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Residents ask two Poulsbo port commissioners to resign

POULSBO — Disgruntled port residents have called for commissioners Tony DeCarlo and Arnold Bockus’s resignation over DeCarlo and port attorney Greg Norbut’s handling of Bockus’ appointment to a commission vacancy.

Other port residents, meanwhile, have called for the issue to be dropped. They express their support for Bockus in a guest column on page A5 of this edition of the Herald.

DeCarlo conceded at the port’s regular meeting on March 1 that legislation is “warranted” to clarify whether a sitting commissioner can be appointed to another vacancy during an existing term. But Commissioner Jim Rutledge and several residents said opinions by the state auditor and attorney general are very clear.

The AG opinion cited 40 years of common law and public policy that indicates a seated commissioner cannot be appointed to another seat during his term or vote for himself. Because of the opinions, Rutledge warned that the port has opened itself up to lawsuits by not appropriately addressing the issue.

“Ultimately, legislation might be enacted here, but it is not true that there is any doubt about the legal principle,” Rutledge said.

Since the opinion was handed down Feb. 23, DeCarlo and Norbut have said the issue is still “up in the air” and the opinion doesn’t mean they have to alter their decision or force Bockus to resign.

“The continued failure to recognize the significance of this speaks volumes to the ability and motivation of the commission and the port attorney with regard to how they view this matter,” Rutledge said. “It is not acceptable.”

A few residents that spoke out March 1 agreed with Rutledge that the issue is not about the person, it’s about the process.

“The dismissal of [opinions of] bodies within the state strikes me as inappropriate for public officials. It’s arrogant,” port district resident Tiffin Clegg said.

“I disapprove of the handling of this appointment [of] one of its own,” port district resident Ben Holland said. “It kind of reeks of cronyism. It doesn’t look right, even if it’s not illegal.”

Another resident warned the port shouldn’t have any cloud of suspicion over it if commissioners are considering asking voters to increase the size of the port district in November.

After former Commissioner Glenn Gilbert resigned in October, the port opened the application process to fill his position for his remaining term. DeCarlo said he appointed Bockus, at the time thought to be the only eligible candidate, and he and Bockus voted per RCW 42.12.070, which requires two commissioners vote on an appointment.

“Of course, at that time [November] we were not thinking that Mr. Bockus would not be re-elected,” DeCarlo said at the port meeting. “We did not realize everyone was going to jump out of the woodwork.”

However, at no time would there have been only one commissioner to vote on the appointment. Bockus’ term ended Dec. 31 and Rutledge’s began Jan. 1, so the appointment could have taken place at the Jan. 5 meeting after Rutledge was sworn into office.

“Where do we go from here,” DeCarlo said a few times at the meeting.

If Bockus chooses to resign or is forced to resign, the next step would not be taken by the port. Since it has been more than 90 days since Gilbert left office, the authority to appoint a successor would go the county Board of Commissioners.

Bockus did not return calls for comment.

As for legislation, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-23rd District, said she plans to pursue a bill to clarify how nonpartisan vacancies are filled. Appleton requested the AG opinion on behalf of Rutledge.

“People don’t trust politicians or government because sometimes we don’t play by the rules,” she said. “I wanted an opinion to see if we were playing by the rules.

“There seems to be this little glitch in RCW. We can fix that very easy.”

 

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