Done behind closed doors

The Island County Commissioners have collectively disappointed the public by insisting on hiding the process by which they fill the important position of Island County Planning director.

The planning director has a lot to say about how Island County develops, how landowners are treated, what specific projects are allowed in what areas, and how the public relates to county government. History has shown that a good planning director can rally the public behind difficult decisions, while a poor one can stir up a huge amount of controversy by making poor decisions or just communicating poorly with the public.

Island County has been without a full-time planning director since Jeff Tate resigned late last year for personal reasons. The county advertised for a replacement and then resorted to secrecy to review resumes and interviewed finalists.

To date, the public has had no way of knowing who the finalists are or what they bring to the table in terms of experience and ideas. The public can not judge the elected commissioners on what they decide, because the commissioners haven’t revealed who they are interviewing.

Perhaps the commissioners, John Dean, Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola, are following the letter of the law, but their secrecy is uncalled for and detrimental to the public good. Oak Harbor interviewed its police chief finalists in public, and Whidbey Island’s three school districts routinely interview their superintendent finalists in public.

The public should have had an opportunity to meet and interact with the planning director finalists and form their own opinion about who is best for the job. If the public knows the qualifications, then they can judge the commissioners’ decision. Did they pick an experienced planner with a proven track record, or pass over such a person for someone with more politically correct views, for example. We can’t say, because we don’t know what the choices are.

For highly public positions such as planning directors, applicants should know from the start that their names will be made public and they might have to meet the public before being hired. The secrecy in which this matter is being handled is a setback for all who support the idea of open government in Island County.

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