PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners have advanced a candidate to fill a vacant seat on the Planning Commission, using a process that a county commissioner and the elected director of the Department of Community Development both called “odd.”
The process involved commissioners last month rejecting DCD Director Mary Ellen Winborn’s recommendation that Ingrid Edelmann fill the vacant Sequim-area spot on the Planning Commission, calling and then canceling an executive session on the topic and then interviewing candidates behind closed doors.
On Monday commissioners agreed that Ronald Long — who recently moved to the area from Alaska — should fill the position. Long was previously a county commissioner for multiple terms in another state and has planning experience.
Winborn said Edelmann would not participate in private interviews after the process that the county followed.
“It struck me so odd how this unfolded because I was asked for my recommendation, I gave it and something happened on the dais,” Winborn said Monday. “What happened to cause all that? It is really offensive to the person I recommended.”
Typically the Board of County Commissioners receives recommendations as to who should serve on a board, commission or committee and then those recommendations are approved with little or no discussion during a regular business meeting.
On April 16 commissioners considered appointing Edelmann to fill the position, but tabled the discussion after Commission Bill Peach took issue with the recommendation.
Peach said he would have preferred to see commissioners select Julie Gardiner — who ran against Winborn in last year’s general election and lost by nearly a 25 percent margin.
Gardiner manages her husband’s law firm, which represented Judy Lee in the early stages of her still-unresolved federal lawsuit against the county.
The lawsuit stems from Winborn’s decision that Lee’s proposed 32,000- square-foot bed and breakfast with 27 bathrooms is actually a hotel and not a bed and breakfast.
“She is familiar with local issues,” Peach said Monday. “I know she ran against you [Winborn] and there may be a bias that you have because of it.”
Winborn replied, saying Peach also has a bias.
She said she recommended Edelmann because she is familiar with her and because other candidates were either involved with lawsuits against the county or lived in the wrong district.
“She’s well educated … she’s opinionated and we don’t always agree,” Winborn said. “I thought she would be excellent for the Planning Commission — and she was willing to do it.”
Winborn said that after Peach took issue with her recommendation the Board of County Commissioners scheduled an executive session to go over applications.
Commissioner Mark Ozias said he canceled that meeting after reviewing laws surrounding executive sessions.
“I didn’t think this was an appropriate use of executive session, so we canceled it and had it in open session,” he said.
During the open meeting Monday, Peach said his top pick was Gardiner.
“In my interview with her she’s quite familiar with the current issues DCD is facing and the issues the planning commission will face,” Peach said.
Ozias emphasized that citizens have elected the Director of the Department of Community Development, but he said there is “a lot of gray” in terms of who the Planning Commission supports.
Ozias said he felt Long was the strongest candidate, particularly because of his experience as an elected county commissioner in another state.
“The combination of his understanding of and appreciation of process and his diverse and relevant experience that has been expressed by others would cause me to say he is the strongest of those three candidates,” Ozias said.
Ozias said he would like the Board of County Commissioners to discuss the process for appointing future Planning Commission members during a work session.
“I would much rather say this is a strategic board, its work is important and let’s give ourselves a chance to talk about what is the process to use,” Ozias said.
“[This process] was odd and we would like to do better next time.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.