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Ousted Coupeville planner may get contract extension
Larry Kwarsick, the ousted mayor of Langley, may get another month working as a special planning consultant for Coupeville.
Already weeks past his original 90-day contract, the Town Council will consider a recommendation by Mayor Nancy Conard Tuesday to extend Kwarsick’s contract another 30 days, until May 31.
Conard said the town has received seven applications for the planning director position from people around the state. She said she expects to have someone hired by the end of the month.
She’s not sure when the new planner will report for work, however, which is why she’s seeking an extension for Kwarsick.
It’s possible that he won’t be needed for the entire 30 days, she said.
“I’m just trying to cover my bases,” Conard said.
Per state law, mayors have the prerogative to select and hire their own staff, but Conard said she plans to have up to two members of the Town Council sit in on the interviews.
Kwarsick served as the town’s part-time planning chief for the past 10 years, but the conditions of his employment changed in January when the council accepted his request to terminate his contract.
The month before, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor malfeasance in Island County Superior Court.
He admitted to altering the conditions of a permit for a family member’s home in 2011 while working as Langley’s planning head.
He served two weeks in jail for the crime and a later ruling court decision forever forbade Kwarsick from holding public office, either as an elected official or as a decision maker.
Kwarsick was a public servant on Whidbey Island for decades: he’s a former planning, public health and public works director for Island County; a former planning chief for Coupeville and Langley; and most recently, he served as Langley’s mayor.
Although he initially waffled on whether to step down as mayor, he resigned and also asked the Coupeville Town Council to end his contract as town planner.
The council agreed, but members then approved a recommendation by Conard to rehire him as a consultant — at a rate of $50 per hour — while the mayor searched for his replacement.
At the time, Conard said Kwarsick would mainly be cleaning up files and getting computer records in order but also performing some other planning duties. She now serves as the town’s designated planning official, signing and approving all legal documents.
Coupeville Town Councilman Larry Cort, the former Langley planner who approved the permit conditions Kwarsick criminally altered, requested that the temporary contract have a sunset clause of 90 days.
Conard briefed the council on March 26, saying that several things had come up to delay the hiring of a replacement and that she would need Kwarsick for a couple more weeks.
She also informed the council that Kwarsick was preparing staff reports, attending meetings of the Ebey’s Landing Historic Preservation Commission — the joint design review board for the county and town — and performing other planning-related duties.
During an interview Tuesday, Conard said Kwarsick is doing many of the things he did before; the major difference is that he was stripped of his decision-making authority and his work is closely monitored.
“His capacity to do the work hasn’t changed, just his authority,” Conard said.
She estimates that Kwarsick worked an average of about 10 hours a week. As of the end of February, she said he’d earned about $4,200.
Kwarsick had not submitted invoices for March or April, she said.
Kwarsick did not return a call for comment.
The council had no objections last month to extending Kwarsick’s contract by a few more weeks. Councilman Bob Clay, who also serves as mayor pro tem, said his position hasn’t changed.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Clay said.
The councilman said the town is complying with the court decision because Kwarsick is working as consultant and not as a decision-making official.
This can’t go on forever, Clay said, but added he is willing to approve one more extension.
Clay said he knows Kwarsick personally. The former planner made a “terrible mistake” but it was in Langley, not in Coupeville, he said. Also, Kwarsick has paid a heavy price, losing his elected office, his job and suffering a blow to his reputation.
“He made a mistake, he’s paid for it and we’re going to move on,” Clay said.
Councilman Cort said he also would support another extension, but said he had some questions after the first extension came and went without any word from town officials.
“I would support a temporary extension but I would like a discussion,” Cort said.