School district assessed $66K for primary election cost

Kitsap County has assessed the South Kitsap School District for its share of the cost of the August primary election, even as the district has continued to blame poor communication and misinformation for the charge.

“We are still considering all our options,” School Superintendent Dave LaRose said on Tuesday. “We are seeking clarification of certain matters and have not decided what the final action might be.”

The conflict surrounds the school board candidacy of Gail Porter, who moved out of the district she sought to represent after the deadline for printing ballots for the August 18 primary. While she would not have been allowed to serve if elected, the district became liable for the cost of the election since her presence made the primary election relevant. Porter was disqualified in the primary, coming in third with 19 percent of the vote.

The school district and the Kitsap County Auditor exchanged two rounds of letters, respectively before and after the election, In this correspondence, the district claimed that it was not responsible for the cost of the election, due to unclear communication between Election Supervisor Dolores Gilmore and school board member Kathryn Simpson. The county responded that it would have taken a court challenge to remove Porter's name from the ballot, and that the school district did not have the standing to file such a challenge--regardless of the communication between Gilmore and Simpson.

The sequence of events centers around several undocumented conversations between Porter, Gilmore and Simpson.

At the time of her filing Porter lived in the district, but lost her lease shortly after the deadline. Simpson had an indication the week before that Porter was moving outside of the district at that time and contacted Gilmore about the situation, but asked questions that were admittedly framed as "hypothetical." When Porter officially changed her registration, which disqualified her to serve, the ballots has already been ordered.

Gilmore has said she would have allowed Porter to withdraw even if she did so after the legal deadline if the ballot order had not been placed.

In a letter dated Sept. 22, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Alan Miles said that in order to support the case, Gilmore would have needed to provide "express assurances" to Simpson about Porter's candidacy.

"For these reasons, the auditor has no liability in this matter," Miles concluded in the letter.

Shortly before sending that letter the auditor notified the district of a $66,185.45 fund transfer, to which the district did not indicate any objection.

According to Gilmore, the amount was determined by the amount of registered voters in South Kitsap and the number of ballot measures that forced a primary contest.

LaRose would not rule out a court action, but indicated the desire to discuss the matter with the auditor in "a non-judicial setting.” While he said it may be time to put the matter behind the district and move on--not contesting the assessment--he added that the decision is not his to determine. Rather, any future action will be taken by the school board.

The matter may have been discussed at Wednesday night's school board meeting but not for decision. Accordingly, no action will be taken until it can be placed on the agenda and put up for a vote.

While the outcome may not change, both parties have resolved to pay closer attention to similar situations in the future--even if they are not sure how this particular occurrence could have been prevented--aside from keeping a sharper eye on the actions of all prospective candidates.

“It's unfortunate that the district misunderstood the situation,” Gilmore said. “But we were following the limits of the law.”

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