Editorial: Drop lawsuit and go to work

The election for Island County Commissioner, District 3, took a bizarre turn last week when the winner announced she was filing a lawsuit against the loser and several other county employees.

Kelly Emerson, the Republican candidate with a large Tea Party following, narrowly beat the Democratic incumbent, John Dean. It was a hotly contested race with emotions running high on both sides. The most contentious action came when Dean’s campaign mailed out 20,000 flyers accusing Emerson and her husband of building a sunroom onto their house without first acquiring the necessary county permits.

The allegation was in fact true. Many construction projects on Whidbey Island have been started without a permit. Historically, fines for such actions have been a pittance. The county toughened up the law a couple of years ago and increased the financial penalty, hoping to stop the practice. It wasn’t unusual for an entire house to be built without a permit, and there wasn’t much of a social stigma attached to building without county permission.

Dean received the first complaint of the Emerson project and forwarded the email to several others. Soon, a county official went to the house and posted a stop-work order. Beyond admitting their mistake and applying for the proper permits, the Emersons decided to sue the county.

Among their claims are defamation from Dean’s campaign flyer, improper use of private information and trespassing by the county official who posted the stop-work order when the Emersons were not home.

All the claims appear shaky at best. Candidates are allowed wide latitude in their campaign communications and county officials have always been allowed to post stop-work orders when nobody is home. It’s impractical to wait for someone to be home when they’re doing their own work.

Lawsuit issues aside, Emerson has chosen a poor way to begin her new job as an Island County commissioner. She’s suing the very people she will be working with and the lawsuit is bound to cost the cash-strapped county money that it does not have.

It would be best to drop the lawsuit now and start fresh. The county needs a board of commissioners who can work together. Dropping the lawsuit would be a big step in the right direction for our newest commissioner.

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