Robert Hill’s new home in the Pierce County jail hasn’t kept him from getting involved in civic affairs.
The Tacoma gadfly’s felony conviction might keep him from voting, but he won an appointment this week to write the official statement for the voters pamphlet in opposition to Pierce Transit’s proposed sales-tax increase. The tax is intended to restore bus routes slashed by budget cuts.
Although Hill will almost certainly have to write the statement from a cell, the Pierce Transit board agreed Monday on a 4-2 vote to name him and Ken Paulson to the committee. Paulson, a former state Senate candidate, wasn’t happy with the decision and said he won’t work with Hill, leaving Hill as the potential sole author. No one else applied.
State law allows the board to name as many as three people but doesn’t say it has to fill all three spots. Board members point out the law doesn’t require writers to have any particular qualifications.
“So it puts you in the position, if John Q. Public comes out and says he wants to participate in a public process, do you have the ability to discriminate if you have no rules that tell you who you can discriminate against and who you can’t?” said board member and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.
“We erred on the side of freedom of speech.”
Board member and Gig Harbor City Councilman Derek Young, who voted “no,” said he wanted to take more time to have lawyers review the board’s options, although that would have required a special meeting to meet a deadline. The law seems to allow for local discretion in appointments, Young said.
Indeed, in a case last month, election watchdogs on the state Public Disclosure Commission wrote that “there is no limit in the law on who may be appointed to a voters pamphlet argument committee,” other than that writers must support or oppose the ballot measure.
Young said his main objection was over appearances. While he acknowledged “everything was on the up-and-up – it wasn’t like Robert Hill was recruited,” he added, “This isn’t going to look the best.”
“I disagree with the ‘no’ position,” Young said, “but I don’t want to unfairly characterize their position. They deserve to have a solid committee of trusted community leaders that can make the case for them in the election.”
Young said the Legislature could help by giving more guidance, or by moving the responsibility for picking voters pamphlet committees to someone other than the agency seeking a tax.
The agency is asking voters to raise the sales tax in the district by three-tenths of 1 percent, which would generate an estimated $28 million a year.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, the board chairwoman, said the board put out a call for applicants in The News Tribune and had only two.
Paulson said of not wanting to be involved with Hill, “I’m not going to have my name on what he writes.” Besides, he said, adding that “the word stalking (popped) into my brain.”
Paulson’s daughter, Jennifer, was killed by a stalker in 2010.
Hill, who goes by several monikers including “The Traveller,” is an activist and occasional political candidate known for being vocal at public meetings, where he sometimes makes a scene or shows up in costume. He has been removed from an air flight and from a Congressional committee hearing, and is the subject of several protection orders.
He was sentenced in February to 16 months in prison for intimidating a judge after making threats in connection with Tacoma Municipal Court Commissioner Randy Hansen, who raised Hill’s bail in a case involving allegations that he pepper-sprayed two people.
Hill has been in the Pierce County jail, rather than state custody, while awaiting resolution of another case. Tacoma police say that on Nov. 8, the night Hill lost a City Council election, he damaged property at the Stone Gate bar and grabbed and pushed two women who confronted him there.
He is charged with second-degree malicious mischief and two counts of fourth-degree assault. He’s scheduled to be in court on that case today.