Court removes library dissolution measure from November ballot
September 21, 2023
DAYTON - Proposition 2 will not appear on Columbia County's general election ballot this November.
Columbia Superior Court Commissioner Julie Karl ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Neighbors United for Progress, Elise Sever, and Gerald Kaiser, in their lawsuit to block the measure from the November ballot. The hearing was held on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Columbia County Courtroom in Dayton, Wash.
After entering the courtroom, Karl asked the filled courtroom to observe proper decorum. She asked, "that we act like the friends and neighbors we all truly are.
Karl began the hearing by signing an order to dismiss Jessica Ruffcorn, the petition's main sponsor, from the lawsuit. Attorneys for all parties reached the agreement last week after her attorney, Pete Serrano from the Silent Majority Foundation, requested dismissal based on his client exercising her constitutional right to petition the government.
Before hearing from the plaintiff's attorney, Ric Jacobs, Karl told the court that she had read all the material multiple times and hoped to keep the proceedings brief.
Jacobs said he was proud to represent plaintiffs Elise Severe, Chair of NUP, and Gerald Kaiser, a NUP member, who stood up to the efforts to dissolve the library. He said the petitioners' effort to dissolve the library was effectively a book ban.
Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney Dale Slack presented the county's position and hoped to clear up confusion about his job and the county's job handling ballot measures. When the county receives a proposed ballot measure, it is checked against the statute before the auditor places it on the ballot.
"It would be improper for any elected county official to not put it on the ballot," he said. "When the state legislature passes a statute, it must be considered constitutional until a court rules otherwise."
Slack had requested an opinion from the State Attorney General's office clarifying voter eligibility to petition for the dissolution of a rural library district. He received an informal opinion stating that voters in the county's incorporated areas (the City of Dayton) were not eligible to sign the petition or vote on the measure. This was before Ruffcorn submitted the first petition to the auditor.
Again, Slack reminded the court that the county and his office have no standing on the constitutionality of the statute; it is up to the State Attorney General to defend it on those grounds and a court to decide. The AG's office was notified of the lawsuit and declined to participate in the hearing.
After hearing from both attorneys, Karl shared her decision. She said the court must balance issues to make its decision.
Karl said the plaintiffs had met the burden of showing damages should the proposition be passed and the library dissolved. She said the poorest community members would be disproportionately affected by the loss of millions of dollars of property.
The library provides a meeting place, access to education, internet, and a free place for parents to bring children.
"This would be an irreparable loss to this community," said Karl.
In response to the suit's allegations of fraud, Karl said the petition process was invalid, and there was reasonable cause to believe it was fraudulent. She went on to say that the collection of signatures needed to be investigated.
Regarding the issue of the statute's constitutionality, Karl said it was common sense that the proposition was a case of taxation without representation.
"It doesn't make sense to have people that live in the county be the only ones that vote on something that so affects the citizens of the city," Karl said. "We settled taxation without representation a long time ago."
Karl agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the statute and inconsistent application was unconstitutional. The Columbia County Auditor's office is prevented from including Proposition 2 when it prints the November ballots this week.
Karl said she would file and order with findings of fact and conclusion of law in the coming days.
After the court was adjourned, most of those viewing the hearing reacted with relief and stayed to show support for the plaintiffs.