Langley Mayor Larry Kwarsick modified previously finalized development documents for a family member’s home shortly after he was hired as the city’s planning director in 2011, according to a statement released Friday by the Langley City Council.
The news release said the council was not a court of law and can’t make any legal determinations, and instead has recommended the issue be investigated by the Island County Prosecutor’s Office.
“The council has reason to believe that a violation of the law may have taken place,” said Hal Seligson, councilman and mayor pro tem.
Seligson confirmed that the prosecutor’s office has agreed to look into the issue but was unsure when any decisions would be issued.
Kwarsick, who was elected to his first term as mayor late last year, previously worked as the city’s director of community planning in 2011. He was apprised of the council’s action on Thursday but declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations.
However, he also repeated his previous claim that he did nothing wrong.
“I don’t expect to be found responsible for people’s feelings or opinions about my actions,” Kwarsick said.
The council’s statement comes after a string of executive sessions last week concerning a whistleblower complaint detailing the allegations against the freshman mayor. According to documents city officials released Friday morning through a public records request filed two weeks ago, the complaint was lodged by Jeff Arango, the new director of community planning.
In a memo to the council, Arango said that Kwarsick had been involved in the permitting process of a family member’s home at 401 Minnie Lane since 2006. The property is mostly a wetland and development required a mitigation and a 10-year monitoring plan.
Kwarsick, who has a private planning business and has been the town planner in Coupeville for years, helped develop the mitigation plan in association with one other private firm.
In his memo, Arango said Kwarsick submitted a report to former Planning Director Larry Cort and planner Fred Evander and that an unsigned decision was issued Dec. 22, 2010, before they left for new jobs.
However, Arango alleges that Kwarsick changed the contents in February after he was hired as the city’s new planning chief.
According to Arango, in a conversation with Kwarsick last month, the mayor admitted he’d not been happy with Evander’s initial reluctance to endorse his submitted plan and did in fact alter the contents.
However, Kwarsick said a final decision had not been issued — the document was never signed — and that he had simply completed it in February after he took over, Arango wrote.
“Mr. Kwarsick said he was frustrated that Mr. Evander would not sign off on the implementation of the mitigation plan or monitoring report before he left the city,” the memo said. “Mr. Kwarsick said that Mr. Evander had started the decision and that he ‘finished it up’ and stuck it in the file and forgot to change the date.”
According to other documents provided in the records request, Evander confirmed that he did finalize the decision and submitted it to Cort.
He also specified what parts of the decision had been altered, one of which included a finding of fact that said restoration “had been completed in a single phase rather than 7-year multi-phased plan originally proposed.”
Arango’s memo said that he only began looking into the issue after being questioned about unsigned decisions by South Whidbey blogger Skip Demuth. In an interview Friday, Demuth said he was pleased the council had taken action but said he had no particular axe to grind with Kwarsick.
“It’s really about protection of sensitive areas and following the rules,” Demuth said.
The California resident has property on South Whidbey and said he was tipped off about the situation.
His subsequent investigation revealed what he called “irregularities in the permitting process” and has led him to question whether Kwarsick is wearing too many hats.
While Kwarsick maintained that he did nothing wrong, he vowed to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office and expressed disappointment that the issue has resulted in controversy.
“I’m very sorry for this turmoil,” Kwarsick said.
Since the issue erupted, he said many have called or written and expressed their support, to which he said he was thankful.
He also said he held no ill will toward the council for its decision and did not expect this to interfere with the day-to-day operation of government.
“I think the council did the best job they could under the circumstances,” Kwarsick said.
“They are good people doing the best they can, just like I am.”