Island County Commissioners Mac McDowell and John Dean made a good choice in picking Phil Bakke to join them on the three-person board, replacing longtime District 1 Commissioner Mike Shelton.
Bakke had stiff competition for the appointment in fellow Republicans Suzanne Sinclair and Reece Rose. Both are highly competent individuals sufficiently immersed in county policies and politics to have served well as appointees, and it’s a little unfortunate the commissioners passed on the chance to put a woman on the board for the first time in history. But they put skills above gender, and who can argue with that?
Bakke’s biggest selling point is his 12 years of experience with the county. He rose to director of Planning and Community Development and as such is intimately acquainted with all the land use issues that have raised hackles through the years. His one public gaff was putting out an alarmist warning that new wetland rules imposed by the state would put an end to farming and gardening as we know it. The result was hundreds of irate farmers and gardeners flooding a single meeting in Coupeville. They were sent home by the fire marshal. But Bakke learned from the mistake and the county later brought in a lot of folks from different lifestyles to work out an acceptable wetlands protection ordinance that small farmers and gardeners can live with.
Land use continues to be one of the county’s major issues and Bakke doesn’t need any training on the complex issues. Among them are proposed Freeland Urban Growth Area and the contentious Oak Harbor Urban Growth Area, as well as the ongoing legal issues surrounding the critical areas ordinance. His expertise will be very helpful on the county’s governing board.
Also on the plus side, Phil Bakke is a friendly person, easy to talk to and able to enjoy a good laugh. Now that he’s a politician, more people will see this side of his personality.
Environmentalists were concerned about Bakke’s appointment and some even launched a campaign in support of Sinclair, but it’s premature to judge him in this way. Bakke was working for the county commissioners when he was planning director and it was his job to follow their lead. If his actions were seen as too conservative, it’s because a conservative majority ran the county.
All Bakke has to do is remember that he no longer works for Mac McDowell. He’s now a co-equal ultimately answerable only to the people. We expect the public will discover a Phil Bakke who is open minded, respectful of all citizens regardless of their politics, and determined to represent all the people of Island County to the best of his abilities. If he does that, he’ll have a good chance when he faces the voters for the first time in November 2008.