Let's play a shortened version of 20 questions ... let's try 6 questions:
- Who is head of the San Juan Islands Conservation District?
- Who is on the steering committee of the Stewardship Network?
- Who is the founder and head of the Madrona Institute, which acts as the fiscal agent for the Stewardship Network, receiving a modest 5% to 10% cut on all grants?
- Who endorsed Pratt, Stephens, and Byers for Council?
- Who has been trying to take County programs and grants away from the County (e.g., Salmon Lead Entity Coordinator)?
- Who has been discussing #5 above with Jamie Stephens in relative secrecy?
The answer to all of the above is Ron Zee, who is part-creator, part-manipulator of a giant hairball bureaucracy that is a wolf (PSP) in Conservation District clothing. At the end of this post is an effort to depict this hairball with a graph, but honestly, it's an impossible task. Complexity is their disguise. It's a Gordian Knot of bureaucratic self-interest and conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, I hope readers begin to get an idea who the real power is behind this bureaucracy ... and it's not our elected officials.
The Stewardship Network is comprised of 24 organizations, including 5 separate County entities. The Steering Committee for the Stewardship Network is comprised of 4 people: Zee, Linda Lyshall (who works for Zee at the Conservation District), Stephanie Buffum of the Friends, and Lincoln Bormann of the Land Bank. This Steering Committee recently appointed Julia Vouri to be the coordinator of the Stewardship Network/ECONet "under the umbrella of the Conservation District." The Conservation District Board had no say in the matter. Julia Vouri is the wife of Mike Vouri, who happens to be on the Advisory Board of the Madrona Institute. The Madrona Institute was founded and is headed by Zee. He has put together a 4-person Madrona Institute Board (himself, Land Bank Commissioner Jim Skoog, League of Women Voters member Sarah Crosby, and Elaine Kendall of the Ag Guild ... Zee's wife). In addition, Zee has assembled an 18-member Madrona Institute Advisory Committee that includes Linda Lyshall (again), Lincoln Bormann (again), the previously mentioned Mike Vouri, Nick Teague (National Monument/BLM Manager), and Katie Loring, wife of Friends' attorney Kyle Loring who Zee appointed as Associate Board member of the Conservation District.
Given the weight of all these heavily-networked advisors and board members, anyone who thinks the measly Conservation District Board has any power is at best an optimist and at worst a damn fool. The Conservation District Board consists of 5 members, two of whom are appointed by the State. There are just three elected members to the Conservation District Board in an otherwise sprawling complex of self-appointed greased-palm special interests.
And that's not even including the links between the Conservation District and the AAOG/LIO, whose links to the Conservation District are so cozy that the Conservation District has an office reserved for them in their new building. Who's on the AAOG/LIO, aside from the Conservation District itself? Let's see ... the Implementation Committee of the AAOG/LIO consists of a further 12 organizations, including the Marine Resources Committee (again), the Salmon Lead Entity Coordinator (again), the Stewardship Network (again), three County departments (Public Works, CD&P, Health), the Water Resources Committee, the Town, and 3 tribes.
In this impossible-to-follow Gordian Knot, self-appointed Zee-cronies are represented multiple times while the public is shut out. Let's look at the Salmon Lead Entity (SLE), for example. The Salmon Lead Entity Coordinator is Barbara Rosenkotter, who was the Treasurer for Byers campaign (endorsed by then-Democratic-Party-head Zee). Although Rosenkotter ostensibly works for the County, she represents the Stewardship Network, the MRC, and the AAOG/LIO Implementation Committee ... and she has been working stealthily with Zee, the Northwest Straits Commission/Foundation, and the tribes to move her position and State funding to the Conservation District.
There you have it ... 24 organizations in the Stewardship Network, 18 advisors to the Madrona Institute, 4 board members of the Madrona Institute, 13 members to the AAOG/LIO Implementation Committee, 2 State appointees to the Conservation District ... and just 3 elected members of the Conservation District Board. No independently elected official to the Conservation District or even to our County Council has a clue how they're being played by this bureaucracy of mass destruction. No matter how improved the Conservation District electoral system might become as a result of anticipated reforms and lawsuits, the fix is already in ... the elected positions don't even matter anymore ... the Conservation District is machine headquarters where the business of the PSP and Friends is done. The Conservation District is hopelessly broken as a representative body.
And this cabal will pass judgment on whether we, as a County, are good Puget Sound Partners. That's important because whether we are good Puget Sound Partners will matter when our County tries to obtain funding from the State. There is statutory language to that effect. Given the hearings this past week about Conservation District funding, the County Council may be under the misapprehension that they are funding the Conservation District, but in reality, it's the reverse. The County is being set up to be squeezed by the Conservation District, the PSP, and the Friends over State money. If we don't follow their whims, our State funding will be threatened.
And despite the high-minded labels (e.g., Salmon Lead Entity) and the strident, tearful pleas of bureaucratic insiders crying about the environment, absolutely none of the bureaucratic whims have anything to do with improving ecological health. The taxes and grants devoted to bureaucratic eco-efforts aren't funding on-the-ground "save the salmon" or "save the planet" initiatives ... they're funding "save the bureaucracy" initiatives.
Support the Conservation District and save a self-interested bureaucrat ... and maybe even earn a modest 5% to 10% cut for Zee at the same time. Now that's environmental stewardship San Juan style.