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Group Files Complaint Over Proposed Criminal Justice Sales Tax

Benton County justice center
(Benton county website)

Benton County Citizens for Efficient Criminal Justice claims various public officials have violated Washington law by allegedly using their publicly-elected positions to lobby for the proposed Criminal Justice Sales Tax.

The vote will be on the August, 2014 primary election ballot sent to voters.

The .03% sales tax increase would provide about an additional $9 million annually for a wide variety criminal and justice needs in Benton County. They would range from increasing police gang task force resources to court and justice related costs.  The tax would sunset, or expire at the end of 2024.

While the Benton County Citizens group has not officially said they oppose to the tax, they are at issue with how it’s being promoted.  They claim Washington law prohibits public officials from actively lobbying for and assisting any political campaign on “company” time.

Specifically, some of the accusations include (from the court documents):

* Assisting, managing, and funding the campaign to approve the “Benton County Increase In Local Sales And Use Tax For Law And Justice Needs – 0.3% Sales Tax Ballot Measure” well in advance of public knowledge or formal approval;

* Serving as a paid public employees, utilizing public resources to promote the “Benton County Increase In Local Sales And Use Tax For Law And Justice Needs – 0.3% Sales Tax Ballot Measure”, while at the same time, or in advance of public knowledge or approval, establishing a political fund raising committee to support the “Benton County Increase In Local Sales And Use Tax For Law And Justice Needs …..

* Using their formal capacities as public officials to promote and solicit campaign contributions for the “Benton County Increase In Local Sales And Use Tax For Law And Justice Needs…..

They also claim public officials used internal public email systems,  and arranged public speaking arrangements in their capacity as publicly elected officials in support of the measure.

A total of 14 alleged violations of RCW 42.17A.555 are listed in the court filing.  According to the filing, that law and it’s related statutes: ” prohibit the use of public office or agency facilities in political campaigns” 

The complaint lists the Cities of Richland, West Richland, Kennewick and their police chiefs,  the Mayor of Prosser,  Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin,  Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, and other associated officials.

The complaint does not specifically list any requested action or “relief” but the group does request WA State Public Disclosure officials inform them of any conclusions or decisions.

As of this writing, there’s been no public official response from these officials, but it is still very early.  The court documents show a delivery to the Public Disclosure Commission just a day or two ago.

 

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