POULSBO — Poulsbo Port Commissioner Arnie Bockus is resigning effective March 31.
In a letter he hand-delivered to the Herald on Monday, he wrote that he was resigning so the Port “will be able to focus on the business of the Port,” which he believes has been disrupted by questions about his appointment to the commission.
Bockus lost his reelection bid in November, and then applied for appointment to another commission position vacated by resignation. He was appointed to the position on Dec. 1, before his own term had expired, by Commissioner Tony DeCarlo. Commissioner-elect Jim Rutledge questioned the legality of the appointment, and so at a special meeting Dec. 28 — four days before Rutledge took office — DeCarlo and Bockus both voted to reaffirm the appointment.
In an informal opinion, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Lanese cited a common-law public policy principle that a sitting commissioner is ineligible for appointment if the appointment is made during the commissioner’s term.
With one of three positions vacant and Bockus recusing himself, DeCarlo was the only commissioner eligible to vote. State law, RCW 42.12.070, says, “If less than two members of a governing body remain in office, the county legislative authority of the county … shall appoint a qualified person or persons to the governing body until the governing body has two members.” The state Supreme Court in 1909 recognized the common law doctrine “as old as the law itself” that one should not judge his or her own cause, meaning “a public official may not exercise his or her office to confer a personal benefit upon him or herself,” according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Port commissioners are elected for six-year terms and, in Poulsbo, receive $100 per meeting.
In his hand-delivered letter, Bockus defended the appointment. He asked that the following letter be printed verbatim.
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March 26, 2012
To the Port of Poulsbo Commission and to the Citizens of Poulsbo,
The general public’s best interest must be the paramount concern of all public officials. Therefore, an elected official with the power to appoint another official should exercise that power with disinterested skill and in a manner primarily for the benefit of the public.
The appointment of myself as a Port Commissioner was done with the intent to provide the Port with the best and only selection available. In Washington State there is no law prohibiting a sitting commissioner from voting for himself. A commissioner who votes for himself, however, can be subjected to inconsistent legal opinions and public misunderstanding.
The fact that I was appointed to fill a vacancy of another Commissioner after losing an election for my position as Commissioner raises the issue as to whether the remaining Port Commissioners can appoint one of its own members as a Commissioner. Public policy requires that an appointing board not appoint one of its own members if there is an opportunity for that member to improperly influence the other member(s) of the board. Here there was only one applicant for the vacated Commissioner’s position. There was no option to my appointment. Therefore, there was no opportunity for me to improperly influence other members of the Port Commission and no public policy has been violated.
A recent Attorney General’s informal opinion states “no Washington cases or statutes appear to have directly addressed the issue” as to whether an appointing board can appoint one of its own when that member is the only applicant. In the absence of express law forbidding it an appointment of a commissioner, who is the sole applicant for another Commissioner vacated position, is a valid appointment.
It is a sad commentary that personal attacks upon Commissioner DeCarlo, and others serving the Port and myself have been maliciously perpetrated for the sake of others self-aggrandizement. It is inappropriate and certainly not constructive in terms of the orderly administration of the Port. I am therefore going to again do what I believe is best for the Port and resign as Port Commissioner effective March 31, 2012.
In conclusion, I thank all those who have supported me and the Port of Poulsbo. Hopefully, the Port will be able to focus on the business of the Port and the public gains a keen understanding of what has actually occurred.
Arnold A. Bockus
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County Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore said Monday that the two remaining commissioners — DeCarlo and Rutledge — have 90 days to appoint a successor, who will serve out the remainder of the term; it expires Dec. 31, 2013. If they fail to appoint a commissioner within that period, the Kitsap Board of County Commissioners will make the appointment.
DeCarlo said he and Rutledge will decide at the April 5 meeting how long to accept applications for appointment, followed by interviews and the appointment.
“Several people have already expressed an interest,” DeCarlo said Monday. One of them, lawyer Stephen L. Swann of Fjord Drive, submitted a letter of interest March 19.
Bockus has been a commissioner for seven years — first appointed to the position, he then ran unopposed for his first term. A retired police officer from Connecticut, he spent five years in Washington state, partly with the Air Force. During a cross-country motorcycle trip after retirement he came across Poulsbo, and moved here 16 years ago.
As commissioner, Bockus supported converting the old National Guard Armory site into a public parking lot, extending the docks to allow for tour cruises to visit Poulsbo, and worried about erosion beneath Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park and Anderson Parkway, which were built on fill.
“He served the port well, doing what was best for the port,” DeCarlo said. “He did a lot of research for projects we were working on. His interest was keeping the port running smoothly. He’ll be missed, but that’s not saying the next commissioner won’t do well, or that Jim Rutledge won’t do well.”