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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Judge throws out recall petition against Ione mayor and councilman

Newly elected Ione town councilman Michael Piccirilli, left, lost his voter registration after the Pend Oreille County auditor determined Friday he no longer lives in Ione. Piccirilli has filed recall petitions against fellow councilman Michael Shipley and Mayor Eva Marie Warren.  (James Hanlon/The Spokesman-Review)

An Ione councilman who no longer lives in the town is refusing to resign, even after the Pend Oreille County auditor revoked his voter registration and a judge Wednesday threw out recall charges he made against the mayor and another councilman.

Councilman Michael Piccirilli, who was elected unopposed in November, lost his eligibility to vote in Ione earlier this month when Auditor Marianne Nichols determined Piccirilli, by his own admission, lives in Metaline Falls, a town 10 miles north, since sometime in October.

Pend Oreille County Superior Court Judge Lech Radzimski dismissed recall charges Piccirilli made against Mayor Eva Marie Warren and Councilman Michael Shipley, saying Piccirilli lost his eligibility to prosecute the case further because he is no longer a legal voter in Ione.

At a council meeting Wednesday, Piccirilli declined to step down, saying his eligibility has not been adjudicated by a court.

“I have every right to be here until a judge says otherwise,” Piccirilli said. “If a judge does say otherwise, I will absolutely stop being a councilmember.”

The auditor’s determination was specifically limited to his voter registration and not his status as an elected official.

However, Shipley at the council meeting quoted state law that says if someone is not a resident and registered voter of the town, they are ineligible to hold office.

“If we proceed with this council meeting with this guy sitting at the table as a non-legal council member, this meeting is invalid,” Shipley said.

Logan Worley, the town’s attorney, said normally in this situation the elected official resigns voluntarily. The council lacks the authority to remove him, so it is in the hands of the county prosecutor.

The prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Piccirilli said the proper way to remove him is through a recall.

After some further discussion, Shipley excused himself, saying he wouldn’t take part in an illegal meeting. At that point, Warren adjourned since there was no longer a quorum.

Recall dismissed

Although the dismissal order said Piccirilli is ineligible to make the recall charges because of his voter status, Radzimski still addressed the allegations in the recall petition “to give finality to this matter.”

Piccirilli’s recall alleged that Warren and Shipley violated open meeting law by attempting to hold a vote over email.

The town clerk sent an email to all council members on June 12 that said Warren had asked the clerk to forward the email from the town’s realtor requesting approval or denial of a price reduction on a pair of properties the town was selling based on an updated market analysis.

The realtor, Ione resident Pollianna Dickinson-Jones, happens to be the person who filed the voter registration challenge against Piccirilli in January, after he made the recall charges.

Councilman Ken Timmreck replied, “fine with me.”

Councilwoman Sharon Shipley – Michael Shipley’s wife – replied, “My vote will be to hold off on making any decisions until the next council meeting.”

Their responses were sent privately to the clerk, who forwarded them back to the mayor. Their responses were not shared with the other council members.

Michael Shipley and Councilman Cory McNeal did not respond. During a hearing last week, Michael Shipley testified that he told the mayor in a private conversation that it would be inappropriate to discuss the issue through email.

Piccirilli had also filed recall charges against Timmreck, but the judge dismissed him in January because he had resigned in December, citing upcoming travels.

The price reduction was approved unanimously after discussion at the June 21 council meeting.

Radzimski concluded that the email correspondence did not constitute a meeting under the open meeting law, and there is insufficient evidence to put the recall on the ballot.

“There is no evidence that indicates that the Council collectively intended to take action,” Radzimski said in the dismissal.

Warren said that the email request was an honest mistake and that it was corrected.

“The facts were the facts,” she said. “The allegations were false; there was no secret meeting.”

Piccirilli said he will appeal the decision along with his voter registration challenge.

He said the auditor’s decision relied on false testimony.

He also said the voter challenge and the recall petition cases were inappropriately lumped together, which interfered with his ability to appeal the voter registration challenge separately. This violated his due process rights, he said.

Because he is appealing the voter challenge, he believes the case should be stayed and that he still has the right to vote.

“None of this has been decided yet,” Piccirilli said. “Since I am appealing, I still have my voter rights.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.