It’s us vs. them in Hansville

Residents bring lawsuit against Kitsap County and local community advisory group.

HANSVILLE — A rift between Hansville residents and their representative community advisory committee recently escalated to legal action against Kitsap County.

Under the title Citizens for Accountable Government in Eglon and Hansville, Hansville residents John and Laurie Wiegenstein filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 against the Greater Hansville Area Advisory Council (GHAAC) and Kitsap County.

According to the county Web site, GHAAC was formally established in 2007. It was created out of a planning committee called the Greater Hansville Area Futures Project. Current North End County Commissioner Steve Bauer played an integral role in the Futures group, which focused on creating goals and actions that Hansville residents wanted to see take place in the future.

Community advisory groups like GHAAC exist to serve as a link between those who live in unincorporated areas and county government. Currently there are four county advisory groups: GHAAC, Kingston Citizen Advisory Council, Suquamish Citizens Advisory Committee and Central Kitsap Community Council.

John Wiegenstein, who filed the case, is an attorney for Heller Wiegenstein PLLC in Edmonds. His legal co-council in the case is Kingston attorney Gerald A. Kearney.

“We’ve had many concerns with this group (GHAAC) for the last 10 months,” Laurie Wiegenstein said. “I feel like I’ve been ignored and I’m not the only person who feels this way. This is the last step. We had tried talking to the people who represent us.”

The lawsuit aims to cease operation of GHAAC. It claims GHAAC violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech, violated its own bylaws and Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act.

The lawsuit came as a shock to many of the committee’s members.

“The complaint has just arrived and we are taking it very seriously,” said Judy Foritano, chair of the GHAAC. “We are working with our attorneys and working with it as it evolves.”

This was the only statement Foritano said GHAAC would make at this time.

County Commissioner Steve Bauer said at present, he doesn’t think the lawsuit has any merit.

“We are still trying to wrap our head around what exactly the nature of their claims are,” said Jacquelyn Aufderheide, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor. “We have 20 days to answer from the time it was served.”

Aufderheide said she’s assigned attorneys Kevin Howell and Shelly Kneip to the case.

Case documents were filed with the Pierce County Superior Court because Kitsap County is named in the suit, Kearney said. Judge John McCarthy will preside.

Jan Koske is the county’s volunteer service coordinator and helps organize the boards of the various county councils. For the 10 years she’s held the position and said she never heard about anyone suing the county over a community advisory group.

Kearney agreed. “I don’t think anything like this has been done before,” he said.

Laurie Wiegenstein said in GHAAC meetings she continually felt ostracized by the group when she asks questions before and after the meetings. She questions who her representative on GHAAC is, how the group communicates with the community and how GHAAC members ensure their votes are reflective of those they represent.

“There are many, many hardworking volunteers in the community who have done many wonderful things here but the way GHAAC has been doing business is not one of them in my view,” she said. “A lot of people are not happy with me and a lot more won’t after this.”

Kearney said in working as co-council to the case there are more people than just the Wiegensteins who feel that way.

The lawsuit documents state the Citizens for Accountable Government in Eglon and Hansville is a non-profit organization with officers, directors and members but none were named.

“A lot of people don’t agree with one, that the organization (GHAAC) speaks for them, and two, the way they conduct business is really like a private club. They don’t respond to questions or take input.”

Kearney said he’s never attended a GHAAC meeting.

“The most important thing we want people to understand is that we’re not asking for money. We don’t want any of the GHAAC people to be penalized,” Laurie Weigenstein said. “We just want to find out if the GHAAC are a legitimate body and if they are, are they carried out in a legitimate way according to their bylaws.”

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