A woman who had worked on the Whatcom County executive's 2011 election campaign, and the earlier campaigns of three sitting County Council members, will serve on a commission that will set their salaries.
Wendy Eickmeyer, a marketing manager, was appointed by Executive Jack Louws, and then confirmed in a 6-1 vote of the council on Tuesday, Sept. 25, despite concerns raised by council member Pete Kremen. He cast the lone vote against the confirmation of Eickmeyer and three other Louws appointees: lawyer Bob Carmichael, Bellingham police detective Allan Jensen and human resources consultant Kara Turner.
Kremen's concern was solely with Eickmeyer, who was either paid or reimbursed for work on the campaigns of Louws and of council members Kathy Kershner, Sam Crawford and Bill Knutzen.
"That puts her in an awkward position, when she is being charged with setting the salaries of individuals that she received compensation from," Kremen said at the Sept. 25 meeting.
In an interview a week later, Kremen vouched for Eickmeyer, saying she had "unquestionable integrity."
"It just has the potential to raise some concern," he said. "Whether it's justified or not, that's for people to decide for themselves."
Louws' appointees will join six county residents selected by lot from the voter rolls. By May 1 of next year, the 10-member Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials must set the 2014-15 salaries for the council, executive, assessor, auditor, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer.
Voters approved the commission in the November 2011 election.
Louws defended his choice of Eickmeyer at last week's meeting.
"Wendy Eickmeyer did offer advice on my campaign," he said. "She was not paid a dime, but she did volunteer on my campaign."
Louws said he believed Eickmeyer had retired from political consulting. She could not be reached for comment.
Her work on the other three campaigns was also a non-issue, he said.
"She has the technical expertise and the personality to set that aside, look at everything comprehensively and make the best decision as it relates to everybody," Louws said.
Records from the state Public Disclosure Commission show that Louws reimbursed Eickmeyer with two payments during his 2011 campaign for executive.
The Louws campaign paid Eickmeyer $252.05 on Oct. 7, 2011, for "reimbursement for postage, printing and drinks for campaign event." On Nov. 8, 2011, the campaign paid her $70.50 for "campaign marketing materials."
Louws confirmed in an interview that those were reimbursements for items purchased at Costco and similar purchases, rather than payments for services.
Council member Crawford's campaign in 2007 paid Eickmeyer's former business, Waecomm, $261.83 for "miscellaneous expenses for kickoff event," and $78.02 for "election night party supplies," according to the PDC. Kershner and Knutzen both paid Waecomm $500 in 2009 for "graphic design," PDC records show.
"I don't think that that disqualifies me" from voting on the salary commission appointments, Kershner said at the meeting. "I paid a lot of other people a lot of money" during the campaign, she said.
"I'm a little disappointed it was brought up," Knutzen said of Eickmeyer's political connections to council members. "I'm concerned anybody who works on anybody's campaign is going to be under the same scrutiny."
"It's a small community," Knutzen added. "If you go back, I'm related to half this community in some way or another."
Although Louws' three other picks weren't questioned, he also defended those nominations. He called Turner "a personal friend." Louws said he had "developed a good friendship" with Carmichael, and said Jensen was "a good friend of mine" and "another supporter of mine."
"I believe that these people are going to be able to look at their job objectively," Louws said. "Unless proven otherwise, I have complete faith in these people."
Louws clarified his statements in an interview, saying his interactions with all four of his appointments had been professional and not social.
"What political motivation would I have of putting anybody in? They can't do anything about anyone's current pay. Everything is down the road," Louws said. "I used my judgment picking what I thought were good people."
When contacted by phone, Carmichael said he was unaware of a controversy over the salary commission appointments and had no comment.
Turner said that while she has known Louws professionally for years, she does not consider him a personal friend. She said she was chosen for her 20-plus years of experience in human resources.
Jensen said that while he supported Louws in his bid for county executive, that wouldn't bias him.
"I don't think that has a bearing on the decisions we have to make on the salary commission," Jensen said. "We have a pretty clear mandate in the ordinance that was voted on by the public."