PORT ANGELES — Former Clallam County Commissioner Phil Kitchel has been hired as a consultant for a proposed trust lands advisory committee.
Current Commissioner Bill Peach and newly appointed Commissioner Pro Tem Donald Hall approved Tuesday a personal services agreement with Kitchel to provide information and support to the board and a yet-to-be-formed committee that will study the management of state trust lands.
Kitchel represented District 3, the western third of the county, as a Republican commissioner from 1995 to 1998. He now lives in Sequim.
Kitchel will be paid $2,500 per month from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 under the terms of the agreement.
Commissioner Jim McEntire recused himself from voting on the contract because the two are neighbors and friends.
“I have no financial interest whatsoever in this contract that is before us, but to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, I have determined that I need to recuse myself,” McEntire said.
After the advisory committee is formed, McEntire will recuse himself from its work to preserve his ability to represent 21 counties as a member of the state Board of Natural Resources, he said.
Commissioner Mike Chapman said in an Aug. 31 work session that voters should decide whether to assemble a trust lands committee.
To break an expected impasse, McEntire and Peach appointed Hall to serve as a pro-tem commissioner in McEntire’s absence.
Hall’s appointment was discussed in a work session Tuesday morning. He was sworn in after the work session and prior to the regular business meeting.
McEntire and Hall each signed affidavits saying they had not discussed Kitchel’s contract.
Both are retired federal civil servants and Republicans.
Kitchel’s appointment came nearly four hours into the board’s 6½-hour combined session Tuesday. McEntire had left the room before the appointment was made.
Chapman, who was absent from the meeting, had asked County Administrator Jim Jones to relay his preference that the board issue a request for proposals (RFP) for the consultant’s job.
“He believes very much in Phil Kitchel’s ability to do it,” Jones said of Chapman.
“He just believes it would offer a much stronger buy-in to the public if we actually had an RFP moving forward. He wasn’t aware of any urgency that would prevent a month or so waiting for that process.”
Peach and Hall said a time crunch exists because of the volume and complexity of the data that Kitchel will assemble and the fact that the state Board of Natural Resources will study similar issues in the coming months.
Kitchel and the trust lands committee will examine arrearage, timber that the state Department of Natural Resources was supposed to sell but didn’t sell in the past decade.
Revenue from those missed sales would have supported the county and junior taxing districts like hospitals, schools and libraries, Peach said.
“A real important step that needs to take place is a very clear answer to the question how much arrearage, expressed in dollars, is due to every junior taxing district,” said Peach, a retired forester.
“Answering this question, how much is due, is something that’s going to require a fair amount of work, and I do believe it’s timely.”
The Clallam County Charter Review Commission asked the commissioners to set up a trust lands advisory committee to study the possibility of reconveying DNR-managed trust lands back to the county.
Such a move would require action by the state Legislature.
The committee will consist of more than a dozen people from a broad range of backgrounds.
Port Angeles resident Norma Turner raised concerns Tuesday over Kitchel’s appointment, saying the job should have been posted with a list of qualifications.
“A lack of process has created this crazy situation,” Turner told commissioners. “I’d encourage you to step back and have a process in developing this contract. There is no great emergency to have that today.”
Turner also asked why McEntire recused himself from voting on his friend’s contract but did not recuse himself from appointing another Republican as a commissioner pro-tem.
“There is absolutely no bar whatsoever in nominating another friend to sit in for myself as a pro tem commissioner,” McEntire said in a Wednesday interview.
Hall said he felt his integrity had been “impugned” in the meeting.
“Mr. McEntire identified me as a fellow Republican earlier,” Hall said.
“It’s a label I proudly wear. These are partisan positions, and there’s nothing wrong with doing partisan things in partisan positions.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.