Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jamie Spends Real Money

The number of registered voters in this county is 12,379. The average number of working people here is 5,445. Of those, 796 are government workers. Those 796 government workers earn more than all the people employed in agriculture, the construction industry, and health care combined (in excess of 1,000 people).

If you're doing sums in your head, you might notice that the working people in San Juan County are a minority of voters (44%), and private-sector workers are an even smaller minority of voters (38%). 

The taxation policies of our county are regressive in several ways. First, the taxes themselves (sales and property taxes) are regressive methods of taxation. Second, the taxes often fund programs that have debilitating regressive effects that are even worse than the taxes. For example, county requirements for land development impose expenditures of tens of thousands of dollars in fees, reports, and evaluations which are beyond the out-of-pocket funding ability of working class people. None of the burden of development costs can be included in a mortgage. All of it has to be paid for out of pocket.

If you are wealthy enough to own enough land, you might be able to take advantage of one of the special programs to reduce your property taxes (e.g., open space designations or conservation easements). The effect of this is also regressive, since it amounts to cost shifting away from larger parcels towards smaller parcels more typically owned by working people.

And it gets worse every year. The pet "solution" proposed for many of our "problems" is an ever growing call for more taxing districts -- more regressive policies. One "solution" currently being discussed for our affordable housing "crisis" is to create a tax to provide a revenue stream to build more affordable housing. This isn't a solution. In reality, it isn't even intended to be a solution. This is simple vote buying. The affordable housing projects on our islands are going broke because they were non-solutions in the first place. They never were economically viable, and federal and state funding for these unsustainable developments have dried up. The future slums of San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez have powerful voting blocks behind them however ... and if politicians once again stiff workers in the county to pander to these voting blocks, it won't amount to much electorally. 

Without some disruptive economic event to grow the working middle class, private sector workers are unlikely to ever again be fairly represented here. San Juan County will continue to be the playground of special interests that impose restrictions on others, but give themselves a pass. Anyone who professes to believe that new government programs will help workers is either on the make or a complete fool. The last thing the existing patronage system wants is to shift power to workers and the middle class, even if they are willing to pay lip service to it from time to time. In reality, the entire funding and functional purpose of the government apparatus here is to provide special treatment for the connected while keeping workers in their place.

Make sure Councilman Jamie gets special treatment

Dispatch the boat for Sam. She doesn't want to wait for the ferry.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest Post - OPALCO By-Law Change

Proportional Representation ... It's Time

OPALCO elections are upon us, and here is a guest post by Rob Thesman, the author of the OPALCO by-law change.

If you’re an OPALCO member, you’re being asked to vote up or down on a bylaw change contained in the ballots that are being distributed. While opponents are characterizing the bylaw change as “dangerous”, “unnecessary” and “irresponsible”, the truth is those people are simply trying to avoid fairness and balance on OPALCO board representation.

You only need to understand the numbers 2,432 and 345 to see the importance of making this change. The change itself is simple and straightforward, it’s two sentences: “At the end of the existing Article III – Directors, Section 1, General Powers, the following paragraph shall be inserted:

“As soon as practicable and at least once every ten years thereafter, the Board of Directors shall reapportion the number of directors seats attributable to each of the Districts listed in Article III – Directors, Section 2, Qualifications and Tenure, so as to align the representation of cooperative members as closely as possible with the actual number of energy members within each District. Furthermore, from time to time the Board of Directors shall update the boundaries of the above-referenced Districts so as to facilitate the goal of proportionate representation of the members in each of the Districts on the Board of Directors.”

That’s it – two sentences, directing the board to more fairly apportion the board seats. The separate districts covering San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands each currently have two directors while the district covering Shaw currently has one director. Looking at the number of members in each of those districts, San Juan Island has one director for every 2,432 members. Orcas has one director for every 1,812 members. But look at Lopez – Lopez has one director for every 1,185 members. And Shaw has one director for every 345 members!

The current system of apportioning directors gives some members more and others less representation due merely to where they live. The proposed bylaw change simply requires that the board fairly apportion the number of directors in each district, and to update the boundaries of each district, as necessary to make the board representation better aligned with the physical location of the co-op members. This does not change the total number of directors.

At the end of the reapportionment, every member of OPALCO will be represented by a board director. The language of the proposed changed disenfranchises not one single member. Board seats will be reallocated and districts will be redrawn with the simple goal of having each board seat represent the same number of members.

Opponents of the proposed change should consider how they will look their fellow county residents in the eye and explain to them that members on certain islands are so wise or special that they should have a disproportionately higher representation on the board than others.

Opponents of the bylaw change argue that no re-apportionment is necessary because all members vote on all directors’ seats. While it’s accurate to say that we all vote on all board seats, the existing bylaws specifically contemplate that directors will “represent” a particular district – it’s a requirement contained in Article III, section 2. But on a more practical level, who do you think represents you more, the director you run into at the grocery store or the one from an island you never go to? Does every director have an obligation to look out for the entire co-op? Absolutely, but the idea of representing a particular district is so important that it’s enumerated as one of only three requirements to run for a seat on the board.

One of the opponents of the change calls it costly because it will require an independent auditor. This is completely false. There is no requirement in this two sentence change that this redistricting would need to be “audited” before or after implementation and to suggest that is, at best, disingenuous.

Another argument made against the change is the ridiculous statement that that this might require redistricting “every six months”. A plain reading of the proposed change requires that the board calculate whether reapportionment should be done “at least once every ten years” after the initial reapportionment is completed.

In the final analysis, this proposed bylaw change isn’t dangerous, irresponsible, costly or vague. It’s two sentences that attempt to create a more representative balance of members’ opinions on the co-op board. Could it be that the opponents of the proposed change are really against it just because it endangers the overrepresentation they’ve enjoyed in the past?

We members of the co-op exercise our governance in two ways – directly through voting at the annual meeting and indirectly through the actions taken by the directors chosen from each district. The governance exercised by the directors is far more important in the day-to-day and long-term policy decisions of our co-op. It is a simple matter of fairness that no district should have a disproportionate weight in board representation. I urge you to vote “yes” on the bylaw change.

(Rob Thesman is an OPALCO member and the author of the bylaw change.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cranking Up the SMP PR Machine

It's wonderful that we have an independent, critical thinking press. We have Orcas Issues. We have the Journal too. And we have the Friends.

Where is the Friends video of this armoring project on Blakely?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Biggest Stories Behind the Shortest Agenda Items

There is a brief agenda item for the upcoming Tuesday Council Meeting. It says:
COUNCIL & COUNTY MANAGER UPDATES: Appointment of Dale Roundy, Pete Moe and Richard Grout to the Planning Commission.
It would appear from the wording of the agenda that our Council has already decided who the appointments should be, but that would have required the Council to have taken action already, outside of a public meeting. That wouldn't do that, would they? But that's not the most interesting aspect of these appointments. Read on.

Let's look at each of these appointments. But first, let's explain the purported process being used by the current Council regarding appointments. Appointments for the Planning Commission (like most advisory committees) have a certain geographic assignment within the County. For instance, Dick Grout would be filling a position from San Juan. Pete Moe would be filling a position from Orcas. Dale Roundy would be filling a position from Lopez.

Furthermore, according to the out-of-date protocol being used by the current Council, the Councilman representing each vacancy brings forward a nominee for a vote before the entire Council. Therefore, Richard (Dick) Grout is Bob Jarman's nominee from San Juan Island (Jarman's residency district). Pete Moe is Rick Hughes' nominee from Orcas Island (Hughes' residency district). Dale Roundy is Jamie Stephens' nominee from Lopez Island (Stephens' residency district).

Let's look at the appointees from the bottom up and examine what they have to offer to the public good.

Dick Grout - he was the Planning Director for San Juan County who urged the BOCC to fully plan under the GMA, way back in 1990. After leaving his county position, Grout was employed by the Department of Ecology for a couple of decades and headed up their Bellingham Office. Since his days as San Juan County Planning Director, Grout has been very vocal and involved in shoreline issues, even up to the current day where he has been a reliable opponent of the Honeywells. Grout also has been a candidate to be our County Manager in the past. TH readers may also remember that Grout has surfaced in previous TH articles, particularly as he was associated with an email about the Council campaign four years ago, talking about Lisa Byers and Laura Jo Severson.
Dick Grout, Jim Slocumb and myself are all willing to walk with Lisa for doorbelling. Jim can put together maps and information lists and can map out routes to walk. I truly believe it will be the difference in winning the election. I’ll point to Laura Jo Severson as my proof. Ron Zee, Jim Slocumb and me took a short grandmotherly type, new to the island, that couldn’t string together a paragraph and got her to within 99 votes of Rich Peterson simply by doorbelling. Think what an articulate woman from Orcas could do.
Why would Bob Jarman put Dick Grout forward as his choice for the Planning Commission? Seems like strange political bedfellows. Reports are, however, that both Jarman and Mike Thomas are still in trouble with Ecology over the Portland Fair wetland situation. Reports are that the Attorney General (AG) is investigating Jarman and Thomas quite seriously, and Jarman/Thomas can't seem to shake the AG. Reports are that Jarman has been going around town asking specific people for their help in getting Ecology to back off. Was Dick Grout one of them?

Dick Grout chimed in about the "civil investigation demand" related to the purported Medicaid fraud on San Juan Island. Grout revealed his extensive experience with the AG as well as his usual "guilty until proven innocent" attitude in a letter to the Journal this past November. Maybe Grout's AG experience could come in handy in helping Jarman fight the AG too? ... if he were properly incentivized, that is. As Grout says in his Journal letter:
I worked for the state of Washington for several years before I retired. My job included regular interaction with the attorney general’s office. I’ve worked with a number of assistant attorney generals to develop similar interrogatories and “requests for production” of documents. I know from that experience that you don’t get served with one of these demands unless the attorney general’s office has good reason to believe there’s a fire beneath the smoke.
Whatever the reason for putting Grout's name forward, it must be pretty compelling for Jarman to do it. It's out of character.

[Note: in the latest version of the January 26th agenda, Grout's name has been removed].

Pete Moe - **** edited because of extreme hypocrisy ****

Dale Roundy - what if you were in charge of the water supply for a village (e.g., Jamie Stephens) and there was groundwater contamination near one of your water supply wells ... and you didn't tell anyone? Well, let's clarify, certain people knew about it. The local Planning Commissioner (Barbara Thomas) was copied on emails. The local Land Trust knew (Sandy Bishop and Rhea Miller). Even some local self-styled "environmentalists" who frequently concern themselves with water issues (Madrona Murphy) knew. So did a former Land Bank Commissioner (Nancy Greene). The soil and groundwater contamination was known to be within a short distance of one of your lesser-used water supply wells, but overall the full extent of soil and groundwater contamination was still unknown. As far as anyone knew, the contamination had been in place FOR YEARS. The last laboratory result of groundwater contamination showed that there were concentrations of benzene 10,000 times higher than the drinking water standard, but you never bothered to test for that particular contaminant at the well head of the water supply well ... so you really have no idea if the benzene and other contaminants ever got into the water supply.

So certain people knew, but it's not like you sent out a notice to your water users, or breathed a word about it to the papers.

In this case, what do all the "people-in-the-know" have in common? Well, aside from being friends and keeping one another's secrets, they all have a stake in the property values of Lopez Village, where the contamination is located. For instance, they own property in the village ... or they make their living related to development/design of village buildings ... or their relatives work in construction projects in the village ... or they are just about to finance or get bank loans for projects related to their village properties. Even if your property is not directly affected, try explaining that to a bank! It would be quite a mess if something like soil or groundwater contamination were to start busting up property sales in the village.

But that's exactly what happened. Meet Dale Roundy. Dale Roundy owns a residence across the street from the Lopez Community Land Trust (the LCLT). The LCLT is run by Sandy Bishop and Rhea Miller, and Dale Roundy's wife is on their board. Dale Roundy wanted to buy a property in the heart of Lopez Village, and Roundy had an environmental review conducted first. The review turned up the fact that there was contamination in a nearby property, also in the heart of the village, that had never been cleaned up or even fully delineated. As a result, Roundy backed out. The sale collapsed. Other potential buyers behind Roundy backed out too. A minor stir was created as information leaked out to just a few people ... but they managed to keep a lid on it, and the whole thing died down.

Now Roundy is slated to be on the Planning Commission ...

Email from Jamie Stephens to the County Health Department Manager, Mark Tompkins