Former two-term Clallam County Treasurer, Selinda Barkhuis stepped up and filed her paperwork challenging embattled Mark Nichols for Clallam County Prosecutor at the November election.
This is a fitting showdown as it is Nichols who Barkhuis feels was responsible for her stepping down from the treasurer’s position with one year left on her second term.
Nichols, allegedly at the behest of all three county commissioners, filed suit against the treasurer seeking to be sure she had turned over public records requested by Paul Gottlieb, reporter for the daily paper. This is a highly unusual event since the county prosecutor is supposed to be the legal representative of all the county’s elected officials. Many see this as an attempt to intimidate an elected official, a misdemeanor if anyone else tried it.
The seeds of this ugly saga surround the county commissioners attempting to give the Port of Port Angeles a million dollars with no strings attached, no contract, no expected returns on the gift, nothing to say how the money would be spent–nothing but an out and out gift to the port–an entity which has its own taxing authority.
Barkhuis protested the manner in which the gift was handled and demanded the commissioners do it “by the book.” Instead they decided to steamroll the treasurer and ultimately did so causing Barkhuis to resign from her elected position due to bullying by the prosecutor and certain county commissioners.
To add a bit of intrigue to the situation the commissioners cannot find any records of their closed door session where it was decided to have Nichols file suit against Barkhuis. They all agreed they did it they just cannot confirm it with required documentation.
Nichols prevailed upon the commissioners by telling them the daily paper had lawyers lined up to file suit against the county if the county did not ensure the records requested were released. As it turned out the daily paper did not engage any lawyers and the only one representing the daily paper against Barkhuis was Nichols. This too would be illegal if anyone else tried it.
When the dust settled it turns out Barkhuis had released all the records requested by Gottlieb. However, almost simultaneously, Nichols was found to have been denying public records himself. The records Nichols denied, despite a public records request, were requested by Scott Lange, a property owner in Clallam Bay. These records were requested to buttress Lange’s claim in a 20 year lawsuit against the county in a land-use case. Seems the county had granted a building permit for a non-conforming piece of land near Lange’s property in Clallam Bay. Seems a county official magically moved the high-water mark on the property making it suddenly eligible for development.
That property has now been removed as a result of Lange’s victory over Nichols and the county. It took Lange two decades to prevail. This means Nichols fought the losing lawsuit for years at great expense to county taxpayers. Add to that expense the half million dollars settlement taxpayers finally had to pay Lange to settle his case.
Most of the other county offices remained unchallenged except for the sheriff’s, the Director of Community Development position and the race for the county commissioner’s job for the third district. The sheriff’s race and the Director of Community Development are both county-wide races.
The third commissioner’s district extends from the 8th Street bridges in Port Angeles all the way to the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Mary Ellen Winborn will face Julie Gardiner for Director of Community Development in the November election.
Incumbent Sheriff Bill Benedict will face his former Detective, James (Jim) McLaughlin.
There are three candidates in the county commissioner’s race.Republican Bill Peach is challenged by former four-term Democratic County Commissioner Mike Doherty and, a newcomer to local politics, yours truly, Dale Wilson.
This will require a primary vote in the commissioner’s race to be held in August with the top two finishers facing off in November.