Town staff answer questions posed by the mayor and council members.
Photo by Colby Hess.
Town staff answer questions posed by the mayor and council members. Photo by Colby Hess.

In a surprising turn of events at the Eatonville Town Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 16, council members voted not to implement a permanent ban on retail marijuana businesses within town limits. This was despite the results of Advisory Vote No. 1 in last November's election, wherein town residents voted by a narrow margin of just 10 votes to formally codify what before had been a series of temporary moratoriums.

If successful, Resolution 2019-A would have instructed town staffers to move forward with modified zoning regulations explicitly prohibiting marijuana-related businesses of any kind from operating within Eatonville town limits. The current zoning language, which will now remain in effect, is silent on the subject.

"Status quo is nothing on the books about marijuana," said the town's attorney, Gregory Jacoby.

It was a tight vote, with council members James Schrimpsher and Robert Thomas voting "yay" but outnumbered by "nay" votes from council members Bill Dunn, Bob Walter, and Jennie Hannah.

Prior to voting, discussion centered on the possible effects a ban would have on local businesses and also on how similar bans have or have not been implemented in other jurisdictions.  According to Schrimpsher, statewide, 109 towns have voted to allow retail marijuana sales, 80 have voted to ban such sales (nine of which are in Pierce County) and 30 towns have no legislation on the matter one way or the other. Monday's vote leaves Eatonville in the latter category.

In his closing comments following the vote, Schrimpsher expressed his evident displeasure at the results. 

"I believe ignoring voters is a form of voter suppression," he said. "Think about the message you send to voters: ‘Your vote does not matter.'"

When asked if there was any legal liability to council members for voting contrary to the will of the majority as expressed on the ballot, Jacoby responded in the negative.

"No, there's no liability," he said. "It's an advisory vote. Your concern should be the next election."

Councilmember Hannah alluded to that point in her closing comments.

"My duty is to protect revenue for the town," she said.

The issue will remain a matter for future deliberations since Councilmember Dunn is proposing a new resolution requesting the Planning Commission to prepare draft revised zoning language that would prescribe limits on the locations of any marijuana-related businesses, should any ever set up shop in Eatonville. For now, it remains something of a moot point since the state is not currently issuing any more licenses, as Councilmember Walter and others pointed out.

Police and Town Hall news

Police Chief Brian Witt reported on the success of a recently-installed surveillance camera at the Bud Blancher trailhead. It has already led to the arrest and conviction of a car prowler he described as "a career criminal" who has now been sent to prison. Items stolen from the vehicle were successfully recovered and returned to their owner.

"It's a great a great win for our cameras," Witt said.

Mayor Mike Schaub gave an update on the ongoing remodel of Town Hall. While acknowledging the disruption it has caused to town staff, he noted that the work was going well and should achieve positive enhancement of the building once completed.

Schaub also expressed his appreciation for the town's utility staff, saying they did "a great job" getting power back on quickly after recent outages caused by high winds.

In other news

Resolution 2019-B was approved unanimously on its first reading, approving an amendment to the operational services agreement with South Pierce Fire and Rescue.

A related resolution, 2019-C, was likewise unanimously approved, to renew the interlocal agreement for fire investigation services with Pierce County. These services are run by the fire marshal and are independent of other fire department activities.

Resolution 2019-D was approved unanimously, which will vacate city-owned right of way along a portion of Orchard Ave. Planning Department staff described how the hill at that location was too steep for any future roadway so it made sense to relinquish it to the property owners.

"It's about property rights," said Jacoby. "We're going to let you the landowner have your property back."

Utility easements held by the town will not be affected. The matter will still require a public hearing before taking effect. 

Resolution 2019-E, to continue using pre-employment testing services offered by National Testing Network Inc., failed on a 3-2 vote. Such screening will instead be performed in-house.

"There's no better place to find the right fit for your team than your team," Schrimpsher said.

The council did, however, remain open to the possibility of retaining an independent third party to perform background checks on prospective employees such as new police recruits.

Ordinance 2019-1 was approved on a combined first and second reading. It updates the town's zoning map to make it consistent with the current comprehensive plan and was recommended for approval by the planning commission.

Two final agenda items added by Councilmember Schrimpsher were addressed by the council.

The first, which passed unanimously, directs the mayor to send a letter of support to the state legislature regarding House Bill 10-64. The bill would clarify language on the police "use of force statement" modified by the passage of Initiative 940. The language as worded in the initiative has been strongly opposed by police departments and unions across the state. The proposed revised language would bring it more into line with national standards.

The final item, which was not voted on but which may become an item for future discussion, was a proposal by Schrimpsher to introduce term limits for town offices. Schrimpsher expressed his opinion that having term limits would be better for democracy and allow broader participation in town government. Dunn countered the proposal, stating that such limits already exist in the form of elections.

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28.