Opinion

EDITORIAL | Violating public trust is serious

The arts community of Langley likes its drama, but not so much when it comes to the mayoral follies.

Mayor Larry Kwarsick, his lawyer and supporters were shocked Monday when Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill figuratively threw the book at him for doctoring land use papers on his home computer when he was the city planner, then slipping them into the city’s system to make it all look legal and tidy. A whistleblower turned in Kwarsick when he became mayor.

A deal between the defense and prosecution to have Kwarsick resign as mayor in return for a guilty plea was scuttled by the judge, who obviously wanted to send a strong message to public servants that they should not violate the public trust. Her message to Kwarsick: 15 days in the county slammer, beginning in February, as well as the loss of his job as mayor.

In one sense this is a tragedy. Larry Kwarsick served his community well for 40 years in several capacities, including county planning director and public works director. There was never a hint of misconduct. He enforced many ordinances regarding the environment, was well respected for his planning skills, and supported efforts to provide more waterfront access to the people.

The latest chapter is also ironic, because Kwarsick, the quintessential planner, regulation maker and regulation enforcer, was finally caught in a web of regulations. His illegal action was promoted by regulations in Langley regarding a relative who built a house in a wetland. He thought the regulations were too onerous so he surreptitiously eased the restrictions, only to pay a heavy personal price later.

Friends can still admire the positive work Kwarsick has accomplished. In one short year as Langley’s mayor he has set Second Street toward major development and acted quickly on parking, marina and noise issues. He was a “can do” guy who did get a lot done for the people of Langley.

But Judge Churchill sent the correct message: public officials must be honest beyond a doubt; if not, they’ll pay a price.

Her quick action should prompt the county to act more quickly on another serious matter. Commissioner Kelly Emerson was fined $37,000 for violating wetland laws, with a daily fine on top of that, well over a year ago. She still hasn’t paid. The other two commissioners should tell her it’s time to pay up or get out.

 

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