Clerk's write-in support grows

A grassroots campaign to elect a recently fired chief deputy clerk to the job of Island County Clerk is gaining support among some voters.

After being dismissed by Clerk Jane Koetje on Aug. 19, Sharon Franzen, a 22-year employee in the clerk's office, may wind up challenging her former boss for control of the clerks' office. Behind her at the moment are a number of friends and supporters and, perhaps most importantly, retired County Clerk Marilee Black.

Koetje, a Republican, was appointed county clerk after Black, also a Republican, retired last fall. Franzen's supporters charge that Koetje was chosen over Franzen for the job, even though she had less experience.

Franzen and others, such as Black and Oak Harbor resident Arthur Morris, contend that the timing of the dismissal is suspicious. At issue is the fact that Franzen was fired after the July 31 deadline for registering to run for Island County office, which effectively prevented Franzen from running against Koetje in this year's election.

News of Franzen's dismissal has sparked grass-roots support for Franzen as a write-in candidate for Koetje's job. Franzen said Monday she has not decided whether to declare herself a candidate.

She said she is not out asking for votes at the moment, nor is she turning them down.

"I'm not discouraging people from doing it," said Franzen, who is now a Democrat.

Franzen's cause got a big boost this week when a letter to the editor from Marilee Black was printed in the Whidbey News-Times. In the letter, Black, a 28-year veteran of Island County government, was highly critical of the Board of Island County Commissioner's decision to appoint Koetje over Franzen. She also took Koetje to task for firing Franzen.

"What an appalling way for Island County management to treat an employee with 20 years of service to the county," Black wrote. "Mrs. Koetje has every right to put anyone in that position that she chooses to, however, she waited until after filing for the office was closed to ensure she had no competition from Ms. Franzen... There are all kinds of political moves, and I for one, think that was dirty politics."

Koetje did not immediately respond to requests for an interview on the Black's letter and the controversy surrounding her decision to fire Franzen.

Franzen said she is weighing a number of factors in deciding whether to be a candidate. She said she needs to find funds to run an effective campaign, receive political and voter backing, and must herself be committed to a campaign.

"I haven't answered those questions for myself yet," Franzen said.

However, she said, the amount of support she's received definitely has pushed her closer to jumping into the race.

"It certainly has made me look at this in a different way," she said.

If Franzen receives one percent of the total vote in the Sept. 17 primary, her name will appear with Koetje's on the general election ballot on Nov. 5. Even if this didn't happen, she could still be a write-in candidate for the general election.

On Monday, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said votes must write in a candidate's full name, party and office for votes to be valid. That information may be written at the top of the county's ballots.

Sinclair said candidates in this state are not required to register with their chosen parties, which means Franzen's declaring herself a Democrat is valid, though it must still be written in on the ballot by voters.

Sinclair said she and her staff have been boning up on the rules and regulations surrounding write-in candidates.

"Write-in votes don't happen very often," she said, "so it's not something people are familiar with."

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