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Island County responds to lawsuit with next steps

Bill Burnett speaks at a recent meeting in Oak Harbor about a levy proposal. Burnett filed suit against Island County over Commissioner Kelly Emerson’s removal as chairwoman of the board and the appointment of Commissioner Jill Johnson to the position. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Bill Burnett speaks at a recent meeting in Oak Harbor about a levy proposal. Burnett filed suit against Island County over Commissioner Kelly Emerson’s removal as chairwoman of the board and the appointment of Commissioner Jill Johnson to the position.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Responding to a lawsuit by Oak Harbor resident Bill Burnett, the Island County Prosecutor’s Office has provided steps he must take to go any further.

Burnett, who is currently an Oak Harbor School Board candidate, filed his lawsuit last month in Island County Superior Court.

Burnett is asking a judge to compel the Island County Board of Commissioners to reinstate Kelly Emerson as chairwoman.

Emerson, of Camano Island, was removed from the leadership role July 10 by the other two commissioners after Emerson defied the consensus of the board.

Burnett, acting as his own attorney, filed the “complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief” against the board of commissioners, as well as commissioners Helen Price Johnson, of Clinton, and Jill Johnson, of Oak Harbor.

Given Burnett’s lack of legal expertise, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said his office decided to provide an outline of what Burnett must do next to proceed any further with his lawsuit.

Burnett did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

“The lawsuit was in limbo until he does the next steps,” Banks said. “We could let it sit, and then eventually take action on it. But we figured it would be better to see what we are dealing with rather than wait.”

Burnett’s action was filed July 25.

Next, according to the prosecutor’s letter, Burnett must furnish the county with a signed bond issued to Island County in an amount to be determined by the estimated cost of the lawsuit. The bond should also be approved by Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider, according to the letter.

Burnett has 10 days to provide a bond, after he receives a notice of appeal from the court.

Burnett then must work with the Island County clerk to designate the minutes in both written and recorded video form from where the appealed action took place.

After those steps are completed, the letter stated Burnett must file a brief with Superior Court by Sept. 8, 45 days after the action was originally filed.

The county then has 30 days to respond to the brief. Burnett will subsequently have 14 days to respond to the county’s response.

Emerson said Friday that she believes the letter was a “very well laid out and thoughtful gesture on the part of our prosecutors.”

“It’s very nice that they did that,” Emerson said.

While saying she had nothing to do with Burnett’s lawsuit, Emerson said she looked into legal action of her own, reaching out to resources at the Municipal Research and Services Center and the state attorney general.

Emerson said she was advised to work with Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, who is “sticking by what the majority voted.”

At this point, Emerson said she has no plans to pursue further legal advice or action.

Burnett has argued that Johnson, who replaced Emerson as chairwoman of the board of commissioners, is “an illegally-elected chair” and a “first-term, first-year commissioner who would not normally be eligible” for the position.

Emerson’s chairmanship faced opposition from the beginning.

A Tea-Party Republican, Emerson was passed over for chairmanship in 2011 by then-commissioners Price Johnson and Angie Homola, both Democrats.

Traditional rotation of the role dictated that Emerson be elected chair, but the other commissioners publicly questioned her public accessibility and work ethic.

Emerson was appointed to the position this year after Homola was unseated by Johnson, also a Republican.

Prior to appointing Emerson, Johnson and Price Johnson both expressed concerns about Emerson’s leadership skills and her involvement in a lawsuit with the county over an unpermitted construction project at the home of Emerson and her husband.

Emerson was stripped of her chairmanship last month after Johnson and Price Johnson said she ignored the directive of the board majority more than once, and in spite of clear and direct warnings.

 

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