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Meeting attendance could cost Emerson board chair

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson speaks at a recent board meeting in Coupeville. Last week, she was criticized by her fellow commissioners for taking action contrary to a majority of the board. She took the same action again this week. - Photo by Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson speaks at a recent board meeting in Coupeville. Last week, she was criticized by her fellow commissioners for taking action contrary to a majority of the board. She took the same action again this week.
— image credit: Photo by Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson's status as chairwoman of the board could be in jeopardy following her approval of what appears to be a second non-board-sanctioned special session notice.

Released to the public Tuesday, the notice announces the planned attendance of at least two board members at a meeting concerning a proposed law and justice levy in Freeland tonight, July 10.

The meeting begins 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 18341 State Highway 525.

"This is another example of (Emerson) taking action without the majority of the board," Commissioner Jill Johnson said during an interview early Wednesday.

The notice was signed and approved by Emerson, a District 1 Republican. It comes just one week after she was publicly chastised by her colleagues for approving a similar notice for a meeting in Oak Harbor.

Johnson, a District 2 Republican, and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a District 1 Democrat, accused Emerson with taking action contrary to an earlier consensus of the board.

Johnson and Price Johnson claim verbal agreement was reached during a June 12 work session that a series of meetings on the levy proposal would be held in each commissioner district and attended by the areas commissioner.

The idea was to avoid any possibility of legal problems that might arise from an attending quorum that may later complicate or hinder the levy effort.

Johnson even threatened Emerson, saying she would support a vote to revoke her position as chairwoman if she ever again took action against the majority wishes of the board.

Despite the warning, Emerson said early Wednesday that she approved the notice because she plans to attend the meeting.

She claims there is nothing unusual or illegal about the board meeting in a special session.

"Baloney, we've been doing it on Camano for years," said Emerson, adding that she believes it is common practice in other counties as well.

She also argues that, contrary to the claims of her fellow commissioners last week, that there was no consensus at a June 12 work session.

A review of the recording reveals no formal vote or a clear verbal agreement. Emerson noted that the issue was discussed again during a Monday, June 17 board meeting.

The commissioners talked about their intentions and the possible need for a special session notice and none of the commissioners voiced any objections at the time. Yet, Johnson and Price Johnson maintain their understanding was that each meeting would be attended by one commissioner only and that Emerson acted on her own.

Both said Wednesday they were surprised to see another special meeting notice, especially following their vocal objections last week.

Johnson said she offered a consensus for a special session at the Freeland meeting and was "still operating under the previous agreement" for each commissioner to attend only the meeting in their district.

When asked whether she would cash in on her recent threat to support a move to remove Emerson's status as chairwoman, Johnson said it would depend largely on whether or not Price Johnson agreed to the special notice.

"We'll have to wait and see," she said. According to Price Johnson, there is nothing illegal about having a special session in Freeland as long as it's appropriately advertised.

She added, however, that she was not consulted nor is she aware of any majority agreement to release another special session notice.

"This was a surprise," Price Johnson said.

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