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Effort to recall Snohomish County sheriff likely over after judge's ruling

Volunteers from the Salish Sea Chapter of National Federation of Democratic Women collect signatures to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney.
Committee to Recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney
Volunteers from the Salish Sea Chapter of National Federation of Democratic Women collect signatures to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. Monday: A recall petition against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney is dead. The campaign needed to turn in 45,000 signatures by the end of business Tuesday. They filed a motion for reconsideration of the deadline, citing the challenges of collecting signatures during the pandemic. That request was denied by Snohomish County Judge Jennifer Langbehn. She said the campaign should have filed their request with the governor or the state of Washington.  The group says they do not have enough signatures to put the measure before voters. The two main issues were Fortney’s refusal to enforce the governor’s stay-at-home orders and his reinstatement of three deputies who were fired by his predecessor.

Original story: Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney is facing a recall effort. Signatures are due by the end of business hours on Tuesday. The deadline stands, despite requests for an extension. The county auditor says he doesn't have the legal authority to extend it, despite the pandemic.

The campaign needs roughly 45,000 valid signatures to put the recall before voters. Campaign chairman Colin McMahon filed a motion for reconsideration of the deadline with Snohomish County Superior Court, and there will be a hearing on the extension request at 1 p.m. Monday with Judge Jennifer Langbehn. You can watch the livestream of that hearing here.

Canvassers have been out for months. Among them is Traci Rivers, a volunteer who lives in Mountlake Terrace and sports a colorful "tacotastic" fleece and guacamole-colored hat along with her cheerful  demeanor. She says this keeps her cozy and comfortable as she door-knocks with campaign materials.  

“Well, I'm unemployed, and this is actually something I feel kind of passionate about," she says on a front porch in Bothell. "So I’m volunteering my time to help drop literature at people's doors because we can't petition at grocery stores right now.”

Instead, they’re leaving petitions at homes and asking people to sign and mail them in. Rivers says there are two main issues.

Adam Fortney is sworn in as Snohomish County sheriff.
Credit Snohomish County Sheriff's Office
Adam Fortney is sworn in as Snohomish County sheriff.

“One is that Sheriff Fortney refused to enforce the mask laws. And he said that he just blanket would not enforce them at all,“ Rivers says.

She says the mask mandate is what has motivated her to knock on hundreds of doors.

She lost her job because of the pandemic. She was a rep for a local trade-show marketing company that had to downsize.

“I think this would have been done so much faster if people would have just worn their masks. I think it's drawn out this whole pandemic so much longer that it had to be. It’s made everything a lot more complicated,” she says.

“It shouldn't be political. Wearing masks should not be political.”    

She feels it’s an act of compassion.

“I care about you as a person, so therefore I will wear a mask. Whether it helps or not, it can't hurt,” she says.

There are actually three charges against Fortney on the petition; two of them are related to the mask issue. The third charge addresses police accountability. It’s about Fortney’s decision as soon as he took office to reinstate three deputies who had been fired by the previous sheriff for misconduct.

Fortney did not respond to a request for comment, but has said their termination was political. And on social media, he has said the governor’s stay-at-home orders are unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in September that the recall petition could go forward with the three charges. It issued an opinion in January explaining that ruling.

The sheriff’s public information officer also declined to comment on the recall effort, but provided links to the news releases, and within them, Fortney’s detailed rehiring letters. In them, the incidents in question are described, and he explains his reasons for reinstating the deputies.

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