Shakeup in county planning
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
January 14, 2009 · Updated 7:59 AM
The makeup of an important group that helps guide land-use decisions in Island County will be changing soon.
Island County Commissioner Angie Homola, a Democrat who beat longtime Republican Commissioner Mac McDowell, will be appointing two new members to the nine-person county planning commission that is dominated by people involved in industries that generally support property rights and development.
Alan Schell, the chairman of the commission, officially resigned Monday. Bill Massey’s term expired and his replacement hasn’t been named yet.
On Monday, the county commissioners unanimously approved Helen Price Johnson’s choice to reappoint Coupeville resident Val Hillers to the planning commission. Hillers served one four-year term, which expired this month.
“She has demonstrated her ability to be objective, thoughtful and thorough,” Price Johnson said.
Moreover, Price Johnson, a Democrat, said she wanted someone on the commission who can represent Central Whidbey and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
Homola, who is known as an environmental activist, has also taken the appointment process very seriously. She believes the commission will play a vital and influential role as the county visits, and possibly revisits, important land-use issues.
“As any elected official who wants to build a cabinet, it’s important that the commissioners have a say as to who represents them on the
planning commission,” she said.
But so far, only two people have applied for the District 2 position: James Bruner, a retired Air Force major, a former technical editor and writer, and a member of the League of Women Voters; and Kurt Jaehning, a school teacher and commercial fisherman.
An appointment to the commission caused a stir before Homola even took office. The two other commissioners rescinded McDowell’s choice for the seat and decided it was Homola’s decision to make.
The planning commission consists of three residents from each of the three commissioner districts. The county commissioner from each district gets to recommend the members, though the board has to approve the selection.
Homola said she’s investigating who’s on the commission so that she can appoint members to balance the interests. She’s had trouble looking into the membership, she said, because bios aren’t even kept by the county.
“I think we need to look at the appointment process,” she said.
As for Schell, he said he’s leaving the commission after three years because he’s just too busy. The retired president of Upchurch Scientific, Schell said he’s heading to Ghana to install a water system, he teaches for HomeConnection, he’s active in his church and he hopes to write a book.
“I just felt my plate was too full,” he said.
Schell agrees that the commission has a very important role. They “do the heavy lifting” and make recommendations to the commissioners on land-use issues. He said the county commissioners have adopted the recommendations with just minor changes in his experience.
Schell admits that being on the planning commission isn’t fun; it requires a lot of reading and attendance at long meetings.
“It’s just like jury duty,” he said. “I would encourage people to do it as a service to the community.”
Yet Schell said the planning commission isn’t the appropriate place for people with strong agendas.
“A person needs to be intelligent, to be able to read a lot of material and consider all sides of an issue,” he said.
Moreover, he warned that the commission will inevitably have to make tough, no-win decisions that make folks angry.
As for the current commission, Schell said it’s impossible to say whether it’s balanced with broad interests that reflect the community. “You can get people on both sides saying the board is not balanced,” he said.
More importantly, Schell said all the members are civil, thoughtful individuals who want to do the right thing.
Republicans who dominated the board of county commissioners — until last November — selected most of the current members of the volunteer board. Six of the current seven members are, or have been, involved in industries that tend to oppose strict environmental regulations.
In District 1, Mike Joselyn owns Building Source Inc., Ray Gabelein is a farmer, contractor and land owner and Val Hillers is a retired WSU Extension food specialist.
In District 2, Terry Reynolds is a real estate agent.
In District 3, Deb Eidsness works at Skagit Farmers Supply and is involved in supporting farmers’ rights, according to Commissioner John Dean. Scott Yonkman owns Yonkman Construcion. Wayne Havens is a retired Camano Island resident who was involved in some of the early development of the area, Dean said.
Since it is such an important group, Homola said she hopes to make it more accessible to residents. The commission usually meets during the day, when most people can’t attend. So she hopes to have the meetings videotaped and broadcasted, possibly over the Internet.
“I want to make sure it’s as open to as many people as possible,” she said. “It has a very important role in land-use decisions.”Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.