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Pierce County Council chairman: Hecht veto was invalid

Post by David Wickert on Nov. 20, 2009 at 7:30 am |
November 25, 2009 10:08 am

Updated with Pat McCarthy’s comments below.

The Pierce County Council may have a novel response to a veto by County Executive Pat McCarthy: Veto? What veto?

On Monday McCarthy announced she had vetoed a council ordinance eliminating the Superior Court seat held by Judge Michael Hecht. But council Chairman Roger Bush said Thursday the executive did not sign the vetoed ordinance when she returned it to the council. He said that makes it invalid.

The county charter states that every ordinance approved by the council must be presented to the executive. “If approved by the executive, the ordinance shall be signed by the executive and become law…” If the county executive does not approve an ordinance passed by the council “the entire ordinance shall be vetoed and returned with the executive’s written objections, which shall be entered in the journal of council proceedings.”

Roger Bush
Roger Bush

Bush acknowledged the charter does not specifically require the executive to sign vetoed ordinances. But he said that has been the practice of county executives, including McCarthy. He said practices like signing and time-stamping ordinances establish a paper trail “to accomplish clarity of the law.”

McCarthy has vetoed two other ordinances this year: one involving a proposed E-Verify program and one involving the county’s comprehensive land-use plan. Records show she returned those ordinances signed, dated and marked “vetoed.”

But records show she did not sign the latest vetoed ordinance involving the Superior Court seat. Here’s a PDF file showing the signature pages of the three vetoed ordinances. The first page is for the E-Verify ordinance, the second page is for the comprehensive plan ordinance and the third is for the Superior Court ordinance.

Bush said the missing signature makes the veto invalid. He said the 10 days given the executive to veto an ordinance has already expired, so she can’t simply sign it now. He said there’s no need for a council vote on whether to override the veto. In his mind, the ordinance stands and Hecht’s seat has been eliminated.

Nonetheless, Bush said the council likely will discuss its response to the veto at its noon study session Tuesday.

He said the council could adopt his reasoning and simply ignore the veto. Or it could schedule a vote to override McCarthy’s veto anyway. The council has 30 days to override an executive’s veto. It would require five council votes. The council voted 7-0 to eliminate the court seat earlier this month.

No matter what the council decides, Bush faulted the executive for “sloppiness” and said “the people expect the government to have its act together.”

“We think we’ve done our job,” he said. “Now what do we do? I’m exasperated.”

Bush said he has not discussed the issue with McCarthy.  I’ve asked the executive’s office for comment. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Update: I spoke with McCarthy. She doesn’t buy Bush’s argument.

Pat McCarthy
Pat McCarthy

“My signature on the actual ordinance is just not necessary,” she said. She also said it doesn’t matter that she signed the other vetoed ordinances.

“Plain reading of the county charter shows the executive can sign or veto an ordinance,” she said. “I indeed checked the box that says veto. I submitted the letter explaining the reasons for my veto.”

McCarthy said Bush’s comments are a distraction from critical issues like reducing the Superior Court case backlog and helping judges work more efficiently.

“It’s unfortunate that the County Council is looking for a perceived loophole to deal with this important issue,” the executive said. “I think it’s also unfortunate that the chairman would rather criticize me in the local paper than work with me to solve problems facing the county.”

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