County council says Thomas not in the wrong after wetland designation

The San Juan County Council has issued a statement that Manager Mike Thomas was not in the wrong in reference to a wetlands evaluation on a San Juan Island property.

The council’s June 25 memo states Thomas was “within his jurisdiction” when he identified a contentious part of a San Juan Island property to not be a wetland. The statement is in response to an Improper Government Action report originally filed Jan. 21 by County Code Enforcement officer Christopher Laws that alleged a conflict of interest had occurred regarding a wetland determination in September of 2014. The initial IGA report filed by Laws stated that the property owners had complained to their neighbor, Councilman Bob Jarman, who then asked Thomas to inspect the property. The IGA report alleges that Thomas and his wife Jennifer [a state certified wetland expert] did so, determined that it was not a wetland, and claimed “ethical impropriety” on Thomas’ part. The property is called the “Portland Fair Estates” and is owned by a nonprofit homeowners association.

The recent memo from the council refuted those claims, stating that Thomas’ wife (who is not a county employee) was in the vicinity, but was not there to assist in a wetlands reconnaissance and that Thomas acted within his authority, stating “He has often intervened … to resolve a citizen issue, at times in conflict with the personal or professional opinions of his staff; with the goal of streamlining a process, resolving long term issues, reflecting the wishes of the council, or with the larger goal of improving the perception of county government within the community.”

The county memo went on in a later section to say that Thomas “saved the county an unnecessary expense by his review.”

Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord handled the IGA submitted by Laws, and issued a memorandum regarding the report on March 11. He stated that had Thomas done a proper wetland reconnaissance then he should have filed an official report. It was unclear whether Thomas was qualified to make a wetland determination at the time.

“The question presented is whether the determination by Mr. Thomas that there was ‘no wetlands’ and directing issuance of the Hughes building permit without a wetland reconnaissance report was contrary” to county code, the memo states.

The county memo responded by stating that an email from Director Sam Gibboney to Planner Annie Matsumoto-Grah sufficed as a report. The email read:

“Annie – There is a permit application in for a property in the Portland Fair neighborhood. Supposedly one of the neighbors reported that there might be a wetland. Mike walked the site last night with a local wetland expert [JT] and there are no signs of one. So no need for recon.”

The county memo reads, “Although we would prefer a more descriptive email be the department’s standards, Ms. Gibboney did provide a record for the file of her determination, based on the county manager’s reconnaissance.”

The memo also added that Gibboney was incorrect when she referred to JT (Jennifer Thomas) as the source of the information on the wetland, though she is a state certified wetlands specialist.

The  PA memo concluded that after Department of Ecology wetlands expert Doug Gresham reviewed the wetlands in question, no further action was needed, but that “in the future, a written reconnaissance report should be received before a building permit is issued.”

The county memo concluded that “the county did its reconnaissance for possible wetlands issues properly,” and that “the county has now spent significant resources … to determine that there was no improper government action on the part of County Manager Thomas.”

No further action will be taken by the prosecuting attorney’s office or the county council.