Letter: Contract concerns drive hearing examiner decision

Editor,

In reading the Saturday, June 8, article in the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, it appeared as if the Board of Island County Commissioners was looking to instruct the hearing examiner on how to interpret the Island County Code and ordering his dismissal for not following the board’s instructions.

This was not the context of the conversation, nor the direction of the board.

This board has not asked, or will ever ask, the hearing examiner to advise the county on how to write code to obtain a specific outcome. Nor will this board insert itself into or try to influence a hearing examiner’s decision.

We simply wanted to take advantage of his experience in helping us identify areas to focus our energies as we continue our policy improvements.

In the past, the hearing examiner has noted instances where Island County code is silent or conflicting during his independent review of a land-use application. This silence or ambiguity in the code inevitably leads to a frustrated hearing examiner, frustrated stakeholders and an easily appealable decision.

These appeals are costly to both the applicant and the county and fundamentally the board desires a clear and transparent land-use process; and that all hinges on having a well-written code.

With that in mind, in 2015, as part of the hearing examiner’s signed contract, he agreed to “provide the planning director with a bimonthly report detailing code conflicts and propose new code language to be considered for addition to the Island County Land Development standards as part of an on-going effort to eliminate unnecessary ambiguity and inconsistency in the Island County Code, and generally improve code provisions and regulations.”

This service was not provided.

We respect, and in-fact rely on, the independent role of a hearing examiner. Keeping that independence intact is an important part of our land-use process.

Equally important is holding our contractors accountable to perform their agreed-upon duties.

This is part of the fiduciary responsibility the board owes to the public and the reasoning behind the desire to seek a new hearing examiner.

Jill Johnson

Island County Commissioner

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