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Rutledge seeks legal opinion on Bockus' appointment

POULSBO — It’s a case that has split the Port of Poulsbo Commission. Commissioners and staff alike say they have the port’s interests at heart.

Questions have arisen regarding Commissioner Arnold Bockus’ recent appointment, and whether it is legal for a commissioner who is leaving office to be appointed to a different seat.

Bockus, formerly of Position 3, lost in the November election to Jim Rutledge, but was appointed to fill Glenn Gilbert’s Position 2 seat after Gilbert resigned effective Nov. 30.

After the election, Rutledge initially said he didn’t anticipate any problems working with Bockus. But Rutledge said he began asking questions about the appointment after local residents expressed concern to him about how a sitting commissioner could be appointed to another vacancy.

Rutledge turned to the State Auditor’s Office for clarification: Can Commissioner Tony DeCarlo nominate Bockus to fill in the unexpired term — effective Jan. 1, 2012 — and can Bockus vote for himself?

Never having seen or heard of this situation before — a three-member board down to one member — Chairman DeCarlo said he and port attorney Greg Norbut consulted with higher governmental agencies as to protocol.

DeCarlo, Rutledge and Norbut seem to have received conflicting advice.

Scott Woelfle of the State Auditor Office responded to Rutledge’s question, advising the commission work with its legal counsel, the County Auditor and the state Secretary of State office to find an appropriate answer. However, Woelfle gives the opinion that, “It does not appear that a current commissioner could be appointed to fill a vacancy until after the current term of office has expired. Further, if that position remains unfilled after (Dec. 31), the appointment would be made by the two commissioners then in place (one current, one newly elected).”

County Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore said it’s not within her office to answer questions about vacancies, only elections.

Norbut said he consulted with Robert’s Rules of Order, a widely used book advising on parliamentary assembly, which says, “No member of board can be compelled to refrain from voting because of a perception that he or she may have some conflict of interest.”

“We did what we felt was the right thing to do,” Norbut said. Because only two people applied for the vacancy in its three-week application period, one of whom lived in Silverdale and was disqualified, Bockus was the only option. Norbut said there was not a conflict of interest because there was only one viable applicant. “Ethics and public perception are a lot different than [what] statues and precedents provide. It’s very gray. All we can do is act in good faith.”

At the Dec. 1 regular port meeting, DeCarlo appointed Bockus to the vacancy effective Jan. 1. Bockus recused himself and handed the chairmanship to DeCarlo before the vote.

After Rutledge brought the commission his questions and DeCarlo consulted with Norbut, DeCarlo said he felt confident that he was indeed able to appoint Bockus. DeCarlo and Bockus voted at the Dec. 28 meeting to affirm the appointment; the term ends in 2015 and Bockus will have to run for the remainder of the term in 2013.

Bockus said he thinks the situation is “sad.”

“Too much effort is being placed on something that’s already been decided,” he said Thursday. He added that because he did not begin Position 2 until Jan. 1, “I wasn’t wearing two hats.”

Rutledge is looking into this case to find the “legal process that the citizens of the port are due of their elected officials.” He was not informed of a special board meeting called Dec. 28 to discuss the appointment, he said.

Rutledge sent a request to Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, to ask the state Attorney General to review the case and give a legal opinion. Dan Sytman, spokesman for the Attorney General office, said opinions usually take about 60 days to complete.

The commission planned to discuss this further at Thursday night’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

“I’m interested in seeing what develops,” Bockus said. “I’m hoping we can get on with port business.”

 

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