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40 ballots, but no winner

Although the temporary chairman and observers admit to losing count, the Pierce County Land Conservation Committee members voted about 40 times last week without choosing a chairman.

Two members were consistently nominated Wednesday. The vote ended each time with a 3-3 tie as the two sides dug in their heels, and the nomination and voting process was repeated time after time. Committee members started voting by a show of hands, switched to paper ballots for about an hour and went back to raising hands for the last votes.

Finally, Supervisor Mel Pittman, one of the nominees, offered to serve as vice chairman and relinquished the chairman's seat to Supervisor Jerry Kosin.

Although details are hard to come by, Pittman said the next day the division among committee members "goes back to" former Land Conservation Department head David Sander. On April 7, RiverTown Newspaper Group submitted an open records request for copies of grievances filed by Sander and of the resignation agreement between him and the county. Those records haven't been released yet.

"I believe there is a lot of mistrust and lack of truthful information that has not come out yet," said Pittman of the situation.

"Many of us view Dave as the best manager in the county. He was really quite good," said Supervisor Rich Purdy, who is new to the committee, but chaired the election process last week. "(Sander) was hired as the director of the future because he saw what was coming to our county."

He isn't sure what happened when, but Purdy said at some point some committee members began to worry the department would be viewed as an "enforcer" and wouldn't be able to work with farmers.

Purdy agrees that relations with Sander are at the center of the division: "There got to be a split on the committee over the support of Dave."

Five county board members and one citizen member serve on land conservation.

The three supporting Pittman were citizen member Don Acker, Supervisor Don Rohl and Pittman. The three supporting Kosin were supervisors Bill Gilles, Rich Purdy and Kosin.

"I felt it was time to move forward," said Pittman, explaining his reasons for breaking the gridlock. He said one committee member's comment he was willing to continue voting all night was said in seriousness.

Pittman said he ran for chairman because he had support from committee members and from people working in the department.

He withdrew to help settle the conflict, said Pittman. "I didn't want to keep stirring the waters, turbulent waters here."

Several times between votes, Pittman suggested using an alternative method of choosing a chairman.