Tuesday, July 24, 2012

County Knows Best

Today we saw our County trying to mount a defense to counter the economic analysis conducted by Nick Jones. Much of our County's counter argument made no sense because the County's comparisons didn't really justify why our cost of government should be as high as it is, even if there are differences between San Juan County and Pacific County. Our County almost seemed to be saying that if we have it, we should spend it. However, the County counter-salvo mostly tried to convince us that San Juan County and Pacific County are not comparable at all.

Actually, I think the County's evaluation illustrates some of its bigger blind spots and oft-used sleights of hand. For example, the County completely ignores the realities for working people here, and it uses averages skewed by the wealthy to portray our islands as being economically healthier than we are.  If we look at wage and employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we see that the working populations of San Juan and Pacific County are very comparable:

  • Average Weekly Wage:  San Juan County - $594 vs Pacific County - $606
  • Employment:  San Juan County - 5,681 workers vs Pacific County - 5,925

In terms of wage and employment, Pacific County even outperforms us slightly. San Juan County is 31st out of 39 counties in terms of employment, and we are one of only 4 counties in the state whose weekly wage doesn't crack $600. Despite that, our County budget is about $36.5 million per year while Pacific County's is about $23 million. That disparity wouldn't have anything to do with government waste here, would it?  Or anything to do with our "destination marketing" posture which requires us to size everything at tourist capacity rather than the capacity of our tax base?

Whatever the reason, our public officials are never to blame, not by their account anyway. If we listen to our public "servants," we always need to give them more. Shireene Hale never met a parcel that didn't require more "protection," and she's about as ardent a supporter of ever stronger stormwater controls as there can be. Is Shireene an advocate for a better ecological environment or a better fiscal environment for her department (Planning)? I suppose it is mere coincidence that her husband is the head of the dysfunctional County stormwater program, too?

During this week's Council deliberations about the Fish and Wildlife Habitat CAO, nearly every expert who spoke in favor of the ordinance had a job dependent on it. In fact, the only speaker whose economic future was not tied directly to the ordinance, Mindy Rowse of NOAA, said, "I don't think anyone is doing anything wrong" here in San Juan County.

Some citizens might be so discouraged by our rigged system that they feel it's a conspiracy. I don't think it's a conspiracy. It is worse than a conspiracy. It is a system of interlocking, reinforcing self-interests that serve to create an impression of impending ecological doom as a means for mutual gain (mutual gain for the participants anyway). It's a system that creates an eco-aristocracy comprised of non-profits and government in league against private individuals. It is a system that portrays individuals and property rights as the enemy of the environment, when in fact, they can be demonstrated to be some of the best protectors of the environment.

We can be pro democratic, pro personal responsibility, pro people, pro freedom, pro property rights, and pro environment. Pro bureaucrat won't cut it, though. Nothing is worse for the environment than bureaucrats trying to advance their own careers and interests at the expense of the rest of society. We should be trying to save the environment for our children's future and our grandchildren's future, not saving bureaucrats for our children's future and our grandchildren's future.

Central planning and micro-managment accrue benefits only for central planners and micro-managers. Any central planner laboring to enact ecological imperatives supposedly more important than the rights of individuals is embarking on the journey that Isaiah Berlin warned us against when he spoke about the perils of positive liberty. Ultimately, that coercive path must necessarily conflict with democratic values, economics, and protection of the environment.

Today, during public access time, a citizen happened to preface his opening remarks with the polite entreaty, "Correct me if I'm wrong." Our Council Chair shot back, "Oh, I will." That kind of snotty disrespect is emblematic of our County's overall contempt for its own citizens. Only bona fide members of the County central planning echo chamber (or should that be eco-chamber?) are allowed to be right. Makes you wonder whether the rest of us exist at all.

If a tree falls in the forest, and there are no citizens around to hear it, are we still wrong?


  1. Soooooo (as Mrs. Hale would say), here's a tale: Mrs. Hale and her happy little group of planner-types get together and organize a grant request to the EPA from our County that would require Mrs. Hale, Mr. Hale, and some other folks to take courses, have conferences with all their friends to spread their knowledge of "Managing Growth In Island Communities," and build the lovely "Constructed Wetland" that now forms the backdrop of the Village Green in Eastsound. EPA is paying about $700,000, and the County committed $350,000 of County funds. Not a bad haul. (I'm surprised it doesn't include a boat outing for the staff.) For a cool million, we're hoping that there's a major breakthrough in "managing" stuff.

  2. Hello, I am the world's most interesting man....

    I don't often violate land use rules, but when I do, I choose CAO.

  3. Ms. Miller chairperson of the San Juan County Council:

    The chair position is to facilitate
    discussion, not to dominate it. Your need to be a policy wonk is OK but you must understand you're really not really good at it so far. Your proposal for solid waste was a poor effort rejected by the voters. Frankly, anyone getting that slap in the face would likely be looking for a rock to hide under, but not you. Perhaps it's all about ego or something, but your approach and negativity toward citizens of this County is not being well received.

    Well hear this: Your nose in the air, I know best, attitude, is getting you a following, a large number of folks who feel the ground you walk on should be removed by San Juan Sani.

    Good luck, you will need it.

  4. I do believe that Councilperson Miller will be almost single-handedly responsible for the Charter revisions passing. That's sad, because it is not the Charter structure, but the quality of people we keep putting on Council.