The Pierce Transit Board at the moment could be likened to a woman who has a few too many, gets picked up by a lowlife, wakes up in his grungy, broken-down bed and says, “How the hell did I get here? And how do I get out?”
The lowlife is Robert “The Traveller” Hill, a virtuoso stalker and harassment artist who’s tangled with the police and the courts dozens of times. He is sitting in the Pierce County Jail on a felony conviction for criminal intimidation of a judge.
The Pierce Transit Board wound up figuratively in bed with Hill on Monday in the worst possible way: It appointed him to write a statement for the voters pamphlet opposing the sales tax measure it will have on the ballot in November.
The board would have done less damage by appointing Hill to write the argument for the proposition. The way it happened, it looks as if the board deliberately picked one of the most disreputable human beings in sight to discredit the opposition. It’s the kind of move that alerts and mobilizes the enemy.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and other members of the board are excruciatingly aware of the smelly impression they’ve made. She said Thursday that she’s moving to persuade the board to seize an option it rejected Monday: Hold a special meeting before the Aug. 7 deadline to pick a credible committee to write the opposing statement.
“We’ll be able to resolve this,” she said, “and we’ll be able to get two more people on this committee.”
The board’s failure to anticipate the disaster and call the special meeting in the first place is dumbfounding.
So how did the consummately slimy Hill succeed in hooking up with the board on Monday? It’s a long story that apparently involves a lot of dumb law or dumb interpretations of the law.
The short take: Hill applied to write the statement and tens of thousands of other citizens did not. The board had to pick a committee, and it had only two applicants: Hill and Ken Paulson, a respectable Tacoman who ran for the state Senate in 2010.
The board’s lawyer reportedly told its members that they could not reject any candidate unless there were at least four applicants for the three-member committee. Something about there being no specifications for the job. It sounds as if the board would have to let a death row inmate write the statement if no one else but him had put in for it. Still, a special meeting would have allowed the board to seek someone better.
After Hill was chosen, Paulson backed out after learning he’d have to collaborate with the jailbird. Paulson has this thing about stalkers: His daughter was murdered by one.
All may end well yet if the board finds two more people willing to share the writing duties. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t look as if Hill can be dropped from the committee.
His name is likely to remain in the pamphlet – a reminder that sometimes it’s worth calling a special meeting to avoid a special problem.