Gilman resigns from city council | UPDATE

Langley Councilman Robert Gilman, right, announces his resignation while Councilman Hal Seligson watches. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Langley Councilman Robert Gilman, right, announces his resignation while Councilman Hal Seligson watches.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — The tough talk turned out to be too much.

Amid continued criticism of his support of Proposition 1, Langley City Councilman Robert Gilman abruptly resigned at the start of Monday’s council meeting.

Gilman, the only one of five council members who support Prop. 1, said recent claims that he was seeking greater power was a big reason for his stepping down.

With Prop. 1 on the Primary Election ballot, Langley voters will decide in two weeks if they want to keep their elected mayor or have a hired manager run city hall, with a mayor selected by the council from its ranks. That’s led some to speculate that Gilman was supporting the proposal to gain greater influence over the administrative operations of the city.

Gilman said he was stepping down now to devote time to other things in his life, and said his departure was not related to his relationship with Mayor Paul Samuelson, which has noticeably soured in recent months.

“A number of things have happened in recent months that have brought the question of how long to stay on the council up front-and-center for me,” Gilman said.

“First, the demands in my personal life have increased. Second, there has developed among some in the community a focus on me as a personality in a way that I feel has become a distraction from the real issues that the community faces.”

Gilman, reading an 800-word statement before his stunned and silent fellow council members, said two events in the past few days “have served as a tipping point.”

“The candidates forum on Thursday evening gave me the strong, welcome sense that, one way or another, the council is going to get reinvigorated with fresh energy and commitment. I’m very pleased to see this and confident that the torch can be well passed to a new generation of council members.

“Second, Ron Kasprisin’s letter to the editor in Saturday’s [South Whidbey Record] made public the accusation that the purpose behind Proposition 1 was to advance ‘some personal agenda’ on my part,” Gilman said.

“Normally, I’m content to ignore such letters, but I’ve heard second hand that there was enough ‘buzz’ in the community that Prop. 1 was based on some such personal agenda, or was based on a power struggle between Paul and me, that I felt I needed to set the record straight.”

Gilman said he supported Prop. 1 because Langley’s present form of government was not working well — and never did while he has been on the council.

“My support for Prop. 1 is based on my seven and a half years of experience with the dysfunctions of the present form, which hasn’t managed to keep its systems up-to-date and running well enough even in good times,” he said.

“Certainly, there is good work that has been done but, more often than I would like, I have seen talented, capable people — electeds, staff and volunteers —- bring their good will into city government only to get ground down, ill-used and frustrated by the systems we now have or lack. In the process, important community issues simply haven’t been attended to,” he said.

Gilman said the changing times means Langley needs to take a new approach at city hall.

“We are headed into stormy waters on a boat with frayed rope, torn sails and growing rust spots,” Gilman said. “If we are to thrive as a community, we need the best city government we can get. Based on my experience, I doubt that what we have now will be up to the task, and in any case I am convinced that we would do better as a community with a council-manager form of government.”

Gilman said his support of Prop. 1 was “never about my personal power.”

“I never saw the issue in personal or personality terms. I never saw it as being about a power struggle with Paul. I never saw it as a means to advance any particular legislative agenda,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in being mayor in the council-manager form.”

Gilman has been a councilman since 2004, and has been the most influential member of the council during that time span, but also a figure who has been increasingly controversial due to his ambitious attempts at overhauling the city’s development regulations and zoning, which a growing chorus of critics have said will stifle business in Langley and greatly expand the cost of development.

His influence with others at city hall has been rapidly waning in recent months.

His fellow council members took away his post as mayor pro tem in June after his continued support of Prop. 1.

Gilman said Monday that he had not been expecting to seek re-election when his term ends in 2013, and said his work on a graphing software project made him think he would not complete his full term — something he had hinted about in recent weeks.

Still, his resignation caught city officials by surprise.

While his fellow council members thanked him for his service to the city and the leadership and inspiration he had provided over the years, some also recounted how their relationships had turned sour with the councilman more recently.

“I would say that you were a very big mentor in my life for a long period of time,” said Councilwoman Rene Neff.

“We have definitely crossed a river between the two of us,” she added.

Samuelson recounted how he became mayor because of Gilman.

“It was you who encouraged me to think about being mayor. This for me has been a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful to you for that,” he said.

Samuelson also recounted how it was Gilman’s idea for Langley to have a “full-time mayor” — which ultimately descended into controversy that stretched for more than a year about what the proper pay should be for Langley’s top executive.

The mayor acknowledged their relationship had been on the rocks for some time.

“I do know that about a year and half ago we kind of went our ways.

“We had a difference of ideology and a difference of how the city should be run and a difference on where the community should go and how it should go there,” Samuelson said.

“And I’m sad about that. Because from that difference, somehow we were unable to find common ground.”

The mayor also took issue with Gilman’s view of the city, and said the troubles between them led to Prop 1.

“I think you’re dead wrong on Prop. 1 and I can’t help but believe that some of it is the result of what happened between you and I,” Samuelson said.

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