An Old Town
Lacey lies just to the east of the state capital, Olympia. Settlement first reached the area in the late 1840s. In 1891 local residents applied for a post office and requested the name Woodland, but it was taken. Residents filed a second petition for another name. A real estate investor, O. C. Lacey, was involved with the second petition, and the new post office was named after him.
Growth in Lacey rapidly accelerated after the end of World War II in 1945, and by the late 1950s Lacey had replaced Tumwater as Thurston County's second largest community. In 1966 the question of whether to incorporate Lacey as a third-class city was put on the ballot.
The Fringe Area Objects
Considerable opposition to incorporation developed in what became known as the "Olympia fringe area." This "fringe area" was located in the western part of the proposed city of Lacey. Though it abutted the eastern boundary of Olympia, the fringe area was not part of the City of Olympia but was instead part of unincorporated Thurston County. Thurston County had the right to delete up to 20 percent of the area that Lacey sought to incorporate, and many expected the county to use the option to delete the Olympia fringe area. But the County did not do so, and this set the stage for a battle royale after the vote to incorporate passed.
Lacey voted on the incorporation question on November 8, 1966. Results released the next day showed the election too close to call, with the measure leading by 240 votes out of nearly 3,000 cast. However, more than 300 absentee ballots remained to be counted, and the question was hardly settled. Out of 27 precincts that had voted, several in the Olympia fringe area had opposed incorporation by a wide margin; one precinct opposed it by 85 percent to 15 percent.
The county released an additional count of more than 100 absentee ballots the week after the election. Although the additional absentee ballots were evenly divided on incorporation, it continued to lead by 240 votes and it was now apparent that it would pass. Then innuendos of voting irregularities began to circulate, mainly whether or not the voters who voted were qualified to vote and whether qualified voters had been excluded from voting.
The Thurston County Canvassing Board did not certify the election by its deadline of November 23, drawing the ire of Washington Secretary of State Lud Kramer (1932-2004). Kramer wrote Thurston County Auditor Wes Leach, urging certification be completed and advising "failure to return the total votes counted, if they can be ascertained with reasonable certainty, will be a misdemeanor" (The Daily Olympian).
Incorporation or Annexation?
The Board finally certified the election on December 5, 1966, and Lacey was incorporated that day. Final results showed that 54 percent of voters voted to incorporate. But at the same time, citizens of the Olympia fringe area were taking steps to be removed from Lacey. One petition was drafted the night of December 5 to delete the fringe area from Lacey and annex it to Olympia. A special election to decide the annexation question was set for January 24, 1967.
A few days later a second petition was drafted seeking to take a smaller part of the same fringe area out of Lacey and letting it revert to unincorporated Thurston County. The new Lacey City Council supported the second petition, noting in a statement: "Lacey ... has never intended to include areas which did not desire to become a part of the city" (The Daily Olympian). The statement reiterated that the Olympia fringe area had been included in the area to be incorporated into Lacey because it had been expected that the County Commission would delete it.
Lacey's new mayor, A. G. Homann (1897-1975), and 10 other city officials were sworn in during a driving rainstorm in Lacey's new South Sound Mall on the evening of December 12. One of the first official acts of the Lacey City Council three days later was to set up a special election in response to the second petition. The election was scheduled for February 14, 1967, to determine whether or not this smaller fringe area within the Olympia fringe area would revert to unincorporated Thurston County. Homann said that if annexation to Olympia was approved in the January 24 election, then Lacey would void the second election on February 14. It did not turn out to be that simple.
On January 24, 1967, voters decided by a two-thirds majority to approve annexation of the Olympia fringe area to Olympia. It was assumed that this would do away with the need for the second election, and Auditor Leach said he would await the cancellation of the February 14 election "as a matter of formality" (The Daily Olympian).
Instead, before the January 24 election could be certified, a group of seven residents in the McKinley-Stratford-San Mar-Lilly Road area, which was part of the Olympia fringe area, filed a legal action to prevent certification. They obtained a temporary restraining order in Thurston County Superior Court and sought an injunction to prevent certification of the election and annexation of the Olympia fringe area to Olympia. The City of Lacey joined the action with the plaintiffs.
The hearing on the request for an injunction was held on February 14 and 15 in front of Judge John Day, a visiting judge from Benton County. The arguments focused on allegations of irregular voting procedures and precinct voting locations not being convenient to voters. The plaintiffs further argued that proper notice of the January 24 election was not given and that the area being annexed to Olympia was not contiguous to the city. A cast of witnesses testified, including Auditor Leach, Olympia Mayor Neil McKay, and Richard Lawrence, manager of The Daily Olympian.
On February 28, Judge Day denied the request for an injunction and dismissed the case. The election was quickly certified and the Olympia fringe area was annexed to Olympia. Still, the plaintiffs appealed Day's decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.'
On September 21, 1967, the Supreme Court affirmed Day's ruling without dissent, thus ending the saga of Lacey's incorporation.