UPDATE | Property owner explains his ethics complaint against Councilwoman Lester

One member of Bainbridge Island's Ethics Board is recusing himself from discussions surrounding an ethics complaint against a city councilwoman.

Islander Tom Golon has alleged that Councilwoman Debbi Lester has a conflict of interest on the update to the city's Shoreline Master Program because of her marriage to land-use attorney Ryan Vancil.

The Ethic's Board will discuss the complaint at its Monday meeting at the Waterfront Park Community Center.

The entire Ethics Board will not review the complaint, however.

Joe Honick said Monday he has recused himself from the discussion. Honick has been one of the outspoken critics of the city council's handling of the Shoreline Master Program.

"I will be present at the meeting since other issues are on the table but will have nothing to say on this matter directly or indirectly," Honick said.

"I will also report my recusal on that part of the agenda indicated for possible conflict of interest," he said.

In his complaint, Golan said Lester should step aside from  a council vote on the Shoreline Master Program. He claimed that Lester's husband is politically and professionally influenced by the debate over designating many waterfront homes as "nonconforming."

"The planning department has a lot of power on the island and basically it is power that can help or hurt a career, such as in Ryan's case," Golon said Monday.

"[Lester] should not be voting on this one issue for conforming or nonconforming," he said. "It's too close to what he does in dealing with the planning department."

Golon said that Lester does a good job on the council, but feels that Vancil's association with the city's planning department creates a conflict.

"In his role as a land-use attorney, he has to placate the planning department all the time," Golon said.

Vancil, however, contends that he has never worked for the city or the planning department. He said that the extent of his involvement with the city is representing people who have sued it.

Golon maintains his position in light of this, though, and said that Vancil's career poses a conflict of interest for Lester.

According to Golon, there are influential groups on Bainbridge Island that surround city politics, and in turn, the planning department holds a lot of power at the city.

Therefore, if Lester voted against the department's aims, repercussions could ripple all the way back to her husband.

At the core of the matter is the city's update to the Shoreline Master Program. The program has drawn considerable criticism from waterfront property owners, such as Golon, who protest the designation of "nonconforming" to their houses.

Golon alleges that the planning department has guided the Shoreline Master Program Process ever since citizen advisory committees first began discussing it in 2009.

He said the planning department has meddled with the process, stacking committees and commissions, ever since.

"It was skewed at the citizen advisory level, with people who had agendas," Golon said. "Some people were one step away from being lobbyists. They pushed some radical agendas onto the planning commission."

The planning department will have even more power through imposing permits on waterfront homeowners if the nonconforming label is continued, he said.

Golon said that Lester should recuse herself from the matter because that power could influence her husband's career.

"There's a small incestuous group in Winslow that works together on a regular basis," Golon said. "You have the city's planning department and the groups on the island where everyone knows each other. For Debbi to vote against nonconforming, it would not help Ryan's career at all because these groups could hurt that; these small, close-knit groups."




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