Cedarhome rift involves mayor

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

STANWOOD — A council member’s wife is asking Mayor Matthew McCune to resign because she says a conflict of interest on the controversial Cedarhome annexation has left the mayor unable to do his job.

"He needs to step aside," said Laura Chappel, the wife of council member Andy Chappel.

Because of the conflict of interest, Chappel said McCune hasn’t been able to answer residents’ questions about the annexation or provide leadership to city workers as they handle the 330-acre expansion.

McCune and his wife own 2.5 acres of a 10-acre parcel in the annexation area. The property, which they own with several other people, is undeveloped pastureland. McCune and his wife did not sign the annexation petition, but another part-owner of the 10-acre parcel did.

The mayor said he voluntarily gave up the reins while the Cedarhome annexation was processed and debated. And citizens should expect no less from officials who may benefit from city business, he said.

"If there’s a conflict of interest or an appearance of fairness issue, I would expect any elected official to step aside and let the process work the way it’s supposed to work," McCune said.

McCune was re-elected to another four-year term as mayor earlier this month. He ran unopposed.

McCune said he was surprised that his noninvolvement in the annexation process has created a stir. The Cedarhome annexation, in several different forms, dates back four years, and he distanced himself from talk on the topic when it first came up.

"It almost reminds me of the old story of Rip van Winkle," McCune said of Chappel’s criticism.

City attorney William Zingarelli said McCune did the right thing by stepping aside.

"Basically, if he’s there, it sends the impression that somehow he is trying to sway the decision makers one way or another," Zingarelli said.

Chappel, however, said McCune may have had unspoken influence over city employees during the annexation process, even if he hasn’t directly participated.

"If I was your boss and you knew I wanted something, doesn’t that sway you to go along with the program?" Chappel asked.

Usually, mayors do not vote on annexation proposals unless the council vote ends in a tie. McCune said the annexation was a tough issue for the council, which approved the annexation three weeks ago after shooting it down twice earlier. "It’s an emotional issue. If you could vote with your heart, you probably would have turned it down," he said.

Council members voted 4-1 to approve expanding Stanwood at the town’s northeastern end. Councilman Andy Chappel cast the lone "no" vote.

Most residents who testified during a public hearing on the Cedarhome annexation said the proposal should be rejected because it would lead to more traffic, crowded classrooms and the loss of Stanwood’s rural character.

City planners say the Cedarhome area, once completely developed, could double the population of Stanwood.

Part of the contentiousness over the annexation comes from the fear that it could be expanded in the months ahead. The expansion proposal is before Snohomish County’s Boundary Review Board, which has the option of adding a 129-acre peninsula of land that would link the Cedarhome area to the existing city limits at 80th Street NW.

The board has until Jan. 5 to take control of the annexation proposal. If the board does nothing, the annexation is considered approved by the review board with the boundaries that have been proposed.

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to kelly@heraldnet.com.

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