Neighborhood spat spills into county council race

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

MILL CREEK — A property dispute has spilled into the Snohomish County political arena, with neighbors of Republican county council candidate Pam Pruitt mailing more than 12,000 letters urging people not to vote for her.

The green, one-page letter arrived at households throughout the 4th Council District in south Snohomish County, telling residents that, "We are concerned that Pam Pruitt’s flawed value system will be a liability in public office."

Warner and Ellan Nelson, the authors and Pruitt’s neighbors since 1983, say they did it because Pruitt’s handling of a misplaced fence was high-handed and uncooperative.

But Pruitt charged it was a carefully timed political hit from a couple that has misrepresented the dispute and contributed $500 to the Democratic candidate for the office. "It’s a blatant personal attack," said the former two-term Mill Creek city councilwoman and Mill Creek mayor. "No one has ever questioned my integrity and honesty before."

The mailing comes just two weeks before the Sept. 18 primary election decides a hotly contested race between Pruitt and state representative Dave Schmidt. The two are competing for the Republican Party slot in the general election race for the council seat.

Pruitt said she feared the letter, coming out so near the election and with little time to respond, could hurt her campaign.

"I think it certainly does quite a bit of damage," she said.

That’s fine with the Nelsons, who said they went door-to-door with 3,000 similar letters in 1997, shortly before Pruitt lost the election for the council seat by less than 400 votes to Democrat Barbara Cothern, who’s not running for reelection. The Nelsons say they did it without any help, with $4,300 of their own money. Their $500 donation to Democratic council candidate Dave Gossett, the Mountlake Terrace mayor, was spurred largely by opposition to Pruitt, Warner said.

Both Gossett and Schmidt said they had nothing to do with the mailing.

The two neighbors in the upscale Mill Creek development agree on some facts about the dispute.

A fence installed between the homes didn’t follow the property line, effectively turning about 1,500 square feet of the Nelson’s land into part of Pruitt’s back yard. This happened before either of them lived in the homes. Both sides say they believed the fence followed the property line when they moved in.

The mistake cropped up in 1996, when a nearby developer surveyed the land to install a waterline.

Warner Nelson said when they called Pruitt about the problem, she referred them to an attorney. That attorney rejected the Nelsons’ request for payment for the land and instead urged the couple to sign over the property, according to correspondence provided by the Nelsons.

The Nelsons said they were upset both by Pruitt’s unwillingness to buy the land and her use of a lawyer.

"To us it wasn’t something that required a lawyer. It was something that two neighbors should have been able to work out," he said.

The letter details their complaints and alleges Pruitt knew of the boundary line problem for years. Pruitt, however, said she didn’t know of the problem until the Nelsons alerted her to it.

She said she has tried to resolve the issue without burdening her neighbors. Pruitt said she spent thousands of dollars for a professional survey and legal work to save her and the Nelsons from any confusion and has offered to pay for the Nelsons’ survey.

Since the fence was already there, she said changing the legal boundary amounted to simply redrawing a line on paper.

"Nobody’s really lost anything they had except on paper," she said.

The Nelsons, however, weren’t swayed from their campaign to keep Pruitt out of public office.

"We can always be a thorn in her side if she wants to keep running for office," Ellan Nelson said.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to cornwall@heraldnet.com.

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