Ferndale-area farmer resigns from Whatcom Planning Commission

The short, tumultuous tenure of Whatcom County Planning Commissioner Walter Haugen is over.

Haugen, who joined the commission with two other newcomers in February, resigned in a letter to the County Council dated Friday, Sept. 26.

The council is accepting applications for his replacement and is scheduled to make the appointment in late October. The commission is a nine-member body that makes recommendations to the council on rules governing development and rural preservation.

Haugen, a Ferndale-area farmer, was one of three left-of-center commissioners appointed by the new, more progressive council that was seated at the beginning of the year. According to his self-published books on sustainable living, Haugen is more anarchist than liberal.

He acknowledged “friction” between him and the commission’s conservative majority, saying he had to defend himself against attacks from other commissioners only to be gavelled down by conservative Chairman Dave Onkels.

Onkels said Haugen was “disruptive” and that in one case he had to quiet Haugen when he challenged commissioner Ben Elenbaas for using the phrase “Live free or die.”

Haugen sent an email to fellow commissioners in April, saying he would no longer be available to the public after meetings. He said he was “accosted” in the parking lot following the April 11 meeting by a conservative who took issue with Haugen’s views.

His friends didn’t think he was going to last as long as he did on the Planning Commission.

“I got two responses (to my resignation): ‘I can’t believe you took this in the first place,’ and ‘I can’t believe you lasted this long,’” he said.

“I was asked to do it, and I gave it a good shot,” Haugen said. “It just got to be so detrimental.”

The final straw for Haugen came when the commission, in his view, didn’t adequately consider his proposal to tighten the body’s attendance requirements after commissioner Gerald Vekved missed four consecutive meetings. Vekved was defended by other commissioners during the Aug. 14 discussion of the proposal; Commissioner Ken Bell called his contribution “immeasurable.” The rule change gained no traction and never came to a vote.

Anyone who lives in Council District 3 who is interested in the open Planning Commission position should email council@co.whatcom.wa.us by 10 a.m. on Oct. 21. Applications are available on the council webpage, whatcomcounty.us/council.