McCleary mayoral race is a mess

Voters have three days to challenge


That’s the best way to describe the election for mayor of McCleary. Voters have three days to sort out the issue.

As it stands as of Wednesday, the election is certified and the second-place candidate in the primary seems headed for the General Election, but may not be eligible to hold office. In fact, Jared Berken’s eligibility to run for office was questioned before the primary election.

Berken has lived in McCleary since February of this year. The city long ago adopted RCW 35A to guide its elections process, and that RCW clearly states that mayoral candidates must live in the city for an entire year before being eligible to hold the city’s top seat.

The primary election was certified on Aug. 15. Mayor Brent Schiller leads with more than 64 percent of the vote. Berken is second with more than 20 percent, and former mayor Gary Dent was third with more than 15 percent.

Following the primary election, only the top two candidates are advanced to general election ballots. Though Berken is not eligible to hold office, he will bump Dent from the general election.

The Grays Harbor County Auditor’s Office and the City of McCleary have been discussing the issue and, as of Wednesday, there are no clear solutions to the problem.

Auditor Vern Spatz says it’s up to an elector (a voter) to challenge the results.

”Unless something is challenged, we’re going to take forward the top two and put them in the general election,” Spatz said. “There’s an RCW that says an elector would submit to superior courts for an injunction to prevent (Berken) from being on the ballot in November because he’s not qualified.”

RCW 29A.68.011 states a challenge can be made when “The name of any person has been or is about to be wrongfully placed upon the ballots.”

That seems to apply to the situation.

By that RCW, an elector — any elector in McCleary — can file an affidavit with Superior Court to challenge on those grounds, but there is a window of opportunity. The RCW allows for a three-day window after certification for that challenge.

Spatz said voters, should they choose to challenge, have until 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

But therein lies another challenge. How would a challenge be filed and what would it look like?

Superior Court filings generally go through the Grays Harbor County Clerk’s Office, but on Wednesday, Aug. 16, county Clerk Cheryl Brown was not aware of any forms or filings applicable to the situation.

To her knowledge, a person would first have to file a claim with the county before filing an affidavit, but she wasn’t certain.

“I don’t know of any lawsuit. It would be an odd thing,” Brown said. “I haven’t seen anything like it in the 23 years I’ve been in this office.”

A fee schedule available on the county clerk’s webpage did not list election challenge fees.

Dent would seem the likely person to file a complaint, but he sounded disinterested on Wednesday.

“I don’t think I will,” Dent said. “If no one files for having him removed, the current mayor would probably beat him anyway.”

But Dent didn’t completely discount the option.

“The fact is he doesn’t qualify, and I’ll think for the next day or so and think if I want to challenge it or if I can find someone who will,” Dent said.

Schiller said he will not file a complaint.

McCleary city attorney Dan Glenn said no matter the outcome, Berken can not hold office.

“Based upon what appear to be the uncontested facts in relation to the period of Mr. Berken’s residency within the city, if hewere to be elected he could not assume the office since he would not satisfy one of the two statutory requirements as toqualification to serve,” Glenn wrote in an email.

Glenn also said the county should provide qualifications to candidates when they’re filing for office.

“From an operational standpoint, it would have been a lot easier for all if all candidates, including Mr. Berken, were providedformal access to the qualifications required for service in the office for which they are considering running before the actualfiling occurs,” Glenn wrote. “However, as Mr. Spatz has indicated to me… there is no statutory provision creating ormandating such an informational action. However, nothing is present which would prohibit such a courteous act.”

In the end, with the understanding that Berken can not hold office, Glenn says it’s ultimately a drain on city resources.

“An unfortunate situation which likely will cost the citizens of McCleary some dollars in terms of funding a primary electiondue to the presence of three candidates having filed and been accepted for placement upon the ballot,” Glenn wrote.

Berken could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.