Emersons fight Island County’s denial of building permit

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson appealed her recently denied building permit.

Unless the matter is forwarded to another authority, she may have the chance to serve as a judge in her own case.

Last week, Emerson and her husband, Ken Emerson, opted to fight the rejection of their long-contested building permit.

The permit was rejected by outgoing planning chief Bob Pederson.



THE EMERSONS filed a notice and statement of appeal April 11 with the Island County Clerk.

Under county code, such decisions are decided by the Board of Commissioners. Emerson, a Republican, currently serves as the board’s chairwoman.

Emerson declined to discuss her plans, specifically whether she will recuse herself and leave her fate in the hands of her fellow commissioners.

Emerson said last week, she will not make a decision until after discussing the matter with her attorney, Justin Parks of the Bellevue-based law firm, Romero Park P.S.

“We have not had that conversation or made a decision,” Emerson said Monday during an interview with the Whidbey News-Times.



COMMISSIONER Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat, also declined to elaborate on her previous position. She repeated that elected officials have a standard of ethics to uphold when it comes to conflicts of interest, but that she will not voice an opinion until after conferring with county attorneys.

“I’m just not ready to go into it,” she said.

Republican Commissioner Jill Johnson did weigh in on the issue.

Johnson said she said is hopeful that Emerson will step away from the issue voluntarily without any nudging from fellow board members.

“I’m hoping we don’t have to ask, but I’d be very uncomfortable if she stayed in the conversation,” Johnson said.



THIS ISSUE has been controversial and polarizing, and Johnson said she believes it would be better if the outcome were decided by a neighboring county’s board of commissioners or executives.

She investigated this week whether that might be possible, and said she is hoping to have an answer by Friday.

“Regardless of what decision is made [by Island County commissioners], there will be people who think it’s wrong,” Johnson said.

“I just think it would be cleaner for the public if someone else reviews this and makes a decision,” she said.

“It de-politicizes it.”



IF A neighboring body of elected officials won’t address the issue for Island County, another possibility might be county Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink. He is already set to hear the second half of Emerson’s case.

Along with denying the commissioner’s building permit, Pederson, who resigned in March, also ordered the Emerson’s to pay $37,000 in fines that were levied more than two years ago.

That decision is being appealed by the Emersons and will go before Bobbink for resolution.



LIKE THE building permit, however, the fine issue may at some point return before the board of commissioners.

Should Bobbink uphold Pederson’s order, and the Emerson’s refuse to pay, legal action to place a lien on their property would have to be initiated by the commissioners.

Such a decision will likely be months away, according to interim Planning Chief Keith Higman.

Scheduling is yet to be confirmed, but Bobbink isn’t expected to hear the case until June.

As for the building permit, even if it’s not passed to another authority, it was unclear Monday when the issue might go before the board.


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