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County meeting turns into scold-fest

For publicly reprimanding Treasurer Ana Maria Nunez Monday, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson drew fire from her fellow commissioners.

Commissioners scolded Johnson, saying she acted unprofessionally and made a “spectacular display” of the issue.

At the root of the issue was a difference in the appearance of 2014 tax statements mailed last month from those issued in 2013. Changes led some Camano residents to believe their taxes increased.

Nunez said that was a “misperception” and a clarification letter would be mailed this week.

While the issue turned out to be a miscommunication with the public, Johnson expressed displeasure with how Nunez handled the situation.

“I feel I’m standing in front of the principal, which I’ve never done,” Nunez said.

The letter that was sent to printers last week from Nunez to the public appears to place blame on the county Assessor’s Office, said Johnson.

“If you have any questions about the levy itself, please call the Assessor’s office,” the letter states.

Johnson first briefly questioned County Assessor Mary Engle, establishing that Engle gave the Nunez’s office correct tax data for both 2013 and 2014.

Johnson then called up Nunez and scolded her for blaming the Assessor’s Office.

In addition, Johnson, a Republican, was perturbed that Nunez waited five days to discuss the issue with her and Commissioner Kelly Emerson, also Republican, who represents Camano Island.

Nunez, a Democrat, was in contact with Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat.

Johnson said the full board should have been notified as soon as the issue arose.

“I didn’t attempt to hide anything or pass the blame onto anyone else,” Nunez responded.

Sending approximately 12,000 clarification letters to Camano Island residents will cost the Treasurer’s Office $4,500 in postage alone, Nunez said.

Discussion began with Price Johnson suggesting the county commissioners share the cost of the extra mailing.

Johnson said she doesn’t like the idea of island taxpayers having to shoulder the cost of the treasurer’s error.

The Stanwood-Camano School District and the assessors office received calls in recent weeks after tax statements were sent out with what appeared to be a rate increase in the school buildings maintenance and operations levy.

When the last levy was being proposed, Camano Island residents were told that, if the measure was approved, it would replace an expiring levy and not result in a tax increase.

Nunez said some taxpayers interpreted the erroneous higher amount for 2014 as the school district “breaking faith” with the voters.

“I want to make sure the public understands that the school district kept their word,” Nunez said.

Johnson said Price Johnson sent out an email prior to the meeting stating her intention to raise the issue at Monday’s meeting.

During the meeting, however, both Price Johnson and Emerson said they did not support Johnson’s decision to scold Nunez during “Commissioner Comments.”

“This is inappropriate for a business meeting,” Emerson said. “I’m going to have to ask you to stop.”

Despite her disagreement with Johnson’s approach, Emerson said she agrees that she also should have been notified immediately about taxpayer’s concerns.

“I wish that would have been brought to me,” Emerson said.

Price Johnson, who attended the meeting via phone from Washington D.C., suggested addressing the issue “in a more professional manner” when the three commissioners meet in person next.

Johnson said she raised the issue during Monday’s meeting in response to Price Johnson’s email.

Johnson said, the commissioners won’t have a work session that all three can attend for three weeks, therefore the issue needed to be addressed immediately.

“We needed transparency and we needed to own the mistake,” Johnson said.

“It was important that everyone knew what was going on.”

Price Johnson said Tuesday that her was intention to bring the issue up more informally and “corroboratively” after “Commissioner Comments.”

Price Johnson said she said she is sorry for the misunderstanding and the resulting conflict. She added that her communication with Nunez has been minimal due to her absence.

 

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