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Shepard ousted from Diking District 1 lawsuit

Island County Diking District 1 commissioner John Shepard has been barred by a judge from participating in any further commission discussion of a pending lawsuit against the district.

In a Feb. 24 ruling announced Monday, Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill found that Shepard’s “conflict of interest is clear and apparent.”

The ruling was sought by Shepard’s fellow commissioners, Steve Arnold and Ray Gabelein. They said Shepard should be banned from taking part in discussions about the lawsuit Shepard supports over the installation of a $430,000 pump project in late 2008.

Shepard actively supports district residents unhappy with the pump. Before joining the commission in February 2009, he contributed to a legal fund and helped to raise more money.

Since joining the diking commission, he has been a vocal opponent of almost every action the other commissioners have undertaken, especially regarding the pump.

“Commissioner Shepard acknowledges his active involvement with the opposition both before and after his appointment, although he characterizes it as providing information to district residents,” Churchill wrote in her ruling.

“Some of the information he provided, however, was either unauthorized or confidential,” the judge added.

Churchill disqualified Shepard from taking part in executive sessions focusing on the lawsuit, and from talking with the district’s lawyer about the lawsuit.

The judge declined, however, to force Shepard to return confidential material or to account for what he has disclosed, because those issues were not part of the original motion.

Last month, before Churchill’s ruling, Shepard said he would gladly remove himself from future discussions regarding the lawsuit, so as not to attract more criticism.

A group of district residents has sued the district and the county, saying diking district commissioners approved the pump project without proper public notice, and that the assessments are inequitable.

They also accuse Arnold and Gabelein of ongoing improper actions regarding the project and the district generally, and that the pump is damaging the sensitive areas of the wetlands at Deer Lagoon.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s regular commissioners’ meeting has been cancelled. Gabelein said Tuesday the district through the years has cancelled meetings when there was no business to discuss, and that was the case this time.

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