Laws always have unintended consequences

The trouble with living “under the rule of law, not men,” is that the people who govern sometimes don’t entirely know or understand the laws that apply to a particular situation.

Occasionally, people acting with the best intentions run afoul of provisions in the laws, and the result is an unintended consequence of their actions.

A couple of situations in South Kitsap illustrate what can occur when a misunderstanding of the law accompanies someone’s good intentions.

The city council and mayor of Port Orchard wanted to increase the mayor’s pay provided the increase could be funded with new revenues brought in through the mayor’s actions.

So the council increased the mayor’s pay, anticipating a review in midyear to determine whether the increase should continue.

Unfortunately, the state constitution only allows the council to increase the mayor’s pay — not to decrease it.

Had the initial action provided for an increase for a specific period of time and a return to the previous pay level at the expiration of that time without further action by the council, one could perhaps successfully argue that only an increase had occurred.

But that’s not how they did it, and now they find that they couldn’t reduce the mayor’s pay if they wanted — at least, not until the next term of office.

The idea they had in mind was a sort of performance-based compensation plan, but the law takes into account other purposes, including the need to protect the ability of an elected official to exercise independent judgment.

Basing the mayor’s pay on the council’s opinion of his performance may work well in most instances, but the law is fashioned to avoid allowing a council to apply pressure to the mayor by cutting his pay.

It appears that the mayor’s higher pay will remain in effect for the rest of this term in office.

This may turn out to be all right, but it isn’t what the council or the mayor had in mind when they started out.

Meanwhile, the South Kitsap School District will have to pay the costs of this year’s primary election for a district director position even though there should have been no primary election.

The school district is divided into five “director districts” to ensure that each area within the entire district has a person on the board. Candidates must reside within their respective director districts to be eligible to serve.

One candidate, Ms. Gail F. Porter, lived within the director district for which she filed her declaration of candidacy at the time she filed it; but then she moved out of the director district several days later.

From all appearances, Porter didn’t realize that her move would affect her eligibility — and the county elections office personnel either didn’t catch its significance or misunderstood how the law applied.

Once the ballots for the primary are ordered, it’s too late for the county Auditor to allow a candidate to withdraw and remove her name from the ballot.

Since the Auditor apparently didn’t recognize the effect of Porter’s move before ordering the ballots, the result is three names on the ballot and a primary election to choose which two will be candidates in the general election.

So the school district will pay approximately $70,000 as its share of the total cost of the primary election even though there are only two candidates on the ballot who could lawfully assume the office if elected in November.

If Porter receives enough votes in the primary election to place her in the top two, it may take a court decision to disqualify her and put the third-place candidate’s name on the general election ballot.

And, if that’s true, then the law needs to be changed.

It makes sense to require a court ruling whenever there is a dispute about the facts or law, but not when the matter is undisputed.

It’s better to live under the rule of law, but it sure is aggravating when good intentions run afoul of the law.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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