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Park district may pay for duo's defense

North Whidbey Park and Recreation board members are re-doing a special meeting held Sunday to decide whether the district should use taxpayer dollars to pay for the expense of defending two commissioners against a recall attempt.

Commissioner Fred Smyth said they made the mistake Sunday of not allowing several of the commissioners to vote on the issue because of conflicts of interest. It turns out, however, that state law allows members of small boards, like the Park and Recreation District, to vote even if there is an apparent conflict.

The board is holding another special meeting, to correct the matter, today at 9:30 a.m.

The question before the commissioners is whether the district should cover the cost of legal help in defending commissioners Brien Lillquist and Janet Sabalausky against a recall. Members of the group, Friends of the Pool, submitted the recall petitions against them last week.

Sunday, Lillquist and Sabalausky didn’t vote on motions that involved their own legal expenses. Commissioner Harvey Prosser also recused himself from voting because he’s involved in the effort to recall the other commissioners.

Commissioner T.J. Harmon-Fischer wasn’t at the meeting. As a result, only two commissioners voted on each motion. Smyth and Lillquist voted to approve spending district money to cover Sabalausky’s legal fees. Smyth and Sabalausky likewise voted to approve spending district money to cover Lillquist’s legal fees.

Smyth said the board found out afterward, from district attorney Bill Hawkins, that state law allows “an exception to the appearance of fairness doctrine” for small boards. That means the “challenged members” can vote, he said, if they first publicly disclose any possible conflicts they might have.

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