Despite winning 62 percent of votes, Ward will not be seated by current board

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Nancy Ward (center) asks PUD directors and attorneys about a press release distributed Tuesday, Nov. 15, regarding her eligibility to serve on the PUD board. Attorneys said even though Ward won the seat in the election, she is not an eligible candidate because she lives outside the district boundaries in a floating home.A week after Nancy Ward secured 62 percent of votes in the Nov. 8 general election for a seat on the Columbia River People’s Utility District board of directors, PUD attorneys said they could not certify Ward as an eligible candidate for that race.

Instead, a director for Subdivision 1 will be appointed by the board from a pool of applicants.

The announcement came during a CRPUD board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 15. A press release was handed to meeting attendees and the district’s legal counsel explained that because Ward lives in a floating home on the south edge of Scappoose, she technically resides outside the district’s voting boundaries, which were established years ago.

“Unfortunately, despite wining the election, the PUD regrets it is unable to lawfully allow Ms. Ward to be seated on the board of directors at this time,” Nick Herman, an attorney with Clarke Griffin, the law firm that represents the PUD, said. Herman explained that a candidate cannot legally represent a subdivision if they live outside the subdivision.HERMAN

Questions about Ward’s candidacy arose last month, just days before election ballots were scheduled to be mailed out to voters.

“I filled out an eligibility questionnaire that was sent to all candidates,” Ward said. “There is not one item on there that I do not qualify for.”

Even though Ward filed paperwork and successfully registered as a candidate for the Subdivision 1 race through the Columbia County Elections Department, she was later informed by the county that she may not be eligible to run in the race. Regardless, her name appeared on the ballot, along with challenger Debbie Reed’s, to voters. Most of those living in floating homes along the Multnomah Channel, including Ward, however, were not able to vote in the PUD races. Oddly, many residents who live in floating homes nearby in Multnomah County did receive ballots including the PUD race.

Herman cited documentation of an annexation of additional property into the PUD’s voting boundary in 1999. Despite the boundary expansion, floating homes were not included because they are considered to be on a waterway owned

by the state, and the PUD can only annex land within the county.

“During the 1999 annexation, the issue of floating homes was expressly considered and expressly rejected,” Herman said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Prior to last week’s election, Ward and several of her neighbors approached the PUD board, asking why they could not vote in their utility district’s elections.

The board took action, unanimously taking the position that all PUD ratepayers should be allowed to vote and run for office in PUD elections, barring any legal issues.

PUD Board President Jake Carter noted that last month was the first time the issue had been brought to the board’s attention, despite communication between the county and the PUD in years prior.

Attorneys returned Tuesday saying legally they could not certify Ward’s candidacy.

Ward took exception to how the district handled the situation.

“This is getting very cloudy,” Ward told attorneys and board directors. “This is very unclear and I certainly don’t understand [how] tonight, before the results of the election have been delivered, you are already stating that I will not be seated.”

A press release indicating the board’s plan of action was drafted by the PUD’s legal firm and distributed, absent any public board discussion or vote.

Prior to the election, county officials said PUD directors were ultimately responsible for certifying election results and could seat a candidate if they chose to, despite eligibility issues. That wasn’t a safeguard against legal challenges, though.

At this point, there has not been a legal challenge to Ward’s legitimacy to serve on the board beyond the one asserted by the PUD’s attorneys.

Still, Ward and several other ratepayers who showed up Tuesday questioned how the district could ignore the votes of the more than 1,900 people who voted for Ward.

“You think it is fair to discount the vote of 62 percent of the people in Scappoose?” Ward asked. “Frankly, if you’re not going to seat me, I think I can survive, I’ll probably get over it, but I’m more concerned about the process that’s happening here tonight ...”

Ward continued to voice concerns, but was promptly interrupted mid-sentence by Carter, who shut down further public comments shortly before adjourning the meeting.

A press release distributed at the Nov. 15 meeting stated:

"In an effort to encourage public participation and to promote transparency, the Board is now accepting applications from areas that meet legal requirements for qualification. Applications must be received by December 23, 2016. The Board will review the applications and solicit feedback and comment from ratepayers at the January 17, 2017, regular public board meeting before making its decision."

The district issued another press release on the same subject the following day without mention of the application deadline, or the specific process. Instead, the release states the board president "anticipates" a candidate will be appointed to the vacant Subdivision 1 position.

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