By David Dehlendorf
Transparency, balance, fairness, and non-partisanship.
Aren't those among the attributes that the three new County Council members elected in November claimed they stood for on the campaign trail? And continue to claim today?
And aren't they what the public expects from all council members? But it hasn't quite worked out that way, which the council demonstrated by its recent irresponsible appointment of Tim Blanchard to the planning commission.
In a highly opaque manner, the council appointed Mr. Blanchard of Orcas Island to the commission Jan. 29. Mr. Blanchard is not just any appointee, as he is a board member of the Common Sense Alliance, a special-interest property rights group, and its internal legal advisor. He is now, together with Mike Carlson and John Lackey, the third CSA board member on the PC.
The presence of three CSA board members on the PC should raise concern at any time. But these are not normal times, because on Feb. 4 CSA filed legal action against our county with the Growth Management Hearings Board in an attempt to block full implementation of the recently passed critical areas ordinance.
So we now not only have three CSA board members on the PC, but three involved in deciding at the CSA board level to take legal action against the county, which will cost all county taxpayers to defend. And as board members, Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Carlson played a key role in preparing the legal action itself.
The composition of the PC is now unbalanced. It does not include any board member or staff of Friends of the San Juans, nor of any other organization with contrarian views to those of the CSA. Among the reasons there have been no Friends board members on the PC is because of strong opposition from past council members. Isn't this inconsistent with the position today of CSA and its supporters that there is nothing inappropriate about Mr. Blanchard's appointment?
Moreover, the council's Jan. 29 agenda did not even mention that a vote would be taken on his application. There was no opportunity for public comment before the vote.
The open position Mr. Blanchard applied for was not even advertised in any print or online publication. It's only mention was on the county website, which has minimal readership. Given the well-known, controversial, and divisive issues to be considered by the PC this year and next, the council owed it to the public to at least listen to public comment. Instead, his appointment smacks of an inside job.
Not only was there no opportunity for public comment, but the council approved the nomination without any discussion.
How irresponsible it was not to do so when the application form that Mr. Blanchard filled out states in the section entitled, "Conflict of Interest", that, "It is crucial to have a balanced citizen advisory committee with all stakeholders and community viewpoints represented. To avoid any potential conflict of interest or questions about the appearance of fairness, please list each organization which you serve in a decision making capacity, your position, and its mission".
To Mr. Blanchard's credit, he disclosed the CSA, although he failed to mention it was preparing legal action against the county. So what did the council do with this information? It completely ignored it; no discussion whatsoever.
What could the council have possibly been thinking? It needs to reverse Mr. Blanchard's appointment and make it a condition for future appointments to citizen committees that applicants are not involved in any legal action against the county. No more foxes in the hen house.
Full disclosure: My wife Susan is on the planning commission. She is not on the board of Friends of the San Juans. Susan played no role in drafting this guest column nor my recent letter to the county council on this same subject. She has also never been involved in any legal action against the county.