Emerson nominates Johnson as Island County chairwoman

Commissioners Helen Price Johnson, Jill Johnson and Kelly Emerson present staff awards Monday.  - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Commissioners Helen Price Johnson, Jill Johnson and Kelly Emerson present staff awards Monday.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

In a surprise move, Commissioner Kelly Emerson nominated Jill Johnson to remain chairwoman of the Island County Board of Commissioners for 2014.

The selection was approved 3-0.

“I thank you both for all of your support,” Johnson said.

Emerson, who lobbied to be named chairwoman earlier this year, said that her nomination in support of Johnson’s leadership was “an effort to promote civility for the entire county, both islands.”

Emerson, a Republican representing Camano Island and North Whidbey, was passed over in previous years for chairmanship by fellow commissioners Price Johnson and Angie Homola, both Democrats.

Under a traditional rotation it was Emerson’s turn to be the chair, but her colleagues questioned her work ethic, her relationship with county staff and her accessibility to staff and the public.

After Johnson, a Republican, unseated Homola, Emerson was appointed chairwoman in March.

Johnson initially delayed the decision, citing concerns about Emerson’s ongoing fight with the Island County Planning Department over an unissued building permit.

Johnson relented in March and supported Emerson for the position. The vote was 2-1, with Price Johnson citing continued concerns about Emerson’s leadership skills.

Commissioners Johnson and Price Johnson reprimanded Emerson more than once about acting against board consensus.

Johnson warned Emerson that she may lose her chairmanship if she didn’t follow the directive of the majority and the board ended up rescinding the chairmanship she previously supported.

Emerson’s chairmanship was short-lived. She was stripped of the title in July with a 2-0 vote, Emerson abstaining.

Emerson said Monday that she thinks the board chairmanship should go to the newly elected commissioner because of the additional “duties and opportunities to engage in the business of the county” and allowing them to come more familiar with it.

“My nomination will have nothing to do with any past events, it will have nothing to do with performance or personalities.”

“The qualifications necessary for this position is being a duly elected commissioner of the board,” Emerson said.

“I believe its the intent of the tradition that it be the newly elected.”

The statement seemed to be in conflict with the opinion of Emerson supporter Bill Burnett, who claimed in a lawsuit he filed against the county in July that Johnson was “an illegally elected chair” because she was a “a first-term, first-year commissioner who would not normally be eligible for the chair position.”

Burnett’s lawsuit, which has stalled in court system, argued that the two commissioners acted outside the law in removing Emerson as chairwoman and asked the courts to compel board to reinstate Kelly Emerson as chair.


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