Mr. Forlenza, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Jarman, Ms. Miller, Mr. Peterson, and Mr. Stephens:
I am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to the San Juan County Council's appointment on 1/29/13 of Tim Blanchard to the San Juan County Planning Commission. I believe your appointment of Mr. Blanchard was negligent, irresponsible, unethical, and an insult to the citizens of our County. It may also have been illegal. It clearly demonstrated a lack on the Council's part of transparency, balance, fairness, and non-partisanship.
When you appointed Mr. Blanchard, you knew full well that he is a board member and legal advisor to the Common Sense Alliance, a partisan, special-interest advocacy group. You also knew at the time that Mr. Blanchard was expected to be, now proven as fact with the passage of time (one week), involved in a lawsuit against the County by the CSA. You also knew that there were already two other board members of the CSA on the PC, namely Mike Carlson and John Lackey, and that there were no representatives of Friends of the San Juans on the PC or of any other organization representing an opposing view on the most important matters (CAO, code enforcement, and SMP) expected to come before the PC in 2013 and beyond. The result is a stacked deck of 3 to 0.
Several of you ran for office in 2012, and are now running in this year's elections for the new three-member council. In so doing, your campaigns frequently speak of transparency, balance, fairness, and non-partisanship. But whether you say so or not in your campaigns, sitting members of the Council are expected to represent all members of the County in a transparent, balanced, fair, and non-partisan manner. However, your action in appointing Mr. Blanchard shows that these words are hollow to you. There was no widespread public notice of the pending appointment, giving the appearance of an inside job. Balance, fairness, and non-partisanship were not even considered. You didn't even discuss the merits and potential conflict of interest in Mr. Blanchard's application before you voted. In fact, you did not hold any discussion at all!
You are probably thinking in response that the County followed its standard procedures in advertising for applicants for the open position, with Mr. Blanchard being the only respondent. This might be true for any routine appointment. But this was not a routine appointment for many reasons cited above and below. Moreover, you knew full well that the PC was at the focal point of the current divisiveness in our community over the CAO and SMP, with the concomitant obligation of the Council to proceed with greater openness and fairness than its standard procedures require. Instead, only a handfull of insiders knew of the vacancy. Several sitting members of the PC were not even aware of the vacancy, call for applicants, and the application by Mr. Blanchard. Moreover, the agenda for the Council meeting on 1/29/13 did not even mention the subject of the pending appointment. Given the nature of this appointment, there should have been more extensive public notice and a call for public comment, let alone public discussion by the Councilmembers themselves. And the agneda should have been specific to the vote at hand.
I also believe that Mr. Blanchard's application dated 12/17/12 did not fully and properly disclose the CSA's mission, nor his full role with the organization. The County's standard application contains a section entitled Conflict of Interest, which states in the County's words "It is crucial to have a BALANCED citizen advisory committee with all stakeholders and community viewpoints represented. TO AVOID ANY POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST OR QUESTIONS ABOUT THE THE APPEARANCE OF FAIRNESS, please list each organization which you serve in a decision making capacity, your position, and its mission. (All italics are mine.)
Although Mr. Blanchard stated his role with the CSA as "vice president", he failed to mention he is also a board member, that he has served until recently as the CSA's principal attorney, and that in that role, he has given the CSA legal advice which, at the time of his application, was being used to prepare a lawsuit against the County in coordination with a big city law firm in Seattle. In fact, on 2/4/13, the CSA filed three lawsuits against the County. Mr. Blanchard's role in preparing these lawsuits needed to be disclosed and discussed. Again, the Council did not even bring up the subject of balance and fairness. So why are they even mentioned on the application? If there was ever a need for this discussion, this was it.
Mr. Blanchard also misrepresented the mission of the CSA in his application by saying only that it is involved in "education and public comment re land use ...".. What he failed to say is that it is also the CSA's mission to go well beyond the roll of education and public comment by filing lawsuits when it is in its best interest to do so, as evidenced by the three lawsuits it filed on 2/4/13 against the County he was applying to serve. Although these lawsuits were filed after Mr. Blanchard's application and appointment, he is believed to have been intimately involved in their preparation.
The argument will probably be made that Mr. Blanchard was the only applicant for the position he has been appointed to. But just because he was the only applicant did not require the Council to vote on his application. You should instead have delayed a decision to a later date to give time to identify other applicants, publicize the applications, solicit public comment, and conduct public discussion, all in the interest of transparency, balance, fairness, and non-partisanship.
I urge you to rectify this situation by removing Mr. Blanchard from the Planning Commission and searching on Orcas Island for new applicants who are not on the board of the CSA, Friends of the San Juans, or any other special-interest group, and who is also not a party to a lawsuit against the County.
A more comprehensive solution to this problem, as well as to similar problems with other citizens committees, would be for the Council to pass an ordinance/regulation, or amend an existing one, that automatically disqualifies from consideration an applicant to any and all citizen committees if he/she has a role, as defined, in an existing lawsuit outstanding against the County, no matter what the issue. This ordinance would also state that if any sitting member of a citizen committee becomes party to a lawsuit against the County while in office, he/she would automatically be removed from his/her position. What greater conflict of interest could there be than for a citizen to serve on a committee that requires him/her to act in the best interests of all of the citizens of the County, while at the same time involved in a lawsuit against the County? This ordinance should be applied retroactively to all sitting committee members, with no grandfathering allowed.
Full disclosure: My wife Susan Dehlendorf is on the Planning Commission. Susan was not involved in drafting, reviewing, or editing this email. In fact, she has not even read it, nor heard it read by me. This email is entirely my work.
Thank you for listening. I am hopeful you will respond in a manner that is in the best interests of all members of our County.