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Prosecutor sues to kick Langley’s embattled mayor out of office

By JIM LARSEN
South Whidbey Record Editor
December 20, 2012 · 5:26 PM
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Langley Mayor Larry Kwarsick announced earlier today he is keeping his position despite a guilty plea to a gross misdemeanor that resulted in a 15-day jail sentence starting in February.

Now, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks is trying to force Kwarsick to step down. He announced Thursday at approximately 4:45 p.m. that he has filed a lawsuit against Kwarsick, claiming he failed to step down from two public offices, as mayor of Langley as well as Coupeville’s town planner.

Banks told the Record that he doubts Kwarsick has been served yet with the papers. Kwarsick left town before a city council meeting Tuesday for a family vacation. The city’s receptionist said Wednesday he would be back “in a couple of days.”

Banks’ lawsuit action came only hours after Kwarsick sent a short email to the Record which inquired about his plans. The inquiry followed Tuesday’s council meeting in which the five council members and the large majority of the audience supported keeping Kwarsick in office.

“I am humbled by the support I have received from people in the community, the staff at city hall, and the council,” Kwarsick wrote. “I plan to continue to serve the city of Langley as mayor.”

Banks, speaking by phone late Tuesday, said, “I am disappointed in the mayor and the council. The council is saying they believe it’s OK (to break the law) if he’s popular.”

In fact, Banks said, Kwarsick admitted to a gross misdemeanor regarding wetland permit papers he changed to benefit a relative.

The prosecutor wrote, “Today I initiated a Quo Warranto proceeding in Superior Court to enforce Washington’s law that requires a person convicted of malfeasance in office to forfeit public office and be forever barred from holding public office.”

Kwarsick pleaded guilty to charges Monday in a plea bargain. Judge Vickie Churchill tacked on 15 days in jail, saying he violated the public trust.

Resigning from office was part of the plea bargain, Banks said.

“The unmistakable understanding was that Mr. Kwarsick would comply with the law and resign from his public offices,” Banks wrote. “He should have resigned immediately after the plea. It has been three days, and he has not resigned. He is no longer eligible to hold either post.”

Banks said that once served with the lawsuit papers, Kwarsick will have 20 days to respond.

Can Kwarsick serve as mayor until the lawsuit is settled?

“I don’t think he can lawfully,” Banks said. “But I can’t go down there and put locks on the doors.”

Kwarsick’s support among city council members was also getting shaky Thursday afternoon. Councilman Jim Sundberg, who spoke in court Monday asking for a lighter sentence for Kwarsick, changed his tune in a call to the Record Thursday afternoon.

“My position is I’ve reread the RCWs and ordinances and he can not remain as mayor,” Sundberg said. He indicated at least one other council member may now share his opinion.

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