03/29/2006: "Council Selects Nielsen Over Dufford"
on Tuesday the County Council met in an extended executive session to review the credentials of the two top applicants to replace Wick Dufford, the current Hearing Examiner. Prior to entering the executive session, David Goldsmith listed the names that had applied for the position. The stating of the names was a surprise to the Council, and Kevin Ranker asked if it was appropriate to name them in open session. Goldsmith responded that it was public information, but that the review of their background and qualifications would be done in executive session.
If naming-names surprised the Council, some of the names surprised some of the observes. One applicant (who did not meet the final cut) was Lynn Bahrych, an attorney who has been both a long time Board member and past president of The Friends of the San Juans, and is one of those who has appealed the guest house regulations to the Growth Management Board. Of the two who did make the short list was -surprise- Dufford, who had teamed up with another attorney to do a sort of tag-team approach to the job. But the real surprise was the second applicant on the short list, Bill Nielsen, who is the former chair of the growth management board. The growth management board is the board that has heard the Friends appeals of SJ County's regulations, and those appeals have resulted in the County going to court to defend the current regulations that control and govern guest houses in San Juan County.
The day of surprises was not over. After having bemoaned the loss of Dufford as one of the best Hearing Examiner the County could hope to have, the Council passed over the opportunity to retain him, and chose Bill Nielsen instead. But the big surprise was the fact that, according to both Council Chair Lichter and Councilman Myhr, neither of them were made aware that Nielsen had been paid by the Friends to testify before the SJC Planning Commission, when the Commission had taken up the proposed ordinance the Council and Friends had agreed on, in executive session, as a settlement to the guest house issues; the very same issues that had been appealed by the Friends to the Growth Management Board; that is, a Board that Nielsen was once the Chair of.
after the Council had made their decision to hire Nielsen, one of the concerns raised was what happens if applicants come before Nielsen as he sits as the Hearing Examiner, and ask that he step down because the applicant feels there may be a potential conflict of interest, since Nielsen had once been retained by the Friends, and was now in the position to rule on applications that the Friends may oppose. Would he be impartial in hearing testimony against some applications? A legitimate problem? Perhaps not, but It could still bog down the process, and cost the County and the applicant money if Nielsen's rulings are appealed, or if they result in lawsuits that the County has to defend. Win or lose a case, and there are still costs involved.