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UPDATE | Langley mayor breaks tie on pick for new council member

LANGLEY — The Langley City Council has picked Hal Seligson to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Russell Sparkman earlier this year.

The vote Monday night was 2-2 and Mayor Paul Samuelson broke the tie.

Seligson was one of four candidates for the seat. The others were Thomas Gill, a Langley native making his third attempt to join the council; Kathleen Waters, a Langley businesswoman and frequent critic of city hall; and Robin Adams, a resident of Langley since 2007 and the point man for the Langley Critical Area Alliance, a group of neighbors and others protesting the proposed Langley Passage development on environmental grounds.

Councilman Bob Waterman said Seligson would bring a different perspective to the council. He pointed to Seligson’s lengthy experience in Langley, and said he was more qualified and could think on his feet.

“He would bring to the council a sense of a different perspective and a sense of challenge to some of us occasionally,” Waterman said. “I think Hal, certainly in my mind, fits the bill of what the council needs at this particular time.”

“I think we have incredibly qualified candidates,” Councilwoman Rene Neff said.

But she recalled Adams’ vow to work to bring more business into Langley, and pointed to his expertise on utility issues.

“I just thought you had really good ideas,” she said.

Councilwoman Fran Abel agreed.

“Robin, I really like what you have to say about the economy, and growing Langley, and expanding it in a way that makes a lot of sense,” Abel said.

“I like the fact that you’ve been to 90 countries, which brings a lot of knowledge to a small town in terms of how do we grow Langley based on worldwide experience.

I really like that diversity,” she said. “I’m feeling really in awe that we can have the benefit of that kind of universal experience in Langley.”

Councilman Robert Gilman did not offer an opinion on the council hopefuls, beyond that he had gotten a lot of input from people about the candidates, many in support of Seligson and Adams. Gilman said he had heard equal support for both, and added that the decision was difficult for him because the pair were similar in what they had to offer.

The vote came after a 90-minute interview session where each candidate was asked the same questions; many focused on the theme of growth and the individual attributes of the candidates. Waterman, Abel and Neff took copious notes; Gilman did not.

When asked what was the most pressing issue facing the city, Adams said it was the economy.

“I think it’s finding a way to have real economic growth in Langley that is diverse and appropriate,” he said.

“The most pressing issue facing Langley is probably a leadership issue,” offered Waters. “There’s a need for bringing the community together.”

Seligson said the biggest issue was growth, and to grow responsibly “so that we retain the character of the community as we moved here, understood it to be when we got here, and not slam the door behind ourselves on other people.”

“The biggest issues are economics and civility,” added Gill.

“The moratorium has caused a perception of ‘no growth’ in the city, which I feel needs to change. Whether it’s perceived or it’s real, it’s not the way it should be,” he said. “We have the Growth Management Act for a reason.”

“We have a lot of finger-pointing as to who’s causing what problems,” Gill added. “We don’t have financial discussions in public about who’s doing what, who’s thinking what. We need more communication.”

At the close of the interview session, Seligson vowed to be an independent thinker — unless someone offered a better idea.

“I believe in open government above all else,” Seligson said. “And I believe in a government of equal divisions where there are checks and balances and I will work if I am appointed ... to be cooperative and collegial.”

“I have my own mind and I will go by my own shining light. Unless it’s drowned out by the lights around. Which I would welcome,” he added.

Two expected hot spots never flared up during the meeting.

Neff did not recuse herself from the vote for a new council member. Earlier, she had said she would step aside from the vote after she had been harshly criticized by commenters on the Record website for an opinion piece Neff wrote on the council’s blog.

On the blog, Neff responded to an opinion piece written by Waters that criticized Gilman’s involvement on land-use planning issues. Neff characterized Waters as dishonest and a bully, and the blog entry led some online commenters to ask Neff to resign from the council or to recuse herself from the selection process for a new council member.

At Monday’s meeting, Neff said she “felt pressured” during an earlier newspaper interview about her blog posting when she made the offer to step aside from the vote. But she said she since talked with constituents and others about potential conflicts of interest on her vote and decided there were none.

“I was elected by my constituents and as such should have a right to my opinions and my beliefs. Therefore, I have decided not to recuse myself this evening,” Neff said.

It was also unclear before Monday whether Waters would be allowed to take part as a candidate.

Officials at city hall had launched an effort to determine if Waters, a property owner in Langley since 1976, met the one-year residency requirement for serving on the council and said there was a “cloud” over her candidacy.

The controversy, however, was never mentioned during the question session.

Interviews with the candidates were followed by a non-public portion of the meeting when the council retreated upstairs in city hall to discuss the qualifications of the candidates.

The council emerged after two sessions of private discussion that stretched 45 minutes.

There was confusion during the vote on the nominations that followed.

The council first took a vote on Seligson’s nomination, with Waterman voting yes.

“Can I vote half and half?” Neff asked.

“Actually, you can do whatever you want,” replied the mayor.

Neff looked down, then raised her hand to vote for Seligson.

“I see two votes for Hal,” Samuelson said. “Opposed?”

Gilman and Abel then voted against Seligson. Samuelson then announced he would break the tie, and voted for Seligson.

The mayor then called for a vote on Adams, and all four council members raised their hands.

“I don’t think you can vote for two,” Samuelson told the council.

Neff said she didn’t understand she was limited to one vote.

“I was hoping I could vote for two,” she said.

Samuelson, however, reminded the council they could not cast votes for more than one person, and then the mayor reconfirmed the vote for Seligson and he was sworn in.

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