Commissioner stripped of chairmanship

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson is no longer chairwoman of the board.

Carrying through with threats made last week, commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson voted to revoke Emerson’s status as chairperson during the final minutes of Wednesday’s work session.

Johnson was appointed chairwoman in her place.

“I feel the chair has once again decided to just make her own decision and put out another special session notice,” Price Johnson said. “I don’t believe this is in the best interest of the county, to be on edge wondering what the next thing the chair will be doing.”

Price Johnson moved to reconsider the chairwoman's position and received a second from Johnson.

“I am sad,” Johnson said. “We can argue the nuances of what was said and what wasn’t said for this special session, but the direction from this board was clear.”

Emerson called the decision “ludicrous.” And in a later interview, she charged her fellow commissioners with fabricating an issue to justify rescinding her position as leader of the board.

On Tuesday, Emerson approved the release of a special session notice that announces the planned attendance of at least two board members at a community meeting in Freeland Wednesday evening.

The notice was signed and approved by Emerson, a District 1 Republican. It comes just one week after she was publicly chastised by her colleagues for approving a similar notice for a meeting in Oak Harbor.

Johnson, a District 2 Republican, and Price Johnson, a District 1 Democrat, accused Emerson with taking action contrary to an earlier consensus of the board.

Johnson and Price Johnson claim verbal agreement was reached during a June 12 work session that a series of meetings on the levy proposal would be held in each commissioner district and attended by the area’s commissioner.

The idea was to avoid any possibility of legal problems that might arise from an attending quorum that may later complicate or hinder the levy effort.

Johnson even threatened Emerson, saying she would support a vote to revoke her position as chairwoman if she ever again takes action against the majority wishes of the board.

Despite the warning, Emerson said she approved the notice because she planned to attend the meeting, which she did. She claimed there is nothing unusual or illegal about the board meeting in a special session.

“Baloney, we’ve been doing it on Camano for years,” said Emerson, adding that she believes it is common practice in other counties as well.

Emerson also argues that, contrary to the claims of her fellow commissioners last week, that there was no consensus reached during the June 12 work session.

A review of the recording reveals no formal vote or a clear verbal agreement.

Emerson noted that the issue was discussed again during a Monday, June 17 board meeting. The commissioners talked about their intentions and the possible need for a special session notice and none of the commissioners voiced any objections at the time.

Johnson and Price Johnson maintained that their understanding was that each meeting would be attended by only one commissioner and that Emerson acted on her own.

Johnson and Price Johnson said Wednesday they were surprised to see another special meeting notice, especially following their vocal objections last week.

When confronted during Wednesday’s afternoon work session, Emerson defended her decision to release the second special session notice. She said her actions were appropriate and, as she saw it, actually in line with the majority wishes of the board.

Emerson explained that she didn’t believe a special session notice was required but released one anyway only because she believed her colleagues on the board would want to play it safe.

“So frankly, I did exactly what the majority of the board was desiring,” Emerson said.

Price Johnson and Johnson disagreed and voted 2-1, with Emerson opposing, to revoke Emerson’s chairwoman status.

Price Johnson subsequently made a motion to name Johnson as chairwoman for the remainder of the year. Emerson refused to conduct the vote.

“I’m not chair anymore,” Emerson said.

Johnson took the reins and called for a vote, which passed 2-0. Emerson abstained.

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