Opinion

Rule of one? Canceled contract smacks of political payback, micro-management | As I See It

David Dehlendorf - Contributed photo
David Dehlendorf
— image credit: Contributed photo

By David Dehlendorf

When our county’s most recent charter amendment was approved in 2012, voters returned to the county council the executive powers that had been taken away when the original charter was approved in 2005.

As voters on both sides were justifiably concerned about the council's potential abuse of these powers, the charter commission built in a provision (Section 2.4.2 of our Home Rule Charter) that gives these powers only to the entire council. It specifically prohibits individual council members from giving orders to managers and supervisors.

As demonstrated by recent action by council member Bob Jarman, these fears were completely justified. In violation of the amended charter, Mr. Jarman recently ordered the cancellation of a county contract executed only 12 days earlier.

On July 10, Sam Gibboney, director of the Department of Community Development, and Mike Thomas, county manager, executed a contract with Lovel Pratt with a value of up to $5,000.

The contract’s purpose was to advise the county on matters related to oil spill prevention, readiness, and response. Because the contract was for less than the required threshold, it did not need or receive prior approval of the council.

On July 22, only 12 days after it was executed, Ms. Gibboney delivered a letter to Ms. Pratt advising her that the contract had been cancelled, with no reason given. Under the contract, the county acted within its rights to cancel it for any reason.

I have personally spoken about the contract’s termination with Ms. Gibboney, Mr. Thomas, and all three council members.

Ms. Gibboney told Ms. Pratt that Mr. Thomas had instructed her to cancel the contract. Mr. Thomas said he acted under direction from Mr. Jarman. Mr. Jarman acknowledged this fact in a personal conversation with me.

Moreover, there is no record of an official meeting of the council to discuss and act on this matter. Council members Jamie Stephens and Rick Hughes both told me they did not give any orders to Mr. Thomas on the cancellation.

Mr. Jarman’s action has shown a complete disregard for our county’s charter by circumventing its requirement that only the full council can direct county employees. He has also demonstrated his willingness to submit to political pressure and to micromanage without authority, while ignoring impacts on the morale of managers who have had their authority undermined.

I also believe Mr. Thomas displayed questionable judgment by not questioning Mr. Jarman’s authority to “direct” him on this matter.

There are other reasons for the public to be concerned. First, it is inherently unfair to cancel a contract with anyone, let alone a person of Ms. Pratt’s experience, capability, and integrity, only 12 days after it was signed. She is arguably the most qualified individual in our county to perform the work specified in the contract.

Second, the cancellation has the potential to delay and put at risk the success of the county council's oil spill risk strategies of prevention, readiness, and response.

Please contact the county council at council@sanjuanco.com and ask it to annul Mr. Jarman’s action by reinstating Lovel Pratt’s contract

This case cannot be allowed to set a precedent for similar future action by individual council members. The public needs to remain vigilant so it doesn't happen again.

— Editor’s note: San Juan Island’s David Dehlendorf periodically contributes guest opinion on local politics and county government.

 

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