Debate erupted this week over the proposed appointment of land-use attorney and former City Council candidate Aaron Laing to the Bellevue Planning Commission.

Share story

Welcome to the Bellevue City Council, John Stokes.

About two hours after the council’s newest member was sworn in Tuesday, a debate erupted over the proposed appointment of his November election opponent to the Planning Commission.

The dispute ended with the council deciding to wait a week before voting on Councilmember Kevin Wallace’s motion to appoint Aaron Laing, who lost to Stokes by 51 votes in a hand recount.

No one challenged the qualifications of Laing, a land-use attorney, who received campaign contributions from Wallace, his father, Bob Wallace, and Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman.

But Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who asked for the delay, said it appeared Wallace had circumvented standard appointment procedures in order to install a “hand-picked” candidate.

Wallace, the council’s liaison to the Planning Commission, said he speeded up the process to fill a vacancy at a critical time for the commission and because Laing was “the clear choice” over two other candidates.

Their clash — reminiscent of bitter arguments the previous two years over Sound Transit’s light-rail plans — demonstrated that the council’s divisions weren’t quelled by the end of election season or by a postelection agreement with Sound Transit.

It isn’t the first time Wallace’s proposed appointments to the Planning Commission have upset some council members.

Last May, the council approved two Wallace candidates, radio talk-show host and one-time Republican gubernatorial nominee John Carlson, and Diane Tebelius, former state Republican Party chairwoman and activist in a citizens group that has fought more restrictive city-shoreline regulations.

Balducci voted against the Carlson and Tebelius appointments, saying she preferred that two incumbents’ terms be extended until the commission completed its work on shoreline regulations.

The city’s seven planning commissioners advise the City Council on land-use and development policy.

Council liaisons’ recommendations for appointments to boards and commissions are typically noncontroversial actions and accepted by the full council without debate. (The mayor, by law, makes the appointments, but by tradition the council is first asked to concur.)

On Tuesday, Balducci said Wallace departed from the usual procedure by closing the door to new applications before the announced Jan. 6 deadline, interviewing candidates in one-on-one phone conversations instead of inviting other evaluators to face-to-face interviews, and not providing the council with all candidates’ applications.

Balducci said Laing was “an excellent candidate.” But, she said, “It starts to look like maybe we waited for our preferred applicant to apply and then shut off the process, made a few phone calls and decided whom to appoint. That’s the appearance and that’s my concern.”

Stokes said he, too, was concerned about how planning commissioners are appointed. “They’re either to be appointed by the liaison with just a rubber stamp or we should have a process,” he said.

Wallace said Thursday he shortened and streamlined the evaluation process because city staff “were urging me to get it done. … As far as I knew, everything was according to Hoyle.”

Concerns expressed by council members Balducci, Stokes and John Chelminiak represented “circus-act ambush attacks,” Wallace said. Balducci’s motion to delay the appointment for a week passed 5-2, with Wallace and Jennifer Robertson voting no.

Laing, if confirmed, would fill a vacancy created when Daniel Himebaugh, an attorney for the pro-property-rights Pacific Legal Foundation, resigned from the commission in October.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or