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Emerson chastised for defying board consensus

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson, left, reacts to comments by Commissioner Jill Johnson Monday. Emerson was reproached by her colleagues for taking action that contradicted a decision by the majority of the board. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson, left, reacts to comments by Commissioner Jill Johnson Monday. Emerson was reproached by her colleagues for taking action that contradicted a decision by the majority of the board.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson was scolded by her fellow commissioners Monday for taking action as chairwoman that conflicted with an informal but majority decision by the board.

The heaviest hand slap came not from Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a South Whidbey Democrat, but from fellow Republican Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Johnson told Emerson that she serves as chairwoman for one simple reason, and that if she doesn’t shape up fast, that reason will change her mind about who is the right person to lead the board.

“You’re chair by my grace. You’re chair by my vote,” Johnson said.

“I’m putting you on notice right now that if there is any further action taken outside the direction of this board, where you act independently against the majority wishes of this body, you will no longer be chairman of Island County.”

Emerson responded by calling the threat an attempt at “censoring and silencing” a minority voice on the board, an action she characterized as “disgusting in the United States of America.”

She also asserted that there was “never” a previous consensus by the board that made her action inappropriate, and that, if there had been, she would have made her objections known.

“This is pathetic,” Emerson said. “I am embarrassed by this board and the way it carries on. We owe the people of Island County better than this and we should give it.”

The squabble revolves around a series of public meetings about a proposed law and justice levy. The board agreed during a June 12 work session to get community feedback before moving forward with the measure by holding a meeting in each of the three commissioner districts.

A recording of the meeting reveals a very informal decision for each meeting to be attended by just one commissioner, the representative from that district.

The intention, the board stated, was to avoid any legal problems that might arise from a quorum of the board attending and discussing an issue that may be the subject of a future vote by the board of commissioners.

The conflict surfaced after Emerson independently authorized and distributed a special meeting notice last week. That notice informed the public that two or more county commissioners would be attending the meeting in Oak Harbor, creating a quorum.

When Johnson learned that Emerson planned to attend, she cancelled and the notice was rescinded.

Emerson was the only commissioner to attend that meeting.

Johnson said Monday she was disappointed by the outcome.

Johnson said she has been advocate and voice for moving the discussion forward and couldn’t even attend her own district’s meeting because Emerson took matters into her own hands.

“You, as the chair, took it upon yourself to sign a document that you had no authority to sign,” Johnson said.

“My trust in you is broken because you didn’t honor the intention of a three-person board.”

Price Johnson also rebuked Emerson, saying she did not voice any objections to the plan and the taped conversation is available for review.

“Clearly, you are misremembering that conversation,” Price Johnson said.

“One of us is,” Emerson responded to Price Johnson.

Johnson, who replied with, “Two actually.”

According to the recordings of the June 12 meeting, Emerson did not voice any objections to the plan, though a formal vote was never taken.

Price Johnson went on to say that while this about procedure and not policy, she believes the chairperson is responsible for carrying out the consensus of the board, regardless of their personal feelings on the matter.

“I want to hear, at what point you feel don’t have to do that as chair?” Price Johnson asked.

“None of it makes any sense to me at all,” Emerson said. “I don’t remember anything the way you two are saying.”

Emerson went on to ask Price Johnson if she had anything more to say, but Johnson pointed out that Emerson had not answered Price Johnson’s question.

“I just did,” Emerson said.

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