- Are Conservation District elections fair, democrat, and legal? None other than the League of Women Voters came out with a report in 2011 which examined this and related topics. More about that in later posts, but please peruse the link. Moreover, in addition to the grassroots desire to possibly dissolve the Conservation District, there is a related movement building in the San Juans which is asking whether the Conservation District should be sued over their election practices. If you would like to donate to that cause, we will be able to provide a contact shortly.
- Are Conservation Districts fulfilling their mission, and specifically, is our Conservation District fulfilling its mission? Conservation Districts conjure up images of a bygone era of black-and-white photos of farmers tilling the land and getting assistance from the local agricultural agent ... ya know, Green Acres sort of stuff. But there is a danger when we live with images that are no longer relevant. The recent behavior of the Conservation District, as evidenced by public records requests and personal accounts, suggests our Conservation District isn't your grandfather's Conservation District anymore. It's become the publicly-funded arm of the Stewardship Network and a place for public-private bureaucratic mischief. We can't let sentimentality for a bygone era distract us from the reality of the present.
- Are Conservation Districts funded legally and are they telling the truth about recent court decisions regarding justifications for new funding? There have been reports recently in the mainstream press about the need for a funding change, so we'll give our view. Also, it appears from public records requests that our Prosecuting Attorney has been providing our Conservation District with legal advice and then subsequently invoking "attorney-client privilege" as justification for extensive redaction of emails between his office and the Conservation District. However, the Conservation District is not part of County government, and the RCW specifically says that if the Conservation Commission (and presumably Districts too) need legal advice they should turn to the State Attorney General's Office. Why is our PA giving legal advice to the CD and then claiming privilege?
That's not true.
There are two systems available for fundraising for the Conservation District, assuming the County decides it wants to fund the District at all (and we are not required to do so). We can raise money for the Conservation District via (1) a special assessment (RCW 89.08.400) or (2) a rates and charges method (RCW 89.08.405).
But the County also could decide to use a "rates and charges" system rather than the special assessment. Under a rates and charges method, the County is allowed to impose (1) an annual per acre amount, (2) an annual per parcel amount, or (3) an annual per parcel amount plus an annual per acre amount. Notably, the rates and charges system permits consideration of which properties receive (and which do not receive) the benefit of Conservation District consulting. If the County and the Conservation District want to raise money via the rates and charges method, they have to follow RCW 89.08.405.
In fact, the current $5 per parcel CD fee could remain essentially the same if it were implemented according to the rates and charges method (RCW 89.08.405) instead of via the special assessment method (RCW 89.08.400) as it is now. However, the CD has not proposed rates and charges, they have proposed an increase to the special assessment.
In order to do its job properly, the County Council needs to be provided the full range of options available to it, not just the preferred staff outcome. The same is true for citizens. We are not mushrooms that need to be kept in the dark.