String of feeble decisions, poorly made | Guest column

By Alex MacLeod

Anyone who has watched the six-member County Council since its creation in 2006 has probably been struck by how inept it has been in its leadership of the county.

While the charter’s creation of a professional administrator has, at least in theory, been an improvement in the county’s ability to manage its day-to-day responsibilities, the expansion of the council has undone any improvements voters expected in approving the charter.

The council’s endless dithering on solid waste, ultimately sent to voters to resolve, is one example. It’s meddling in the long and valued tradition of citizen-volunteer advisory boards — the Fair Board and the Ferry Advisory Committee are but two outstanding examples —is another. And its continuing failure to attend in any meaningful way to the issue most central to the county’s economy and quality of life — ferry service — would be embarrassing were it not also so critical.

Now, it is about to demonstrate its counterproductive expertise by approving a “critical areas” ordinance that will blanket the county with new land-use regulations, most of which are incidental to protecting our natural environment yet create a regulatory maze for property owners.

For example, prior to approving the CAO’s 40-page “General Section” Council Chairwoman Patty Miller asked the county’s CAO expert if a property owner, under these new rules, would need to get county permission before building an 8-by-10 foot garden shed, something that under current rules requires no permit or approval, even if the shed were more than 200 feet back from the shoreline, and 300 feet from an identified wetland.

The answer, after a good deal of head scratching to figure out what the rules actually mean, was ‘yes,’ even if the landowner just wanted to make a garden plot, not build a shed. It would “just” require a trip to the planning office in Friday Harbor to accomplish.

Despite the rather astonishing answer, Miller and four other council members voted to approve the rules as written. So, what gives?

Having watched government agencies and elective bodies rather closely for several decades, I see this council falling into the common failing of being captured by highly paid consultants (well over a million dollars has gone their way already in this process), friendly bureaucrats and aggressive special interests and finding itself operating in the reality that’s been created for it, in the process losing sight of how real life is lived by the citizen taxpayers they are paid to represent.

The ultimate failure of this multiyear process has been its inability to demonstrate real environmental damage occurring under existing land-use rules.

Had it, even these extreme regulations would be wildly cheered and would have occurred years ago at the insistence of the county’s citizens.

Perhaps if enough of us speak up now the council will be reacquainted with reality outside the rat hole into which it’s fallen and step back from this overwrought, unnecessary and burdensome ordinance. Once that’s happened, we can work to reduce the council back to three members and hope for better outcomes.

Alex MacLeod has been been a Shaw Island property owner since the early 1980s and full-time county residents for nearly a decade. He was chairman of the county’s Ferry Advisory Committee for four years before being voted off the committee by


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