Emerson loses bid to lead Island County commissioners

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson was snubbed by her colleagues on the board when she sought to become the new chairwoman Monday, further stoking hard feelings between her and the other two commissioners.

“You’re out of line in implying that I’m not doing an adequate job and I resent it,” Emerson said in response to Commissioner Angie Homola’s explanation of why she felt Emerson wasn’t ready for the position.

Under long-held tradition, it should have been Emerson’s turn to take on the chairperson position. The chairmanship normally rotates each year. Commissioner Angie Homola was chairwoman this year and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson was chairwoman the year before, so Emerson was up.

Yet Price Johnson and Homola expressed doubts about Emerson’s dedication to the job, her work ethic, her relationship with county staff and her accessibility to staff and the public.

The commissioners ended up naming Price Johnson to the post in a 2-1 vote. Price Johnson was the first woman to chair the Island County Board of Commissioners when she was chosen two years ago.

South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose has been attending commissioner meetings regularly for about 35 years and he said it was the first time that the tradition of rotating the chairmanship equitably wasn’t followed. He feels it is evidence that the two Democratic commissioners, Homola and Price Johnson, are “unwilling to credit different opinions.” Emerson is a Tea-Party Republican.

“She should be accorded the same dignity and respect they were given,” he said. “I think it was disrespectful of the voters of Island County who put Emerson in there.”

But North Whidbey resident Al Williams, who was also at the meeting, pointed out that Emerson is not a typical or traditional commissioner. She’s the first commissioner in county, and perhaps state, history to sue her own county and county employees. He also claimed she’s inaccessible to the public and stays at her Oak Harbor home when she claims to be available to citizens on Camano Island.

Likewise, Price Johnson and Homola didn’t mince words when explaining their reluctance to name Emerson to the position.

“It’s unfortunate that you have an adversarial relationship with at least one department,” Price Johnson said, likely referring to Emerson’s lawsuit against the county planning department, the huge fines she owes the department and the unresolved issues over a project that her husband started building without a permit.

“It takes a great deal of dedication and commitment to do this job. You need to be at work and work collaboratively,” Homola said, referring to reports that Emerson is rarely at her office.

In response, Emerson said the accusations are completely false and she blamed them for “throwing out” distorted conceptions based on their opinions. She has previously pointed out that she keeps office hours at the Camano annex and has a home office.

To be sure, Emerson does have an unusually contentious relationship with her fellow commissioners, though her supporters feel she is just standing up for what she believes. Just prior to the vote on the chairmanship, for example, she injudiciously accused her fellow commissioners of not showing leadership in an issue over the purchase of Camano Island property.

Under state law, members of the board of county commissioners are supposed to elect a chairperson in the first session after the general election. The chairperson is responsible for signing legal documents and running the meetings. The chairperson has some control over who can speak at meetings.

Monday morning, Emerson made a motion to appoint herself as the chairwoman.

“I think I deserve it and I think it would allow me to get ever more inclusive in the process,” she said.

Her motion, however, died for lack of a second. Homola then made a motion to appoint Price Johnson to the post. She pointed out that Emerson took office just this year and there’s plenty of time left in her four-year term for her to be chairperson someday.


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