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Langley Mayor Kwarsick faces criminal charge | UPDATE
The mayor of Langley has been charged with a crime that may spell the end of his career in politics.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks filed one count of “false report by a public officer” against Mayor Larry Kwarsick in Island County Superior Court on Thursday.
Kwarsick allegedly broke the law when he was serving as director of community planning in Langley last year. He’s accused of backdating a document to make it appear that it was written by a predecessor. The Notice of Decision improperly eliminated permit requirements on his stepdaughter’s home construction project, according to court documents.
Kwarsick is accused of knowingly making “a false or misleading statement in any official report or statement,” under the definition of the charge. If convicted, Kwarsick would have to forfeit his office and would be permanently disqualified from holding public office in the state, according to court documents.
The charge is a gross misdemeanor and punishable with up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Kwarsick, 65, is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment Monday. Banks said he expects the case will be resolved at that time, though he wouldn’t disclose the terms of the potential settlement.
Langley Councilman Hal Seligson, the mayor pro tem, said the council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss how to move forward. He said he plans to ask the city attorney to explain the process of replacing the mayor, in case it becomes necessary.
“We will have to confront a very difficult time, but I’m confident we are going to pull through as a community and do the right thing,” Seligson said.
Kwarsick is well-known throughout Whidbey Island. He previously worked as the Island County public works director and the planning director. He is currently under contract as the planning director in Coupeville and was also the contracted planning director in Langley before running unopposed for mayor last year. He runs a land-use consulting firm called Sound Planning Services.
The Island County Prosecutor’s Office started looking into the case after current Langley Planning Director Jeff Arango discovered the paperwork irregularity because of a public information request from South Whidbey blogger Skip Demuth. Arango made a whistleblower’s complaint to the Langley City Council. The council, in turn, asked the prosecutor to look into the matter.
Banks said he convened a Special Inquiry Judge, but he didn’t end up taking testimony in the secretive procedure designed to protect witnesses. He said the city employees were willing to speak with Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, so it wasn’t necessary.
The special inquiry judge did, however, issue subpoenas for documents and computers at Langley City Hall, as well as Kwarsick’s computer at his Langley home.
The case surrounds a property on Minnie Lane that is largely wetland. In 2006 — before he became planning director — Kwarsick was acting as the agent for his stepdaughter, Emmy Atwood, and her husband in obtaining development permits for construction of a home in the sensitive area.
As part of the permitting process, the city approved a Wetland Mitigation Plan that Kwarsick submitted. It required a 10-year monitoring plan, annual reports for nine years and restoration work to be completed over several years.
After two members of the planning department quit, the city approved a contract with Kwarsick as planning director on Jan. 3, 2011. Under the contract, Kwarsick was supposed to recuse himself from all matters related to his clients, according to the report written by Detective Wallace.
While he was planning director, he allegedly wrote a Notice of Decision, backdated to Dec. 20, 2010, that stated all wetland mitigation work on his stepdaughter’s project was completed after just one year; the document also eliminated a development restriction attached to the deed on the property. He filed the notice and wrote a notation closing the file, according to Banks.
Kwarsick didn’t return calls for comment. He previously said he didn’t intentionally backdate the document, but forgot to change the date while finishing up the work of the former planner, according to the whistleblower’s report.
But Banks said evidence from Kwarsick’s computer shows that he wrote the Notice of Decision as a separate document, using a June of 2009 Amendment of Critical Areas Decision as a template. He said the computer had a couple of different versions of the notice with different dates.
“It appears that he was working on a document at home to make it look like it was an official Langley report,” he said.
Banks said the case was difficult for him because he respects Kwarsick and knows that he is held in high regard throughout the community.
“I think he has a really good reputation here,” he said. “He spent his whole career in service to the public.”