District wants its lawyer back

A lawyer chased away by one commissioner is being asked to come back to work by the rest of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District board.

At the May 17 Park District meeting, commissioners decided they wanted Oak Harbor Attorney William Hawkins to continue to represent the district if he is disposed to continue working with the board.

Commissioners held a closed executive session during the meeting to discuss what Commissioner Brien Lillquist called a “misunderstanding” concerning a certain commissioner’s unhappiness with Hawkins and Hawkins’ subsequent relinquishing of his responsibilities as attorney for the district.

“He sent a letter saying that he was not going to be the lawyer anymore,” board Chairman Fred Henninger said.

The need for an executive session to discus the situation was refuted by Commissioner Janet Sabalausky and Park and Recreation Director Craig Carlson.”In my opinion, I don’t believe any of this is supposed to be in executive session,” Carlson said. “And we have gotten quite a few audit findings relating to what we are doing in executive session.”

Commissioner Harvey Prosser, however, said if the board wanted to discuss anyone’s personal unhappiness with the lawyer’s representation of the board, they should do it in an executive session.

“This dismissal of our legal representative is based on some personal thing that he did, and I don’t think that should be discussed in public,” he said.

In a later interview, Commissioner Lillquist said he saw the whole ordeal as a misunderstanding between Commissioner Henninger and Hawkins.

“The board, other than Mr. Henninger, wants Mr. Hawkins to be the district’s attorney,” he said.

Lillquist added that Henninger had said he lacked confidence in Hawkins.

As to why he was unhappy with Hawkins’ service, Henninger would give no comment.

“That’s why we have executive sessions,” he said.

Henninger has come under criticism recently from the state Auditor’s Office for maintaining his position as president of the Whidbey Island Tennis Association while serving as a Park District commissioner, but it’s unknown if that had anything to do with the differences between Henninger and Hawkins.

Also, Henninger blamed Hawkins for another auditor finding involving problems in a contract with a company that installed an HVAC system in the pool building.

Henninger said that although he has his personal opinion about Hawkins, the rest of the board wanted to have Hawkins continue to represent the district.

“Mr. Henninger, though he is the chair of the board, he does not speak for the board,” Lillquist said.

Then he added that four of the five board members have complete confidence in Hawkins and his dealings with the district, and had agreed to send the attorney a letter addressing the fact that Hawkins has the vote of confidence from the majority of the board, and that they would still like him to continue to represent the district.

“He has acted in the most professional of manners,” Lillquist said. “It is only Mr. Henninger that is unhappy.”

Lillquist said he hopes the letter will convince Hawkins that the board still wants his services.

“Hopefully, this letter that is being sent to give our vote of confidence to Mr. Hawkins will allow us to have him continue as our attorney,” he said.

Hawkins said he had no comment for the press.

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