Whose interest does this panel serve? | Guest Column

David Dehlendorf   - Journal file photo
David Dehlendorf
— image credit: Journal file photo

By David Dehlendorf

Open Letter to planning commissioners Mike Carlson, Tim Blanchard, and John Lackey:

Please answer the three questions below regarding a specific CAO-related issue where you play simultaneous and conflicting roles as members of the San Juan County Planning Commission and as directors of the board of the Common Sense Alliance.

The public has a right to know your answers given that you are public officials appointed by the County Council to serve on the planning commission in the best interests of the public without any irreconcilable bias.

The public also has the right to expect that as public officials you do not violate: a) the laws of the county and state regarding conflicts of interest; b) the principles of good governance, common sense, and fairness; and c) in the case of Mr. Blanchard, the ethics guidelines of the Washington State Bar Association.

First, some background. As directors and decision-makers of the CSA, the three of you recently voted to approve its petition filed on Oct. 1 with San Juan County Superior Court. This lawsuit asks the court to reverse the recent ruling of the Growth Management Hearings Board that rejected all of the CSA’s challenges, and upheld eight of the challenges of Friends of the San Juans, that were both filed earlier in the year to the revised CAO approved by the County Council in December.

The planning commission on which you now serve was recently tasked by the county council to draft its response to the GMHB ruling in favor of the Friends’ challenges. Therein lies a serious conflict.

However, the eight issues now before the planning commission are not isolated to Friends’ successful challenges. Instead, several if not all of these issues are also the subject of the CSA petition filed on Oct. 1, although with an opposing slant, as well of the CSA’s original filing with the GMHB and of its comments to Friends’ filing during the subsequent GMHB hearings.

So, the three of you have conflicting roles in the deliberations before the planning commission and San Juan County Superior Court.

Here are the questions:

1) Whose interests do you serve on the Planning Commission, those of the public or of the CSA and its supporters?

2) Do you have a conflict of interest under county and state law, as well as under the principles of good governance, common sense and fairness, resulting from your dual roles on both sides of the lawsuit just filed by the CSA?

3) Does Mr. Blanchard believe that his dual roles violate any of the ethics guidelines of the Washington State Bar Association?

In your response, please do not insult the public by arguing that any Friends’ director has a similar conflict of interest. To claim so is a red herring, as there are no directors or decision-makers of Friends sitting on the planning commission, Marine Resources Committee, or any other citizen board appointed by the county council.

If there were a Friends’ director on a committee and if Friends were to file a lawsuit that involves deliberations before the same committee, I would agree that the Friends’ director should recuse him/herself. But there is no such situation today.

I look forward to your reply to the above questions.


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