Island County commissioner who abruptly resigned seeks Kitsap County Auditor post

Republican Kelly Emerson, who resigned May 5 from the Island County Board of Commissioners, has filed to run for Kitsap County Auditor. - Courtesy photo
Republican Kelly Emerson, who resigned May 5 from the Island County Board of Commissioners, has filed to run for Kitsap County Auditor.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

A former Island County Commissioner, who has sued that county on two occasions and abruptly resigned from her post two weeks ago, seven months shy of completing her first term, has filed to run for Kitsap County Auditor.

Republican Kelly Emerson, who now lives in the Illahee area, has filed to fill the seat of Walt Washington, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election. Also in the race is Port Orchard Democrat Dolores Gilmore.

Emerson resigned from the Island County Board of Commissioners May 5.

"I will delightfully relinquish the title at the end of the week and head off to greener pastures," Emerson said at her last board meeting, according to the Whidbey News-Times. "Thank you so much for the opportunity, it has really truly been an honor. I'm really sorry for those of you that hoped that we would further our cause and be more effective in right-sizing Island County but there's always tomorrow."

Just after announcing her resignation during commissioner comments, Emerson excused herself before the other commissioners had a chance to speak.

"You don't want to hear what we have to say?" said Commissioner Jill Johnson.

"I never have," Emerson said.

"Thank you for saying it into the record," Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.

Shortly after Emerson was named chairwoman of the commission last year, she was stripped of her title after her fellow commissioners questioned her work ethic, ability to lead and willingness to seek consensus. Emerson had a reputation for being absent or non-participatory at public meetings, abstaining from votes and simply remaining silent at times.

Emerson, though, says those characterizations are inaccurate and unfair.

"I really don't want to talk about Island County," she added. "I want to focus on Kitsap County."

Johnson told the Whidbey News-Times she was disappointed that she and Emerson, a fellow Republican, were not able to work more smoothly together since Johnson was elected in 2012.

"I know she was hopeful that her remaining two years here would feel different, and I understand that," Johnson said. "I'm sad it ended this way for her."

Johnson said she believes it would be the best next step for the county to move forward and "engage in business in usual."

Price Johnson said she was taken by surprise by Emerson's announcement, but added that it will be a welcome change.

"I have whiplash today," Price Johnson said. "We're up for a transition. What she's been consistent about is being as disruptive as possible and today is no different."

Emerson sued Island County twice over an unissued building permit to place a deck on her Camano Island home. The first lawsuit was settled, but a second lawsuit claims that the county violated the terms of that deal.

Emerson said she moved to Kitsap County because her husband of 16 years, Ken, was relocated from his work at the Nova Group. She said he has been working here throughout the week for the past three years.

"I wanted a full time marriage again," she said.

Emerson says that her time in Island County has prepared her well to seek office in Kitsap County.

“My experience working in a Naval base community fits hand in glove with the challenges here in Kitsap County,” said Emerson. “I’m looking forward to serving the residents and taxpayers of Kitsap County.”

Emerson said she was actively engaged with the Naval Air Station and related issues as Island County Commissioner. She says she is currently a member of the Bremerton-Olympic Peninsula Navy League as well as a number of other community groups.

“I look forward to bringing a level of expertise and professional skills that will support the vital role the auditor’s office provides in the financial oversight of the county, our elections, as well as property records and licensing,” said Emerson. “It’s imperative that the voters and taxpayers of Kitsap County have the greatest confidence in these services, and know that this office is managed efficiently and effectively.”

Emerson said her experience as a county commissioner taught her about the full breadth of responsibilities and opportunities of an auditor's office.

"I want to help our commissioners in Kitsap County have the best detailed information about cash flow in various departments so that they can make the best decisions," said Emerson. "As a commissioner I realized most counties, and Kitsap is one of them, are seeing expenses increase at a faster rate than revenues. I have the experience of being able to establish the value of programs and services based on cost benefit analysis."

Emerson says she also served on canvassing boards and considers an auditor's role in elections to be vitally important.

Emerson says she and her husband once owned a restaurant in Pontiac, Michigan. She said she is a master electrician by trade and has spent more than 15 years managing multi-million dollar renovation and new construction projects while overseeing hundreds of employees.

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