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Baenen allegations dropped in superior court

An Island County Superior Court judge threw out all 12 of the allegations against Island County Assessor Tom Baenen because of their lack of legal and factual sufficiency.

Judge Alan Hancock dismissed the allegations, which were part of an effort to recall Baenen brought by former Island County Assessor Roy Compton on Thursday. Had Hancock ruled in favor of Compton, he would have had to lead an effort to gather 3,865 signatures to force a recall vote.

“Obviously I’m pleased with the outcome,” Baenen said after the decision.

Baenen said that he does not take the motion to recall him personally.

“Every public official is subject to this action, but there’s going to be some personal connection,” Baenen said.

When asked if he is worried about any further efforts to recall him, Baenen ended the interview.

Compton said he began the effort because of the general sense of frustration people have had with the Assessor’s office, which is responsible for determining land and building values that establish how much property owners must pay in property taxes.

“The only reason I did it was there are too many people that don’t understand the system,” Compton said.

During the trial, Baenen sat quietly, shaking his head as some of the allegations were discussed.

Hancock ruled that none of the 12 allegations had the required legal or factual specificity. This means they lacked sufficient basis in fact leaving the voter with no doubt the incidents are ground for recall.

The charges also lacked the time, date and place specifics necessary to establish factual specificity.

“What this boils down to is a disagreement between a current and former assessor of what discretion should be shown,” Baenen’s attorney, Oak Harbor lawyer Bill Hawkins, told the court.

According to Compton’s allegations, Baenen allegedly “failed to transmit total assessed value in a timely manner to the Washington State Department of Revenue delaying the calculations of the State School levies for all 39 counties in the State of Washington.”

Compton said that because of the miscalculation of his personal property, the county had to pay the state $204 for the school levy, but would have received only $201.50. The reduction in Compton’s tax bill also cost Fire District 5 $81 and the county $42.

Under Washington state law, the purpose of the hearing was not to establish the truth of the charges, but to show the charges could constitute substantial misconduct of the official.

Hawkins called the accusations “woefully inadequate.”

“The fact a former assessor would run the office differently does not amount to sufficiency,” Hawkins said.

Greenbank resident Art Trimble said that the decision should not be made in court, but the people should be allowed to vote.

“I thought it was lousy,” he said. “If you can get enough signatures to recall somebody, then you ought to be able to put it to a vote. All they’re doing is making a job for another attorney.”

Trimble said that since Baenen is an elected official, it should be purely up to the voters to remove him.

“Let the people decide,” Trimble said. “They’re the ones that put that jerk in there.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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