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Coupeville residents hit public hearing change

Coupeville resident Ken Pickard shuffles papers while speaking at a public hearing Tuesday evening in front of the town council.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville resident Ken Pickard shuffles papers while speaking at a public hearing Tuesday evening in front of the town council.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Several Coupeville townspeople are up in arms about a rule change they say allows town council members to shirk their responsibilities to hear from the public.

The elected town council approved a proposal Tuesday evening placing the required public hearing for land use actions with the appointed planning commission rather than holding such a hearing themselves.

“I’m opposed to the town council abrogating its responsibility to hold public hearings,” Ken Pickard said during Tuesday’s public hearing. “You guys are shirking your responsibilities by doing this.”

The rule change, which the council approved four to one, allows the planning commission to hold public hearings for development applications rather than the town council. Council member Ann Dannhauer voted against the proposal.

The rule change stems from advice from Coupeville’s attorney, Grant Weed.

In an email toMayor Nancy Conard, Weed said that it’s important such public hearings are conducted in a manner that’s fair, objective, deliberative and based on relevant facts and laws rather than political influence or public opinion. Since planning commissioners are appointed rather than elected, they are generally perceived as being further removed from political influence and public opinion, he said in the email.

However, some people are against having a public hearing in front of an appointed body.

“It further enhances the power of the mayor and leaves out citizen input,” Coupeville resident Jerome Rosen said.

However, council member Molly Hughes said having the planning commission hold the public hearing allows input to be gathered earlier in the development of new regulations.

“I believe input is more beneficial at the planning commission level,” Hughes said.

Town Planner Larry Kwarsick said there is nothing in the proposal that eliminates public meetings and the planning commission doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions. The commission would make recommendations for the town council to consider.

“The town council remains the decision maker,” Kwarsick said.

Coupeville resident Larry Cort, who also serves as the Langley City Planner, said during the meeting that Langley has a similar arrangement to the one Coupeville was considering.

Weed added in his email that he would have preferred that the town of Coupeville hire a hearing examiner to conduct such hearings. Having the planning commission hold public hearings was his second preference. However, several council members rejected the hearing examiner idea, opting instead for the planning commission hearings.

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