Coupeville hires Kwarsick back for consulting services
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey Examiner Staff
January 17, 2013 · Updated 12:52 PM
Larry Kwarsick has pleaded guilty to falsifying city records in Langley and will spend two weeks in jail next month for the crime, but he still has a job in Coupeville and will be earning $50 an hour.
On Tuesday, the Coupeville Town Council agreed to terminate Kwarsick’s existing contract as town planner, an action he requested last month, but then agreed to rehire him to provide interim consulting services while officials search for a permanent replacement.
The council also green-lighted Mayor Nancy Conard’s strategy for finding that replacement, a plan in which she appoints herself the town’s official planner until the position is filled.
It’s unclear how long the recruitment process will take or how long Kwarsick’s services will be retained; Conard said it would be at least a couple weeks but could last a few months.
“I wish I could say,” said Conard, responding to questions from council members.
Laying out all three proposals, the mayor made it clear that Kwarsick’s interim services will not be as a planner or as the town’s designated SEPA, state Environmental Protection Act, responsible official.
Instead, the agreement is for Kwarsick to aid in the transition process mainly by doing administrative work.
He has been a one-person department for nearly 10 years and it would be helpful, said Conard, to have him work on an hourly basis to “clean up the files” and “get the computer records in order” for his replacement.
In December, Kwarsick plead guilty to the misdemeanor crime of altering the conditions of permit for a family members home in 2011.
At the time, he was also the city’s planning chief but the conditions were set by his predecessors, one of which was Town Councilman Larry Cort.
Kwarsick stepped down from the post after being elected Langley’s mayor but that position was short lived as well.
Last year, an online blogger wrote a series of articles, titled “How many hats are too many,” about Kwarsick’s role in government.
It led to a whistleblower complaint from Langley’s new planner and ultimately a review by Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks. In a series of events since, Kwarsick was sentenced to two weeks in jail, a term he will serve in February, and resigned as mayor.
Based on state law that restricts anyone convicted of malfeasance from holding a public position, Banks is now pursuing legal action to ensure that Kwarsick never agains holds a public office.
How Banks may respond to the town’s rehiring of Kwarsick was a topic of concern at Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilman Bob Clay said he was worried the action may get the town or Kwarsick in more trouble.
Conard said she shared those concerns and claimed that recent attempts to contact the prosecutor had been unsuccessful.
She did, however, discuss the issue with the town’s attorney – the law firm Weed, Graafstra, and Benson – and was told that the town was on solid legal ground.
As Kwarsick would not be workings as town planner or as a SEPA official, hiring him to perform interim consulting services likely would not violate the letter of the law, she said.
In an interview Friday morning, Banks said his plans to secure a court order that will forbid Kwarsick from ever again serving in public office are unchanged but that he doesn’t plan to scrutinize the town’s decision.
“It sounds to me like they are trying to do something reasonable both for the citizens and abide by the law,” Banks said.
“I’m not going to express any opposition to that move,” he said.
According to Conard, the town’s attorneys also suggested she temporarily appoint herself as the town’s official planner.
She said Kwarsick, who was hired in late 2003, will be challenging to replace and this is way to ensure that the town can continue to fulfill some of its lighter planning obligations.
Long-term planning efforts, such as code or comprehensive plan updates, will be parked until a permanent replacement is found, said Conard, but short-term planning shouldn’t crawl to a stop.
She made clear that while she would oversee permit work and provide an official signature, the heavy lifting would be done by other town officials, such as the engineer and building official.
A short-term consultant may also be tapped if needed, she said.
Council members voiced several questions and concerns on the three proposals and Conard acknowledged that they weren’t a perfect solution. They are a short-term stopgap, she said.
Cort did request that the interim services agreement with Kwarsick include a sunset clause of 90 days.
It was heartily endorsed by not only Conard but the rest of the council as well.
All three proposals were decided in separate votes and each was unanimous among the five council members.