Taking another look at the council and the Portland Fair controversy | Guest Column

By David Dehlendorf

(Editor’s note: An article in the July 22 edition of the Journal “Wetlands permit resolved on San Juan Island property” described San Juan County Council’s statement that county manager Mike Thomas was not in the wrong in reference to a wetlands evaluation on a San Juan property. In the Nov. 4 edition of the Journal you can find the article “San Juan County sued for alleged withholding of public record files,” which details a lawsuit filed Oct. 9 against San Juan County and county prosecutor Randall Gaylord that alleges the county and its employees violated Washington State’s Public Records Act.)

In her Nov. 4 Guest Column in the Journal, Shireene Hale discussed the misconduct by Bob Jarman, council member, and Mike Thomas, county manager, related to a 2014 building permit application and related wetlands determination for a property in Portland Fair Estates where both live on San Juan Island. Not only did their misconduct occur, but it subsequently led to the waste of substantial time and money by the county and taxpayers, including responding to two related lawsuits. All of this could have been avoided if only Jarman and Thomas had followed established procedures in the county code.

But as described below, there is more to this story that has not yet been disclosed.

Concerned about the Portland Fair situation, Hale attended the council meeting on July 13 intending to deliver constructive comments during the public access period about the mishandling of the permit application and wetlands determination. As a former manager in the planning department, Hale has in-depth knowledge of the subject, having helped write the relevant ordinance. It was Hale’s intent that morning to urge the council to avoid such misconduct in the future.

However, Hale did not deliver her remarks on July 13 because of coercion by Thomas and Pamela Morais, the county’s Manager of Human Resources.

As disclosed to me personally by Hale, she was sitting in the audience before the start of the July 13 meeting with notes on her lap outlining what she intended to say. Suddenly Morais appeared, looked over her shoulder at her notes, and said something to the effect that “I see from your notes what you are going to talk about – you don’t want to talk about that – you don’t know what is going on.” Thomas joined the discussion and they both tried to convince Hale not to speak. They then in essence said “your involvement is interfering with what we want to do” with a related whistle blower complaint. The argument that followed was “not friendly” according to Hale. She felt coerced and did not deliver her intended remarks. Fortunately, Hale decided to deliver her remarks during public access the next morning. She also informed the council about the actions of Thomas and Morais the previous day. Hale’s comments can be viewed at: www.sanjuanco.com/council/displayAgenda.aspx?agendaid=1629#home.

Thomas’ and Morais’ coercion of Hale was unethical, a form of intimidation and censorship, and perhaps illegal. The public has every right to speak to the council during the public access period without the threat of such intervention and coercion. I have personally asked the council to reprimand Thomas for his behavior. The council is unwilling to disclose whether or not it did, citing employee privacy policy. I urge the public to join me in being vigilant to make sure the described coercion was a one-time event and does not happen again to Hale or to any other citizen.

Shireene Hale contributed to this piece.