Jill Johnson (left) and Greg Banks

Jill Johnson (left) and Greg Banks

Prosecutor calls commissioner ‘a terrible person’ during public meeting

The two have had a tense relationship for years.

By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

The Island County prosecutor called an Island County commissioner “a terrible person” during a disagreement about public records that disintegrated into insults last week.

It wasn’t the first such scene between Prosecutor Greg Banks and Commissioner Jill Johnson, who have long had a strained relationship. Johnson called him a “snake” and a liar during a meeting three years ago.

Banks was invited to attend the commissioners’ regular meeting via video Jan. 12 to introduce a new deputy prosecutor and present a plaque to a longtime staff member. As the deputy prosecutor had trouble with the technology, Banks told the commissioners he would send a chat to the man.

Johnson interrupted him, saying that a “chat function” isn’t supposed to be used since it doesn’t retain the record in a way required by law. After Banks tried to continue, she said that officials shouldn’t follow the law only when they feel like it.

Banks told her that he wasn’t breaking public records rules. He said he would be happy to discuss the law with Johnson in private, but she countered that she’s not going to talk to him outside public meetings anymore.

“That’s just a ridiculous statement,” Banks said.

Later in the meeting, Banks explained that his role is to provide legal advice to the commissioners.

“If you have a misunderstanding,” he said to Johnson, “that’s a time when I can give you legal advice and clarify your questions.

“Trying to berate me at a public hearing, which you ordinarily do, is just not a good idea and is poor management.”

After Banks introduced Dave Jorgensen as the new deputy prosecutor in the civil division, the commissioner welcomed him.

“I hope you last longer than most of his employees,” Johnson said to the new employee.

Banks wasn’t happy with the comment.

“That was charming, Jill,” he said, laughing incredulously. “You are such a terrible person, Jill.”

At the end of the meeting, Johnson apologized to her fellow commissioners for the altercation and explained her feelings in a more measured tone.

Johnson said she understands that Banks believes the chats are transitory messages, which are not required to be retained.

Yet Johnson said the commissioners had banned the use of chats and reiterated the policy several times; she pointed out that the function can be used to harass people or inappropriately discuss government business without creating a record.

“As a government that values transparency,” she said, “we made the decision to inconvenience ourselves by turning the chat off because we couldn’t keep a record of it.”

She said she was frustrated to hear the prosecutor disregard the board’s “well-vetted” policy.

“I am far from a terrible person,” she added. “Far from it.”

In an email after the meeting, Banks said the episode was “an unfortunate distraction from what was supposed to be an opportunity to celebrate employees.”

Banks said he rarely uses the chat function, but when he does during meetings, there’s a simple way for the hosts to retain the chats as public records.

He also said the chats are a transitory record that had no value after being seen by the recipient.

Banks said his chats said things like “Dave, look at your system volume.”

Banks pointed to documents from Municipal Research and Services Center that explain transitory messages don’t need to be recorded.

In a comment to the News-Times, Johnson said it was the first time in public that Banks expressed his real feelings about one of his clients.

“We have a tense relationship, unfortunately,” she said. “I should have taken the high road.”

The bad blood between Banks and Johnson originated with — or at least was aggravated by — a lawsuit between the board of commissioners and Banks that found its way to the state Supreme Court in 2016.

The high court ruled unanimously that the commissioners acted in an unlawful and unconstitutional manner when they hired a private attorney over the objection of Banks.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest's endangered orcas eat. Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Study: Chinook salmon are key to Northwest orcas all year

Researchers demonstrated that the while the whales sometimes eat other species, they depend most on Chinook.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo Ethan Nordean, with backward baseball hat and bullhorn, leads members of the far-right group Proud Boys in marching before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Nordean, 30, of Auburn, Washington, has described himself as the sergeant-at-arms of the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys. The Justice Department has charged him in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with obstructing an official proceeding, aiding and abetting others who damaged federal property, and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building. He asked a judge Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, to release him from detention pending trial. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,File)
Judge orders release of Proud Boy charged in Capitol riot

The Auburn man will be restricted to home detention and must remove all firearms in his home.

55,000 in Washington may have to repay unemployment benefits

Some failed to respond to requests for information and became ineligible for money they received.

Whatcom County sees 13 new B.1.1.7 variant COVID-19 cases

Snohomish County has 2 known cases of the mutation, also called the “U.K. variant.”

A syringe of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown Thursday, March 4, 2021, at a drive-up mass vaccination site in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle. Officials said they expected to deliver approximately 2500 second doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the site Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Vaccine eligibility to expand to more groups on March 22

Included will be workers in agriculture and grocery stores, as well as law enforcement and others.

Seattle teachers vote to stay out of classrooms

The union said it has no confidence that the district will keep educators safe during the pandemic.

Senate OKs bill for graduating students to take bridge year

Seniors also could retake classes and boost grades that may have faltered during the pandemic.

Pacific gray whales spotted in Puget Sound

They tend to congregate in waters off Whidbey Island and feed on ghost shrimp.

Woman charged in shooting death over theft of political sign

Angela Conijn is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Kamran Cohee of Arlington.

Most Read