Legal fight may stymie pursuit for Langley council seat

Robin Adams’ bid for a seat on the Langley City Council may be sidetracked by a housing development controversy that refuses to go away.

“If it drags on, it clearly would not be appropriate for me to be on the council,” Adams said Monday. “I would probably withdraw my name.”

“But I’m not going to do that until I see what happens,” he added quickly. “It could be resolved by next week.”

The “it” is Langley Passage, a 20-lot subdivision in Adams’ Edgecliff neighborhood that had been grinding through city hall red tape since 2006, only to be rejected earlier this month by the city council.

Adams has been in the forefront of efforts pushing for rejection of the project on environmental grounds.

His discussion Monday of his city council application came in the wake of an e-mail sent by former mayor Neil Colburn, who urged council members to think long and hard before appointing someone “who has legal issues with the city” to the city council.

For Adams, it was supposed to have been all over but the shouting.

All that remained for the city council to achieve closure on Langley Passage, and end Adams’ legal involvement, was for council members, at their most recent meeting, to issue a “findings of fact” legally justifying their rejection of the project.

But Douglas Kelly, an attorney for the developers, Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, warned the council in a letter that too many appeals against the project had been allowed by the city, according to its own legal code.

Kelly cautioned that if the city doesn’t backtrack to correct the problem, it may be opening itself to a lawsuit. The council put its findings of fact on hold until Kelly’s assertions could be examined.

Kelly said the appeals, by Whidbey Environmental Action Network and Adams’ group, the Langley Critical Area Alliance, had already been heard and ruled upon by the city’s Planning Advisory Board, and that they shouldn’t have been resubmitted when the city council took up Langley Passage.

Adams said Monday the appellants were only going by what city officials said was permissible when project opponents appealed to the city council the PAB’s rejection of their original objections.

In any case, as of now the entire Langley Passage project remains in limbo, and Adams remains on record as participating in legal action against the city which he proposes to represent.

Adams said that when the council’s findings of fact are completed, it would mark the end of his legal involvement in the Langley Passage controversy.

“We’re not planning to go further,” he said. “The city found in our favor, so why should we sue them?”

Adams is one of only two applicants so far to fill the unexpired Position 2 term of Russell Sparkman, who resigned in early October. The term runs through 2013.

The other applicant is Hal Seligson, a retired government hospital administrator who twice before put in his name for a city council appointment without success.

Those interested in the position have until Dec. 13 to submit an application form, résumé and a letter to city hall.

The council is expected to interview prospective candidates at its Dec. 20 regular meeting, then select and swear in the winner later that same evening.

Adams has been a resident of Langley since 2007. He is a management consultant with CRU Strategies, which serves the global mining, metals and fertilizer chemicals industries.

The question of appointing someone to a city position when legal action is involved was first brought to light by former mayor Colburn, who sent an e-mail Nov. 18 to city council members urging careful consideration before appointing Adams or anyone else to a city position.

Colburn also said the possible appointment of Gail Fleming to an upcoming vacancy on the Planning Advisory Board falls under the same category.

Fleming, currently a PAB alternate, is a member along with Adams of the Langley Critical Area Alliance.

“I am told by my attorney that an appeal is a form of litigation,” Colburn wrote. “My objections are not personal in any way .... To me, it just seems counterintuitive to appoint anyone to any position in the city as long as that person has legal issues with the city.”

“Just my read on the situation,” Colburn concluded his e-mail. “I will not be offended by whatever you choose to do.”

Colburn, who was mayor from 2004 to 2008 and before that had been a member of the city council since 1989, said Monday that Adams’ involvement in the Langley Passage controversy may indicate Adams has “an agenda.”

“I would like to see people on the city council who are agenda-free, except to provide good government,” Colburn said.

He said he himself would like to see Seligson join the council, because of his experience in a number of volunteer projects in Langley, and his participation on and chairmanship of the Planning Advisory Board.

“The PAB has always been a kind of springboard to the city council,” Colburn said. Sparkman, in fact, was appointed to the city council after serving on the PAB.

Seligson also is not involved in legal matters involving the city, Colburn added.

“I’d like to see diversity on the council,” Colburn said. “Hal would bring a voice from a different section of the city.”

Colburn said he has been in favor of Langley Passage since it first appeared during his administration. He said the council’s rejection of the project is but one of a disturbing trend of recent “no-growth” decisions by the city.

“Right now, the biggest thing happening to Langley is the malaise in the economy,” Colburn said. “Sending a no-growth message is not in the best interest of the city.”

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