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AG: Bockus could not be appointed

POULSBO — An assistant state Attorney General says Poulsbo Port Commissioner Arnie Bockus could not be appointed to another commission vacancy before his term expired.

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Lanese cited a common-law public policy principle that a sitting commissioner is ineligible for appointment, if the appointment is made during the commissioner’s term.

Lanese noted it is not a formal opinion of the Attorney General’s Office.

To recap, Commissioner Glenn Gilbert resigned in October, effective Nov. 30.

Bockus was defeated by Jim Rutledge on Nov. 8 and was to leave office Dec. 31. While still in office, he applied for Gilbert’s position. He was one of two applicants. Because one applicant was from Silverdale and thus ineligible, Commissioner Tony DeCarlo on Dec. 1 appointed Bockus to Gilbert’s position, effective Jan. 1.

Because questions were raised whether a lone commissioner could make the appointment, or whether the appointment should be made by the County Commission, the matter came up for re-vote Dec. 28. This time, Bockus voted — and voted for himself, a clear violation of conflict of interest laws.Rutledge asked for the state Attorney General’s opinion.

What Rutledge and a few members of the public are concerned about is whether it was legal for Bockus to be appointed before his term expired, and that he voted for himself.

DeCarlo said after consulting with the port attorney, he felt he alone could not appoint Bockus; two commissioners would have to vote or the task would go to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. So, he and Bockus voted to appoint Bockus to Gilbert’s position.

“Two of us voted, and [Bockus] voted for himself, and that’s where the rub lies, I guess,” DeCarlo said.

State law, RCW 42.12.070, states: “Where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position ... If less than two members of a governing body remain in office, the county legislative authority of the county … shall appoint a qualified person or persons to the governing body until the governing body has two members.”

Rutledge is not surprised by the opinion, given that the state Auditor's office had the same opinion when asked, before Bockus was appointed, he said.

“There seems to be some impression that an informal opinion doesn't carry any weight,” Rutledge said. “The entire community should be extremely disappointed by the complete dismissal by Commissioner DeCarlo and Port Attorney [Greg] Norbut. I expected more from elected officials who have sworn to serve the best interest of the citizens.”

Norbut said the AG’s opinion leaves the situation “up in the air.”

“It’s not case specific, it doesn’t even note the fact [the port had] only one applicant,” Norbut said. “It takes a hypothetical situation.”

Norbut said he has not discussed further action with the commission, but his impression is any legislative action would be taken up by Rep. Sherry Appleton, who requested the AG opinion on behalf of Rutledge.

DeCarlo, however, is not uncertain: the AG’s informal opinion does not change the circumstances for him.

The opinion cited several different court cases, all pointing to a different solution, but DeCarlo specified a Florida case in 2009, which ruled no “prohibition against appointing bodies appointing its own members to positions.”

Bockus did not return several phone calls.

DeCarlo and Rutledge said it is important the commission focus on the Shoreline Master Program, and an upcoming meeting with the city and the Department of Ecology to address the port's modifications. The port met for its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night.

 

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