June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:35 PM
"Planning has reached the stage that a guru like Keith Dearborn can command hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments simply because he's the only one who fully understands the process.Last week, this expensive situation was pointed out by Island County Superior Court Judges Vicki Churchill and Alan Hancock, who announced they will sign off on no more paychecks for Dearborn or his wife and legal partner, Alison Moss. Since they joined the process in late 1998 the county has spent $722,000 on their services, and there will be plenty more to come before the plan is amended after the appeals process is complete.That's too much for the judges, but the county commissioners will keep paying because they have no choice. The county has gone through several planning directors during the comp plan process, and a bushel of paid planners who have come and gone, not to mention volunteer planning commission members. At this point, Keith Dearborn is the only human with a handle on the Island County planning process. If he left, the process would fall into disarray and be set back months, possibly years.This isn't anything new. In 1984, it was Dearborn who stepped in to see that year's comprehensive plan finished off after a decade of discussion. The commissioners then were chastised for paying him about $500,000. Taking inflation into consideration, the new plan, required by the state Growth Management Act, might not be all that costly. Compared to what other counties are spending, our Dearborn-led planning effort could turn out to be a bargain. In fact, we're lucky to have our own planning guru even though it's unfortunate one is required. Dearborn could be working for any other county in the area. He must like us, for some reason.One would think that living on an island, planning would be a fairly simple process. There really isn't that much land to worry about. But we've spent millions on the combined 1984 and 1999 plans, and have little but mountains of paperwork to show for it, and of course lots of downzoned land that could have been downzoned at much less expense.When looking for someone to blame, try Olympia. That's where the Legislature sit, and it's the Legislature that handed down the Growth Management Act whose requirements are too complex for small counties to fulfill without outside help. That's why we need people like Keith Dearborn. At least they get the job done."