County drops suit, wants petitions by June 11

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County dismissed a suit Wednesday that had asked a judge to rule on the deadline for recall petitions.

So, the 5 p.m. June 19 deadline includes the time it will take Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes to certify the signatures.

“I’m not satisfied with it, but I understand how they came to that,” Hayes said of the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the statutes governing the recall process. “(The conflicting statute language) is obviously an error by the legislature. They’ll fix it in January, I guess.”

The decision was made after Hayes met with Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh Wednesday morning to discuss a letter the Secretary of State’s office sent Tuesday that said the 75-day deadline for petitioners to collect signatures includes the 15 business days the county clerk will have to certify them.

The legal question had centered around whether the 15 business days the county clerk is allowed to certify petition signatures is included in or added to the 75-day window petitioners have to collect them.

At the beginning of April, the Secretary of State’s office had said the 15-day certification time frame should be added on top of the 75-day signature gathering period. But it reversed its position after reviewing the statutes governing the recall process in light of Coeur d’Alene’s interpretation that the 15 days be included.

Hayes said dropping the issue now opens the possibility that it could go to court later, should another party related to the recall effort file suit.

“This just opens it up for a potential for a lawsuit from either side,” Hayes said. “If we would have got a judge to make a ruling that would have helped in any case that was brought forth.”

The suit McHugh filed in 1st District Court last week asked a judge to settle the timeline dispute, but Hayes said Wednesday the second letter from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa carried more weight than the first, sent by Tim Hurst, the office’s chief deputy.

Hayes said his office is asking the city of Coeur d’Alene to hand over the petitions no later than June 11. That would leave his office six business days to certify the signatures, all of which have to be valid registered Coeur d’Alene voters.

Per Idaho statute, the petitioners first turn the finished petitions over to the city clerk, who “promptly” turns them over to the county clerk for certification.

City Attorney Mike Gridley said the city would comply to hit that deadline. He said he hoped the decision to drop the suit put the timeline dispute to rest.

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