Kwarsick picked to lead Langley Planning Department

Larry Kwarsick answers questions for the Langley City Council during the council
Larry Kwarsick answers questions for the Langley City Council during the council's meeting on Monday. Kwarsick will serve as the head of Langley's planning department under a consultant contract approved by the council.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — Despite initial objections over the speedy arrival of a $30,000-plus consultant contract, the Langley City Council on Monday unanimously approved an agreement to hire Larry Kwarsick as the part-time chief of the city’s planning department.

Kwarsick, the former director of public works for Island County and a Langley resident, is currently working as a contract planner for the city of Coupeville.

“Larry has been a longtime member of the Langley community and an effective, dedicated public servant,” said Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson. “He is the right person to step in and build on the excellent foundation set by Larry Cort and Fred Evander.”

Kwarsick will lead a planning department that’s getting a full makeover. Cort, the current planning director, and Evander, Langley’s community planner, have both resigned their positions to take jobs elsewhere.

During Monday’s council meeting, Samuelson praised his departing planners and said a restructuring of the department is also planned.

Samuelson said he was happy for Cort, who is taking a job with the city of Oak Harbor, but noted Cort had been an integral part of the administration.

“I know that you have been looking in different directions for a while,” Samuelson told him, “and that this is something that really matches for what you want for yourself right now. So I am grateful that you are having that opportunity.”

“However, I want to go to a place where how sad I am about you leaving,” Samuelson said. “Your professionalism is second to none.”

Cort announced his decision to step down on Dec. 22, and Evander resigned the following week.

Samuelson said he began talking to Kwarsick the day after Cort tendered his resignation letter. The quick arrival of the contract on the council’s agenda, however, led to concern by some that the agreement was a rush job.

“I’m reluctant to vote on a contract that I haven’t had time to look at more carefully than just getting it when I arrived at a council meeting,” said Councilman Robert Gilman.

Gilman suggested holding the contract over to the following council meeting for a vote.

Samuelson, though, said he had shared the core of the contract with Gilman a week earlier, but acknowledged not all the details of the agreement had been worked out.

“You were clear about what the intention was,” Samuelson told Gilman.

“Details, we’re finding, make a difference,” Gilman replied.

“Part of my learning in 2010 is the importance of the council having the chance to review those details,” he added.

Other council members agreed that more time was needed for the council to review the proposal.

“I don’t want to approve this without having read it. And I just got it,” said Councilwoman Fran Abel.

Abel suggested the council take a break to go over the contract, and after almost a 30-minute break where council members pored over the four-page agreement, more debate and the vote for approval followed.

Under the proposed contract, Kwarsick will be paid $2,500 a month for a minimum of 34 hours of work.

Kwarsick can earn a maximum of $30,000 as basic compensation under the proposed agreement.

He will also be paid $100 per hour for work on special tasks that are financed by grant revenues, which will likely include the Second Street renovation project.

The agreement is a one-year contract, and may be terminated if both Kwarsick and the city agree on an immediate end to the agreement, or one side gives 30 days notice.

Council members and others also raised concerns about whether Kwarsick — who has a private consulting business — would face any conflicts of interest if he were hired as a consultant.

Kwarsick pointed out that the contract stipulates he would step aside should any arise.

The mayor also noted that his plan for the planning department includes hiring a replacement for Evander, and said the new community planner would be able to handle any issues that arise that Kwarsick can’t touch.

Gilman said he had concerns about hasty hiring decisions, especially on the new community planner. Samuelson said he hoped to hire a new planner in February, and had already gotten inquiries about the job.

“I have concerns about our locking ourselves into a new planning structure through our new hires,” Gilman said.

“I am uncomfortable about the rush here,” he said.

Even so, Kwarsick’s reputation was able to override the council’s concerns about the search process for a replacement for Cort and other issues.

Councilwoman Rene Neff recalled her 25 year-plus relationship with Kwarsick, and noted how he helped the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure’s property purchase for its outdoor classroom become a reality, as well as his work to create a world-class salmon habitat in Glendale after the original flood in the mid-1990s.

“He cares about Langley. He’s not just here for a job,” Neff said.

“He’s here because he loves this place and knows what this place is about,” she said.

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