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Planning lawyer is back on the county payroll

"The Island County Commissioners agreed Monday to a new contract with Seattle attorney Keith Dearborn. This time, however, the contract is for consulting rather than legal services and Dearborn's hourly rate has dropped from $180 to $100.The commissioners' move became necessary after the county's two top judges objected to the more than $722,000 already paid to Dearborn and his law firm for work done over the past two years on the county's Comprehensive Plan. Superior Court judges Vickie Churchill and Alan Hancock told the commissioners earlier this month that they would not approve another year-long, legal-consultant contract with Dearborn.By law, all county contracts with outside attorneys must be approved by the county's presiding judge. By not signing off on a new contract, the judges effectively sent Dearborn home in the midst of ongoing plan hearings and negotiations. The commissioners reacted by saying that the judges did not fully understand the complexity of the growth management process and insisted that Dearborn's expertise is indispensable to completing the plan. They have spent the last couple of weeks preparing a new contract that will keep him on board.Under the new $125,000 agreement, Dearborn will work to finish the nearly-completed plan and its accompanying development regulations and zoning codes. He will attend county meetings and hearings related to the plan and will represent the county before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The state growth board has given the county orders to fix portions of the plan that do not comply with the 1990 Growth Management Act.But commissioners made it clear on Monday that Dearborn will be a planning consultant and will not be the county's attorney if any of the remaining Comprehensive Plan issues go on to litigation in court.If court is required ... we will be represented by the Island County Prosecutor, Commissioner Mike Shelton said.Dearborn's pay will be $100 per hour - less than the $180 per hour he was charging as an attorney but more than the $65 per hour charged by one of the county's other outside planning consultants. The new contract also specifies that secretarial or word processing time will be charged at $35 per hour. The cost reduction was actually proposed by Dearborn back in November, prior to the judges' announcement.The contract has no specified expiration date. It simply says that termination will occur upon completion of the GMA Compliance Project.One of Churchill and Hancock's major objections to previous contracts with Dearborn is that the commissioners had approved a series of amendments that allowed them to pay out three times the base amounts of the contracts. Under the new consultant agreement, the commissioners have again left that option open. The $125,000 limit can be exceeded at any time by a majority vote of the commissioners."

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