said during a news conference Wednesday that his team was vetting the list provided to his office by the Stevens County Republican Party, but declined to say when he would make a decision.

“We’ll make that decision as soon as we can,” Inslee said. “I can’t give you a day that will be, but we are trying to get that done as soon as we can.”

McCart and fellow Commissioners Don Dashiell and Steven Parker vacated their office after a court ruling in a case seeking repayment of county money intended to be used for housing the homeless. The former commissioners instead diverted the $121,000 in money to two projects, including rebuilding a private home. A state auditor’s report determined the spending was improper.

Dashiell is among the three candidates Inslee could choose to install through 2021. The party also picked Chewelah Police Chief Mark Burrows and Carl Taylor, a corrections officer, at a meeting Oct. 11.

Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen brought several legal actions against the former commissioners based on the state audit report. One of those charges sought the removal of their official bonds used to indemnify an elected person from damages caused by their governmental duties.

The commissioners agreed to pay a judgment entered by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno totaling $187,000, including interest and attorney’s fees on top of the misused funds. But court records show the three men have appealed the ruling to the Washington Division III Court of Appeals.

McCart said he would secure another bond before taking the oath of office after results are certified.

“I’m not going to have a problem getting a bond. I already have a bond lined up,” McCart said.

Young could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a government already appointed with Inslee’s blessing continues to govern Stevens County under a state law reserved for catastrophic circumstances.

Rasmussen is one of seven Stevens County elected officials who has been meeting as an “interim” board of commissioners since Oct. 1. The panel, chaired by Sheriff Brad Manke, has been focused on distributing federal coronavirus assistance money, Rasmussen said.

“The only thing we’ve held off on is making important hires,” Rasmussen said, adding that the interim board determined those decisions should be made by the newly elected board.

The limitations of the interim board should spur Inslee to make appointments quickly based on the outcome of the election, McCart said, so that lawmakers could begin writing the budget for 2021 and handling other pressing business.

“I’m anxious to actually be doing the work of the people,” McCart said.

County Auditor Lori Larsen said the decision to empanel an interim board was made in consultation with the prosecutor’s office and the Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit providing research and assistance to local governments on state law. A state law provision recently approved by the Legislature to ensure continuity of government in times of “catastrophe” enables the other elected county officials to serve as commissioners.

Larsen said in the absence of action from the governor’s office, she was prepared to continue to serve until the election results are certified Nov. 24 and a newly elected pair of commissioners takes office.

“Speaking for myself, I’m going to continue to do the job that I think I need to be doing,” she said.

Under state law in that scenario, the two commissioners would need to fill any remaining vacancies. If they can’t come to an agreement, the decision would again go to Inslee, as it did after the departure of former Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn in 2017, when Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns could not agree on a replacement.

Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.

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