November 18, 2015 by islandersvoice1
The Portland Fair Controversy Keeps on Giving
By David Dehlendorf, San Juan Island
In her op-ed in the Islanders’ Voice on November 5, Shireene Hale discussed the misconduct by Bob Jarman, Council Member, and Mike Thomas, County Manager, related to a 2014 building permit application, and related wetlands dispute, in Portland Fair Estates on San Juan Island. Not only did their misconduct occur, but it subsequently led to the waste of substantial time and money by the council, staff, and taxpayers, including responding to two related lawsuits. All of this could have been avoided if only Jarman and Thomas had followed proper procedures established in the county code.
But there is more to this story than what has previously been disclosed to the public, specifically what may be even more serious misconduct by our county manager as described below.
Concerned as she was about the mishandling of the Portland Fair situation, Hale attended the council meeting on July 13, 2015 with the intent of delivering constructive comments about the mishandling of the permit application during the public access period. As a former manager in the Community Development & Planning Department, Hale would have spoken from a position of in-depth knowledge, as she had helped write the relevant county ordinance. It was Hale’s intent that morning to urge the council to avoid such misconduct in the future.
However, Hale did not deliver her remarks on July 13 because of intimidation, a form of censorship, by Mike Thomas, County Manager, and Pamela Morais, the county’s Manager of Human Resources.
As explained to me personally that evening, Hale was sitting in the audience before the start of the meeting with notes on her lap outlining what she intended to say. Suddenly Thomas and Morais appeared, looked over her shoulder at her notes, and said something to the effect that “We see from your notes you are planning to speak about the Portland Fair application and wetlands dispute.” When Hale responded affirmatively, Thomas and Morais proceeded to tell her that she shouldn’t speak on the subject because in effect “she did not know what was going on” and “her being involved was interfering with what they wanted to do with a related whistle blower complaint alleging improper government action.” The argument that followed was “not friendly” according to Hale. She felt coerced and decided not to deliver her planned remarks.
Fortunately, Hale decided to deliver her remarks during the public access period the next morning (July 14). She also informed the council about the actions of Thomas and Morais the previous day. Readers can view Hale’s comments on the county website at:
I consider the actions by Thomas and Morais to be unwarranted, unethical, a form of censorship, and perhaps illegal. The public has every right to speak to the council during the public access period without the threat of intervention and coercion as demonstrated by Thomas and Morais on July 13. And the public has every right to expect professional and ethical behavior by our county officials.
I have personally asked the council to reprimand Thomas for his behavior. The council is unwilling to disclose whether or not it did, citing employee privacy practices.
My purpose in disclosing this situation is to help assure it doesn’t happen again to Hale, you, or me. I urge the public to be vigilant to make sure the described coercion was a one-time event and does not happen again. And also to further assure that Jarman and Thomas do not repeat their intervention in any future permit application as described in Hale’s article.
Note: This op-ed represents the opinions of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of the San Juan County Democrats.