COEUR d'ALENE - The Secretary of State's office said Tuesday the 75-day timeline for recall petitioners to gather signatures includes the time it takes the Kootenai County Clerk to certify them.
The letter sent by Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said that interpretation is the official position of the state's chief election officer and intended to help clarify a dispute between Kootenai County and the city of Coeur d'Alene in regard to how long signature collectors have to collect signatures in their attempt to oust four city officials.
"Though reasonable minds could differ, it is my interpretation that the 'certified signatures' can have only one meaning, i.e., signatures that have been certified by the County Clerk," the letter signed by Ysursa states.
The letter is the second one sent by the Secretary of State's office to the city and county.
The first letter, sent April 18, said Coeur d'Alene's interpretation of the timeline statute - which included the certification timeline in the 75-day window - was defensible. The second letter sent Tuesday said the city's interpretation is the state's official stance as well.
"This one says it's the interpretation of the office - that's the way it is," said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, calling the letter "more forceful or definitive."
Both Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County asked the Secretary of State's office to issue an official position after the first letter was sent, Hurst said.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh and Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes said Tuesday county officials will meet today to discuss whether the letter will affect a pending suit filed by the county. McHugh filed a suit in 1st District Court last week asking a judge to settle the timeline question.
"We're going to meet tomorrow morning and talk about it, but I'd say no," Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes said when asked if the second letter would affect the pending suit.
The question centered around whether the 15 business days the county clerk is allowed to certify petition signatures be included or added to the 75-day window petitioners have to collect them.
At the beginning of April, the Secretary of State's office had said the 15-day certification time frame should be added on top of the 75-day signature gathering period. But it reversed its position after reviewing the statutes governing the recall process in light of Coeur d'Alene's interpretation that the 15 days be included.
Tuesday's letter reiterated that stance.