Editorial: Conflict should be cleared up

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District Commissioner Fred Henninger has been taken to task by the Washington State Auditor’s Office for an apparent conflict of interest.

Henninger is also president of the Whidbey Island Tennis Association, which aims to construct an indoor tennis facility with assistance from the Park and Recreation District.

The Auditor’s Office recommends that Henninger not vote on any issues related to the tennis project because a member of a board should not have a beneficial interest in a contract entered into by the board, or be in the position of securing a special privilege for himself or another.

Henninger defends his position, citing case law suggesting that a conflict of interest only occurs if a board member has a financial interest in a contract. This is not the case here, as Henninger’s position with the Tennis Association is voluntary, and he would not personally gain financially from any decision the board makes.

No one is questioning Henninger’s integrity. He ran for his position with the primary goal of gaining an indoor public tennis facility for Whidbey Island, and proudly spoke of his association with the Tennis Association. Voters put him in office knowing his priorities and interests. Everything was done openly and honestly.

But once elected to office, Henninger should have resigned his position with the Whidbey Island Tennis Association. As an elected board member, he serves a broader public than just those who play tennis, and he must be seen as objectively and fairly weighing the competing interests before making a decision.

By resigning from the Tennis Association, Henninger will be showing the public that he truly intends to represent the entire district, not just those who play tennis. And by severing the tie, Henninger can take part in board decisions on the tennis project.

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