Push to recall Kennewick councilman on hold

Recall proponent Vincent Rundhaug, appears Wednesday before Benton County Superior Judge Bruce Spanner in Kennewick. Kennewick Councilman Steve Young is flanked by his attorneys Bob Thompson, left, and Kevin Holt during the hearing on an effort to force Young out of office.
Recall proponent Vincent Rundhaug, appears Wednesday before Benton County Superior Judge Bruce Spanner in Kennewick. Kennewick Councilman Steve Young is flanked by his attorneys Bob Thompson, left, and Kevin Holt during the hearing on an effort to force Young out of office. Tri-City Herald

A recall effort against a Kennewick city councilman implicated in an $8.1 million discrimination and retaliation case is on hold for at least a month.

In what was expected to be a routine hearing Wednesday, a Tri-City judge delayed entering his written decision on Councilman Steve Young’s recall.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner had announced on Aug. 31 that the citizen-led effort to remove Young from office could proceed on just one of seven allegations.

That is when Spanner confirmed ballot language for the recall petition, and it is when the clock should have started running on the limited window to ask the state Supreme Court to review the matter, claims the recall petitioners.

But Young’s attorneys say that clock doesn’t start until the judge enters the official order.

Once the judge’s written order is in the record, both sides have a limited amount of time to make that appeal.

On Wednesday, Spanner put off entering his written ruling until Oct. 18, after receiving an unexpected motion from the recall petitioners on Tuesday.

The petitioners are not attorneys and the motion seemed to eliminate Young’s ability to ask the higher court to review Spanner’s decision.

Vincent Rundhaug, a Kennewick jeweler who is serving as spokesman for the recall effort, said no one wants to get ahead of the legal process.

But they are eager to get the recall going, he said.

The confusing legal calendar question centers on whether the state’s highest court will have a chance to review if the recall should proceed at all or on one charge or on seven allegations.

Young’s attorney Bob Thompson said Wednesday they will ask the Supreme Court to review the recall and the judge’s ballot synopsis in hopes of having it all thrown out.

Recall supporters may ask the court for a review as well, but to expand the case, not eliminate it. Rundhaug said the group is discussing their appeal options.

“I don’t think people want to hear part of the picture. They want to hear the whole picture,” he said.

Rundhaug said he did not initiate the recall but got involved after reading transcripts of the civil trial against Young and Mission Support Alliance. He believes Young violated his oath of office and should not represent Kennewick.

The recall team includes James Wade, Charles Tamburello and Robert McClary. The group has not hired an attorney, Rundhaug said.

The four men filed a recall petition in August, saying Kennewick voters should be able to consider if Young’s testimony in the MSA case and the conduct it revealed merit removing him from office before his term expires in 2019.

The case concerns Julie Atwood, who was forced to resign from the Department of Energy contractor in 2013. She sued Young and Mission Support Alliance for retaliation and discrimination and won the multimillian dollar verdict in a jury trial that concluded last October.

Young, then Kennewick’s mayor, later retired from MSA. He has since relinquished the mayor’s gavel to Don Britain, but continues to serve as one of seven elected councilmen.

The recall petition outlined several grounds for removal from office — that Young conducted city business while working at Hanford, that he violated the code of ethics for municipal officers, that he used his position as mayor to secure privileges for his employer and that he violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by helping raise money for Dan Newhouse’s successful 2014 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, among others.

In August, Spanner gutted their case.

The judge said the recall could proceed on just one issue, whether Young inappropriately sent what seemed to be a political solicitation to Kennewick’s city manager, his employee, about a fund raiser for Newhouse.

Spanner said the petitioners did not show sufficient cause on the other charges.

Recent events seemed to put the remaining charge on shaky ground. The gist is that Young sent an email to Mosley concerning a fundraiser for the would-be congressman.

Mosley herself said the emails give a partial view of a larger discussion. At a Sept. 5 council session, she told the city council she discussed the matter with Young in person. He did not request, or receive, a contribution for Newhouse, she said.

Rundhaug said the emails say otherwise.

Rundhaug said the recall team won’t collect signatures, a prelude to getting on the ballot, before Spanner’s order is entered in the court record. It is unclear if or when voters will get a chance to weigh in.

It is too late to include the recall on the November ballot. The next special elections will be held in February and April but a protracted legal fight could push it later in the year.

He has indicated he is considering seeking re-election, setting up a series of potentially conflicting choices for Kennewick voters. Hypothetically, Young could be recalled from office, then immediately re-run for his old seat. He could even run for re-election on the same ballot where he faces being recalled.

Thompson, who is also mayor of Richland, said the delay will add $1,000 to $2,000 to a legal bill that is expected to top $20,000. The city council previously voted 3-2 to pay Young’s legal fees.

He is considering asking the court to sanction the petitioners for the added cost, saying the last-minute motion did not adhere to procedures that both lawyers and non lawyers must follow.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514