Enell gets seat on commission

Island County commissioners unanimously appointed South Whidbey resident Dean Enell to the county planning commission Monday after Commissioner Helen Price Johnson nominated him from a list of six candidates.

Price Johnson said Enell understands the importance of balancing economic and environmental concerns.

“He’s pragmatic, open-minded and has a broad knowledge of Island County, as well as planning issues,” she said.

Enell is probably best known as a former Democratic candidate for county commissioner and an environmental activist. Recently, he ran for a position on the Port of South Whidbey board but lost in November to Chris Jerome.

Enell will replace Ray Gabelein, a planning commissioner since 2003, and the chairman of the commission last year. He is the owner of Ray Gabelein Bulldozing & Backhoe Co. and is a beef and hay farmer on South Whidbey.

Gabelein’s term expired earlier this month, and he had asked to be reappointed.

He was a strong voice for agriculture and property rights on the planning commission, Commissioner John Dean said, and commissioners thanked Gabelein for his years of service.

“He has given a lot of his personal time to the county,” Dean said.

It was Enell’s second appointment in as many months. He was also recently appointed by county commissioners to a position on the county’s Conservation Futures Citizens Advisory Board.

“I’m a little surprised,” Gabelein said later.

“To me, it’s unfortunate that Helen couldn’t put the small-town petty politics aside,” he said, adding that he likely wasn’t appointed because he supported Republicans Mike Shelton and Phil Bakke for the job of South End commissioner. Price Johnson is a Democrat.

“It seems like to me that Dean was a pretty radical choice, from the far edge of the spectrum,” Gabelein said, pointing to Enell’s past involvement with WEAN, the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. “I don’t think WEAN’s ideas have ever been accepted by the majority of people in Island County.”

Gabelein said he thought the planning commission would continue to do a good job, and said he would stay involved in relevant issues that come before the advisory body.

“I’m going to continue to advocate for agriculture and property rights; the two go hand in hand,” he said.

Price Johnson said the board used a new process for getting applicants, which included advertising the open positions. It was open and transparent, she said.

"We got six really viable candidates who all brought different strengths," she said.

She said Enell will be a good listener, and will be able to strike a balance between economic and environmental sustainability. She said she looked beyond his history with WEAN to his more recent work with the Freeland community and his candidacy for the port position.

"It was a difficult decision. But I'm really proud of the decision we made," she said.

County commissioners also reappointed Camano Island resident Bill Lippens to the planning commission on Monday.

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