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Langley city council to speak up about complaint

The Langley City Council is expected to break its silence this week concerning the alleged scandal involving Mayor Larry Kwarsick.

According to Councilman and Mayor Pro-tem Hal Seligson, a statement will be made about mid-week concerning the whistle blower complaint that was lodged at the freshman mayor in April.

Seligson declined to go into details, but said the announcement will focus on the council’s review of the matter and determinations made during a series of executive sessions that took place at City Hall last week.

While city officials have been tight-lipped about the nature of the complaint, the issue revolves around Kwarsick and decisions made concerning a family member’s home while he was the city’s director of Community Planning in 2011.

Following the first executive session, Kwarsick paid the South Whidbey Record a visit and said he would not comment on the specifics of the allegations. Many “nasty things” have been said about him during his 40 years in government service and he has made it a policy not to participate in public debates, he said.

The council is following the appropriate process to handle a whistle blower complaint, said Kwarsick, and he plans to cooperate fully.

“There is a process and I won’t banter back and forth in the paper,” Kwarsick said.

However, while the mayor declined to go into detail, he did say the allegations have been “ratcheted up” beyond anything he’s experienced in the past and maintains that he has done nothing wrong.

“I expect not to be accountable for anything that is perceived that I’ve done,” Kwarsick said.

Along with the coming public announcement, Seligson said documents sought by the Record in a public records request filed nearly two weeks ago may also be released, though the matter is still being reviewed by the city’s new attorney.

Requested are the whistle blower’s memo to the council, which details the allegations against Kwarsick, and any other records that relate to the matter.

Although the memo is obviously immediately available, Seligson said it hasn’t been released because the city’s new attorney has yet to determine whether it falls into the realm of a public document.

The city has followed state law by providing a response to the request within the specified five-day period that says when the documents may be available, but a public record law expert says there is little doubt the document can be released as it is being used to review a complaint.

“It is a public record,” said Tim Ford, assistant attorney general for government accountability with the state Office of the Attorney General. “They have a duty to either produce the record or tell you why they are withholding it.”

“It’s not a grey area,” he said. “The definition of a public record is very clear.”

The council has also been criticized by some for not publicly noticing one of the four executive sessions held last week. According to Seligson, the city’s attorney had advised the council that only the first had to be publicly noticed because the rest were just continuations of the same meeting.

City Clerk Debbie Mahler said there may have been a misunderstanding that led to the third meeting not being noticed and that she made sure the last was posted appropriately on the city’s website, the bulletin board, the kiosk outside City Hall, the library and at the post office.

According to Ford, under RCW 42.30.080, cities legally don’t have to provide the public with notice of a special meeting; only members of the governing body and the media if they have a previously provided a written request for such notices.

Most cities end up doing more than is actually required under state law, he said. However, the law was updated this year and beginning June 1, cities will be required to also notify the public by posting special meeting notices on its website, a practice the city has been following for years.

Seligson said the council hasn’t been trying in any way to be secretive or not transparent with the public. Rather, he said this is a sensitive issue and the council is trying to address it expediently and justly.

“The matter is one of delicacy and we’re trying to handle it in a way that is appropriate to the public and fair to all parties,” Seligson said.

“We’re really not trying to stonewall anyone,” he said.

Seligson confirmed that the only action taken so far has been to appoint himself as the council’s liaison with the media on this particular issue that was done in public following the last executive session on Friday.

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