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Pierce Transit board names Robert Hill to write anti-tax statement in voter guide

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on July 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm with No Comments »
July 11, 2012 7:32 pm

His new home in the Pierce County jail hasn’t kept Robert Hill from involvement in civic affairs.

The Tacoma gadfly’s felony conviction may keep him from voting, but he won an appointment this week to write the official statement for the voters’ pamphlet in opposition to Pierce Transit’s proposed sales-tax increase. The tax is intended to restore bus routes slashed by budget cuts.

Although Hill will almost certainly have to write the statement from a cell, the Pierce Transit board agreed on a 4-2 vote Monday to name him and Ken Paulson to the committee. Paulson wasn’t happy with the decision and said he won’t work with Hill, leaving Hill as the potential sole author. No one else applied.

State law allows the board to name up to three people, but doesn’t say it has to fill all three spots. Board members point out the law doesn’t give any qualifications the writers have to meet, either.

“So it puts you in the position, if John Q. Public comes out and says he wants to participate in a public process, do you have the ability to discriminate if you have no rules that tell you who you can discriminate against and who you can’t?” said board member and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

“We erred on the side of freedom of speech.”

Board member and Gig Harbor City Councilman Derek Young said he wanted to take more time to have lawyers review their options, although the board would have had to call a special meeting to make the decision before a deadline. The law seems to allow for local discretion in appointments, he said.

Indeed, in a case last month, the election watchdogs on the state Public Disclosure Commission staff wrote (page 127) that “there is no limit in the law on who may be appointed to a voters pamphlet argument committee,” other than they must support or oppose the ballot measure.

Young said his main objection was over appearances. While he acknowledged “everything was on the up-and-up — it wasn’t like Robert Hill was recruited,” he added: “This isn’t going to look the best.”

“I disagree with the “no” position,” Young said, “but I don’t want to unfairly characterize their position. They deserve to have a solid committee of trusted community leaders that can make the case for them in the election.”

Young said the Legislature could help with more guidance, or even by giving the responsibility for picking the voters’ pamphlet committees to someone other than the agency seeking the tax.

The agency is asking voters to raise the sales tax in the district by three-tenths of 1 percent, raising an estimated $28 million a year.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, the board chairwoman, said the board put out a call for applicants in its notice of the meeting in The News Tribune but had only two takers.

And Paulson is bowing out. “I’m not going to have my name on what he writes,” he said. Besides, he said, one person he spoke to “said, ‘you don’t want that guy harassing you.’ Then the word stalking (popped) into my brain.”

Paulson’s daughter, Jennifer, was killed by a stalker in 2010.

Hill, who goes by several monikers including the nickname “The Traveller,” is known for being vocal at public meetings where he sometimes makes a scene or dresses in costumes — and for numerous run-ins with the law.

He has been removed from an air flight and from a Congressional committee hearing and is the subject of several protection orders.

He was sentenced in February to 16 months in prison for intimidating a judge, after making threats in connection with Tacoma Municipal Court Commissioner Randy Hansen, who raised Hill’s bail in a case involving allegations that he pepper-sprayed two people.

Hill has been in the Pierce County jail awaiting resolution of a local court case. On Nov. 8, the night he lost a City Council election, Tacoma police say Hill damaged property at the Stone Gate bar and grabbed and pushed two women who confronted him there.

He is charged with second-degree malicious mischief and two counts of fourth-degree assault. A trial in that case is scheduled for Thursday.

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