Opinion

Poster-child for conflict of interest | As I See It

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

By David Dehlendorf

Special to the Journal

The public is justifiably outraged when executives of federal regulatory agencies and members of the U.S. Congress join lobbying groups for the very industries subject to their oversight. But at least they are required to leave their government positions first.

That's just common sense. Even if there weren't federal laws to prevent this abuse, the public wouldn't stand for it.

Can't happen in San Juan County, you say. Not true, as demonstrated by the fact that Brian Ehrmantraut, a member of the San Juan County Planning Commission for at least four years and its chairman in 2012 and 2013, recently joined the board of the Common Sense Alliance, a local special interest group.

Although there are differences, such as the apparent lack of financial remuneration, there is an even more egregious element to this local situation, as Ehrmantraut did not even bother to resign from our planning commission in self-recognition of his conflict of interest.

Ehrmantraut's conflict of interest is made even worse given the fact that the CSA is in the midst of a legal challenge to the update of the critical areas ordinance approved in the last two years by both the planning commission and County Council. This legal challenge, which is ongoing, resulted in the ordinance being sent back last year to the planning commission, with one of its members who worked on the county's response being, you guessed it, Brian Ehrmantraut. Talk about conflict of interest.

The CSA is also expected to challenge the update to the Shoreline Master Program also recently approved by the commission and the council. And if it does, guess who will work on the county's response?

Despite its claims to the contrary, the CSA is a special interest, lobbying, and advocacy group. Its primary reason for existence is to gut the critical areas ordinance and shoreline master program in service to a small minority of property owners who put their own personal interests before those of the health of the environment of our beautiful county.

Ehrmantraut is now the third CSA board member on the planning commission, with the difference being that Mike Carlson and Tim Blanchard were appointed to the commission after they had already founded/joined the CSA, which is bad enough. But this pales in comparison to the Ehrmantraut case.

It is important to note that there are no board members from any environmental group on the planning commission. If one were to apply for a position on the commission, you can imagine the outcry from the CSA and its supporters.

The most significant difference between the Ehrmantraut case and the abuse in Washington, D.C. is that Ehrmantraut failed to resign from the planning commission. Executives of federal regulatory agencies and members of the U.S. Congress is expected to serve in the best interests of all U.S. citizens and of their voting districts, respectively. That is why they must resign their government positions first in order to go to work for the special interests of a lobbying or advocacy group.

The public has the same expectations in our county. But obviously the CSA and Brian Ehrmantraut don't. It remains to be seen whether or not the public's expectations are shared by the county council and our prosecuting attorney. So stay tuned.

As a board member of the CSA and a member of the planning commission, whose interests does Ehrmantraut serve? I think it's obvious, but readers need to make their own judgments.

If you agree with my position on this issue, please speak out with letters to the editor and in personal conversations with family and friends. And also contact Bob Jarman, Rick Hughes, and Jamie Stephens at council@sanjuanco.com to tell them that this form of local abuse of public trust must end.

I trust islanders to do the right thing and to take the necessary action to eliminate this abuse and to assure that it doesn't happen again.

— Editor’s note: Concern over political affiliations of the planning commission were aired by Mr. Dehlendorf in the Oct. 9 edition of the Journal, “Whose interest does this panel serve?”, pg. 7.

 

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