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UPDATE: Island County commissioner concedes defeat

Island County Commissioner John Dean has thrown in the towel, conceding defeat to Camano Island Republican Kelly Emerson, but the Tea Party member says she has no plans to drop her lawsuit against Dean and two other county employees over an October political mailer.

Emerson said Thursday afternoon that she was glad the race was over and that she was honored that voters chose her as their newest representative. But, she also said she and her husband, Kenneth, have little choice but to move forward with the lawsuit.

“We’re being forced as individuals to protect our rights,” Emerson said.

The lawsuit, which asks for an unspecified sum of damages, was filed in Island County Superior Court the day before Election Day. It names Dean, Island County Planning Director Bob Pederson and Building Inspector Ron Slechta, and alleges civil rights violations, defamation, and violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

The claims all revolve around a political flyer that Dean mailed to 20,000 residents in October and the Emerson’s failure to secure a building permit before beginning construction on an addition to their Camano Island home.

Considering that the lawsuit is from a commissioner-elect, one that ran on a campaign of reducing county spending, it’s raised more than a few eyebrows. However, Emerson maintains that any money the lawsuit ends up costing the county will not be on her or her husband’s heads.

“The lawsuit is not against the county,” Emerson said. “It’s against the individuals.”

They can’t be held responsible if county officials elect to get the prosecutor’s office or the county’s insurance company involved, she said. In fact, steering department heads and elected leaders away from practices and policies that put the public’s treasury at risk will be one of her first priorities when she takes office Jan. 1.

When asked just what she had in mind, Emerson said she didn’t yet have any specific plans on how to accomplish that. Her goal, she said, will be to “re-establish customer service” by making sure government remembers who it serves.

Dean conceded defeat Wednesday evening, Nov. 10, following the latest batch of election results. The count showed that Emerson was leading by 275 votes, with only an estimated 50 ballots left to verify. Emerson took 50.4 percent of the vote while Dean claimed 49.6 percent.

“I’m not disgruntled or angry... I accept it and celebrate it as the will of the people,” Dean said.

“This is part of the democratic process and is how our system works,” he said.

As he sees it, suing your constituents is not part of the democratic process, however. He said the move “doesn’t make any sense,” and marks Emerson as an adversary of the people she’s about to lead. As he has in previous statements to the press, he urged her to think about the pubic and drop the lawsuit.

Dean believes he lost the race for several reasons. First, he said he was one of many elected leaders across the country that fell victim to a wave of discontent with incumbents that washed its way down the political ladder from Washington D.C. to Whidbey Island.

Misconceptions and a general lack of understanding by the public about the depth of the county’s financial situation was another likely factor, he said. It fueled widespread criticism about Proposition 1, the commissioners’ proposed property tax solution that failed in the August primary election, and led voters to believe challengers who promised to change economic realities beyond the control of any elected official.

“It’s the belief that everything will be fixed with a new commissioner,” he said. “I think people don’t see the depth of the problem.”

Dean said he and his fellow board members have done their best to listen to the concerns from the public, and believes he has been a great voice for moderation, always doing his best to balance polarizing issues such as public safety and protecting the environment. It’s unfortunate, he said, that so many seem to believe that Republicans stand for one while Democrats stand for the other.

“It’s a total fabrication and a fantasy,” Dean said.

The truth is that county commissioners are more like the CEO’s of a business, and checking extremist points of view at the door is vital because you represent more than just a single group, Dean said. The results of this election, which came down to less than 300 votes, should make that fact abundantly clear, he said.

“Really, a message like that is you have to listen to everyone,” he said.

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