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Law & justice tax refusal sparks turmoil among Island County leaders
The strained relationship between key law-and-justice figures and the Island County commissioners was evident at a charged meeting this past Wednesday that culminated when an administrative assistant was cut off while reading Commissioner Angie Homola’s letter to the board.
“I don’t think it’s right for her to send a proxy in here to read a letter with the purpose of throwing the blame around,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said during the Law and Justice Council meeting.
Homola is a member of the council, but didn’t attend because of an out-of-town engagement. She sent an employee from the commissioners’ office to read a letter in her stead.
The quarreling continued after the meeting in email exchanges among Law and Justice Council members which were critical of Homola.
Some members of the county’s Law and Justice Council are frustrated that commissioners aren’t willing to place a measure on this year’s general election ballot to ask voters to raise sales tax to provide extra funding to police, courts, prosecutors and other criminal justice functions.
The issue became personal last week when Banks sent out an agenda for the Law and Justice Council including a statement decrying the “inflammatory remarks” made by a commissioner, as reported in the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record. Banks, a Democrat, didn’t name the commissioner, but he was clearly referring to Homola, also a Democrat.
During a board discussion about a proposed sales tax increase, Homola suggested that members of the council “have acted in a childish manner, and have been uncooperative,” according to Banks’ interpretation of her comments.
“I honestly do not know where that comes from. It seemed to me that we had an open and mature discussion, where opposing positions were presented, and a consensus by overwhelming majority was achieved on a recommendation,” he wrote. “Perhaps it is just politics triumphing over problem-solving in an election year.”
Wednesday, the Law and Justice Council was scheduled to discuss the next step after the commissioners rejected placing the tax increase on this year’s ballot. But the discussion was derailed when the administrative assistant got up to read the letter from Homola.
The letter states that Homola took the council’s letter to the commissioners seriously, but she urges a collaborative approach to find a funding solution that will help all the struggling county departments. The council voted to send a letter to the commissioners requesting that they place a measure on the ballot to raise sales tax for the sole purpose of funding criminal justice departments.
Homola stressed that budget problems are facing the entire county. She wrote that she “takes exception” with the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s comments that the commissioners are doing nothing about the situation; she outlined the many steps she’s taken to deal with the situation.
“This dire situation is not a surprise. After I took office, I shared the forecasts with the sheriff over three years ago and asked that he please look out several years which he was not willing to do,” the letter states.
As this was said, Banks interrupted the letter reading and argued it wasn’t appropriate for the discussion, especially since Homola wasn’t present.
“I don’t think it’s right to criticize the sheriff by letter,” he said.
Sheriff Mark Brown said he wasn’t offended by the letter and he welcomes tough discussions, but he said it should be done face to face.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson, who’s not a member of the council but watched the meeting via video from the Camano Annex, offered to explain her reasons for opposing the ballot measure, but the members urged her to write a letter instead.
In the end, the council voted to table a resolution expressing regret that no action was taken on the sales tax proposal and urging that some action be taken at the earliest possible time. The resolution will be discussed at the next meeting, after the members have read Homola’s letter and the letter that Emerson promised.
After the meeting, Banks sent out an email to council members with links to a recording of the board of commissioners’ work session at which they discussed and rejected the proposed ballot measure.
In a separate email, he questioned Homola’s claim that the board has been working to find a way to garner widespread support for a ballot measure. He wrote that he’s not aware of any such discussions.
“If those efforts were undertaken privately by Commissioner Homola, they were not made known to me,” he wrote.
Friday, Brown sent Homola an unusually harsh email and copied it to members of the Law and Justice Council.
“Might I suggest you spend less time attacking the prosecutor and myself as being ‘divisive’ and use your energy to work with your fellow commissioners to decide if what we say has merit or not,” he wrote.