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North Whidbey cemetery commission races draw multiple candidates

David Watson, at left, is pictured with his in-laws, cemetery employees Michael and Joan Dougliss. Watson is running for the cemetery commission.  - file photo
David Watson, at left, is pictured with his in-laws, cemetery employees Michael and Joan Dougliss. Watson is running for the cemetery commission.
— image credit: file photo

With three candidates, the race for one of two open seats on Cemetery District One is the most contested in North Whidbey this election season.

David Watson, a cemetery groundskeeper who lost his job last year, is running against local history enthusiast Katherine Roehm and Army retiree Michael Knippers for Position No. 2.

Three candidates also vied for Position No. 3 originally, but incumbent Ann Abramhamse withdrew because of family responsibilities and travel plans.

That leaves David McNeely and Lee Koetje to vie for the vacant seat.

Under state law, primary elections are not held for the offices of cemetery district or district commissioners.

That means all five candidates will appear on the November ballot.

Cemetery commissioners are six-year, unpaid positions.

 

 

THE CEMETERY experienced a period of unrest last year after Commissioner Jim Flowers and Michael Dougliss, longtime cemetery supervisor, began arguing over the purchase of a $100 software program.

The two remaining commissioners placed the three cemetery employees on leave while they investigated perceived problems with cemetery operations.

Dougliss has been supervisor of the cemetery since 1997 and his wife, Joan, worked as the secretary and treasurer for 23 years.

Dougliss’ son-in-law, Watson, was the groundskeeper for two years.

People who supported the Douglisses amassed at cemetery board meetings to complain about how they were treated.

The commissioners eventually brought Michael and Joan Dougliss back to work under new contracts with more clear-cut responsibilities.

Watson didn’t get a new contract and had to find a new job.

 

 

DURING AN interview with the Whidbey News-Times, Watson said he’s running for commissioner because he cares about the cemetery and the people who inter their loved ones there.

“I like helping people in that situation,” he said. “It feels good at the end of the day to help people who are going through such a difficult time.”

Watson said he wants to see new faces serving on the board and resolving some of the conflicts that he claims are ongoing.

He said he’s in favor of signing new contracts with the employees that give them more decision-making abilities so they can run the cemetery more effectively and efficiently.

“Instead of a supervisor, Michael Dougliss is more of a figurehead,” he said. “He’s not really in charge of anything.”

Watson said he also wants to take a close look at the books. He alleges about $50,000 was spent on unclear expenses.

 

 

ROEHM SAID she is aware there were “issues” within the cemetery district leadership, but said she doesn’t take sides.

Rather, Roehm said she wants to be look at things without any bias.

“I want to make decisions myself instead of group think,” she said.

Roehm said an interest in genealogy and history led her to seek office. Also, she said she wants to be involved in the community and assumed that there wouldn’t be a lot of people interested in being an unpaid cemetery district commissioner.

 

 

KNIPPERS SAID he’s very interested in history and community service as well. He’s relatively new to the area and wasn’t aware of the of the cemetery district conflicts.

Knippers said he just wants to be a good citizen.

“I’m retired from the Army, so I have time to spare,” he said.

 

 

IN THE race for Position No. 3, McNeely said he hopes to bring a fresh perspective and financial acumen to the district.

He started attending meetings last year and said he was alarmed by the commissioners’ actions. He wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the commissioners for placing the employees on indefinite leave without pay.

McNeely said he has no personal agenda and can offer a fresh perspective.

NcNeely said he can also help with accounting.

Before retiring, McNeely worked as an assistant vice president at a bank and school administrator.

“I have a good background in that area,” he said, “and I think I could be of service to the group.”

Koetje did not return calls for comment. Abramhamse said he’s a volunteer at the cemetery and looks after the graves of the many Koetje family member buried there.

 

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