The commission that will set the salaries of Whatcom County elected officials will meet away from county staff and offices in a move intended to ensure the group's independence.
County Executive Jack Louws said on Thursday, Jan. 3, that he decided the Whatcom Transportation Authority will facilitate meetings of the Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, rather than giving that work to a county department. The commission was created a year ago to establish salaries for the executive, council members, assessor, auditor, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer.
"Anywhere I would put it within the county, there could be a perceived conflict of interest," Louws said.
WTA Director of Human Resources Andy Rowlson will take notes at commission meetings and keep members on task. The WTA also will provide a conference room.
The county will pay WTA up to $5,000, according to the contract detailing the work.
Two county elected officials - Louws and council member Pete Kremen - are on the WTA board of directors. Both men said this doesn't compromise the independence of the salary commission.
"The board's work is subject to public disclosure, so obviously there's open meetings," Louws said. "I don't plan on being in attendance at these meetings or being involved in any way at all."
Kremen also saw no conflict in his presence on the WTA board.
"We don't have anything to do with the administration," Kremen said. "We don't have any connections with Andy in terms of his employment or anything like that."
Kremen was the lone council member who in September 2012 voted against Louws' four appointments to the 10-member commission. One of them, marketing manager Wendy Eickmeyer, had worked for the campaigns of Louws and three sitting council members. Kremen made it clear he wasn't questioning Eickmeyer's integrity; he was only concerned her presence on the commission would create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"She wouldn't have been my pick had I been the county executive because of the political connections," Kremen said.
Eickmeyer was either paid or reimbursed for work on the election campaigns of Louws and council members Sam Crawford, Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen, dating back to 2007. The three council members voted to confirm Louws' appointments, as did Barbara Brenner, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer.
Louws said his decision to have the WTA handle the commission was not related to Kremen's concern. The county human resources office didn't want to be directly involved in commission meetings, Louws said.
"The staff within the HR department supports all of the elected offices," he said.
Kremen said the council was not informed of the WTA's role until Louws announced it Thursday. Kremen said he supported the executive's decision.
"Jack's decision to have the WTA facilitate and assist the commission makes sense and is a prudent thing to do," Kremen said.
The commission will set elected officials' 2014 and 2015 salaries by May 1. The group's decision will affect the salaries of council members Kershner, Knutzen, Mann and Weimer only if they win reelection this November.
ATTEND THE MEETING
What: First meeting of the Whatcom County Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.
When: 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.
Where: WTA Administration Building, 4111 Bakerview Spur in Bellingham.
More information: County Council agenda (pdf).