Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hues...Votes...$260 Million+ for a new Lummi Casino salmon marsh in Whatcom County.

Stars of mercy guiding the mariner on the night seas…
Clouds of dew and shade nurturing the tender plant before the full heat of the sun…
Mountains, unbending standard bearers, dividing fertile plains of loam, sand, and clay…
Seas, whose age old tidal boundaries, swarming coral reefs, green feeding billows, and black silent depths beckon and guard stories of gain and loss…

The natural world is full of spiritual dialectical hues. The question is what spirituality lens is used? A pantheist’s pantheon? A deist’s dream? A humanist’s mirror? A theist’s day in court?

I am reading some books these days. Techgnosis, by Erik Davis. Can technology unleash the age old energies of spirit and searching? Is this for progressive San Francisco yin/yang doctors only? Do Christian conservatives also have an age old connection to technologically driven spirituality in this same old—new age? Whose words or tweets or newsfeeds crackle through the techniverse with Ultimate Power? Is the Book in LED luminescence as relevant as it is on parchment?

I am reading the news these days. Is 2014 the apex of progressive promise? The poster children of dialectical crush, the disciples of Saul Alinsky, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx, grasping the levers of power in government, media, education, business, food production, natural resources, find themselves unable to shake the people in the street of the fear of God. Ebola, ISIS, Benghazi, food stamps, immigration amnesties for foreign street gangs… is this the brave new world order?

I am working in homes these days. The swelling tide of governmental regulation reaches to the neck, the chin, the nose, the eyes. In the daylight, community organizers proclaim the waters of government micro management to be warm and nutrient rich, spawning all kinds of socialist goodness.

In the dark, the burdens of debt, the volatility of markets whose time worn steering wheels are laden with grease and wildly spinning, and the loneliness of a technocracy that divorces the visions of youth from the wisdom of their parents—these whisper fear and loathing.

Where is hope?

For millions caught in the last world war, a dim memory to youth today, hope did not lie in football and turkey, or in a glittering tree, spiced eggnog and lavishly wrapped treasures. 

Hope did not lie in cycling viewsheds, in the return of wolves and cougars and wood rats, in vast tracts of wilderness relieved by reduced carbon emissions and erasure of humankind.

Hope did not lie in proposed Whatcom County tidal salmon spawning marshes,

Hope did not lie in aborting children to secure a fading quality of life lived in cloned, high urban density neighborhoods filled with faux, ever morphing relationships that bruise community and innocence.

Hope for those millions lay down a bloody road, a 20th century cross, finding the blue skies of freedom through sacrificial death and tear laden life. Orphans and widows found meaning and renewal. Our parents and grandparents, they struggled to give us a future. Their prosperity after war, however, fueled a generation of bitter rebels. The most hardened and focused of those offspring now rule, thumbing their nose at both wisdom and folly. Tyranny is no longer a foreign reality.

This is the countdown week to the 2014 American election. Life trajectories pass quickly. Loyalties, graven in the heart in childhood, fuel lifelong conflicts over worldviews. In the end, the old people sit, panting on rocking chairs, still arguing over ideas.

Where is wisdom in this? Why vote? Why struggle to define and build community?

If you are wise, you are wise for yourself. If you are a fool, you alone will suffer. Prosperity is relative. Happiness is both a crust of bread in famine, and chicken cordon bleu in prosperity.

Discontent also knows no class boundaries. Enough is never enough. Percieved success and failure, a cup half empty or half full, can co-exist in the same house.

So, why vote? Why care? True, unshakeable, quiet contentment comes in deliberately choosing to share, to bear a communal cross, to feed one’s neighbor before the mocking foe. Contentment lies in the hope of life after death, in the promise of the just Creator that the dialectic will then be over. And, hope lies in his quiet hand of provision during days of turmoil.

Until then, there will be many hues.

Stars of mercy guiding the mariner on the night seas…
Clouds of dew and shade nurturing the tender plant before the full heat of the sun…
Mountains, unbending standard bearers, dividing fertile plains of loam, sand, and clay…
Seas, whose age old tidal boundaries, swarming coral reefs, green feeding billows, and black silent depths beckon and guard stories of gain and loss…

Just go vote!



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seth Fleetwood Body Language and Voter’s Most Pressing Issues

This cartoon came to mind after watching a half hour of the Fleetwood – Ericksen debate sponsored by the Bellingham City Club. For all the audience cheers he had, Seth Fleetwood still had a hard time speaking eye to eye to the crowd. Maybe this is a lawyer’s way of keeping concentration on the stand. Or maybe it is body language that foretells more than the words being said.

Click on cartoon to enlarge.

These last two weeks, our home has been INUNDATED with professional survey takers, an average of one survey per day. What are these people fishing for? 

The Colorado Blueprint method in September works this way:

1) Survey every voter (needs lots of money) to have bulletproof intel for messaging.
2) Identify their most pressing issues / frustrations.
3) Re-cast the progressive candidate as the best person to solve these issues, even when there is no way that progressive candidate will buck the party whip to fulfil his campaign promises in the legislature.
4) Parade the recast, dolled up candidate. Promise the moon on those most pressing issues.
5) Overpower voter hesitations and the opponent’s rebuttals with gush of well crafted news reports,  commercials and mailers. Dramatize the progressive candidate’s bona fides (needs lots of money).

This morning I saw a Fleetwood commercial. What do swing voters in North Bellingham?? care about?

1) The coal trains. (Be sure to link to Ericksen’s lobbyist lunch schedule)
2) Low wages for women. (Single moms? Entry level female workers? Can we get them out to vote?)
3) Partisan gridlock. (Cast Fleetwood as a peacemaker. Pre-emptively bury the 2009 “yellow sign down zoning” war he helped bring on while on Whatcom County Council. Lisa McShane knows all about that.)

It is all in the Comcast ad running today, Monday, September 29. And, of course, Seth Fleetwood has the answers, and will work for “you”. Colorado Blueprint smokescreen. High priced, targeted messaging. It worked in Colorado. Will it work on low information voters in North Bellingham? Good chance.

It worked last year in Whatcom County. Vote NO COAL TRAINS. Only thing, those million dollar promises were unattainable. Train traffic grows on, only with OIL TRAINS.  And, now, Vancouver Canada has approved a coal terminal. So much for the Steyer funded promises delivered per last year’s Colorado Blueprint.

Sooner or later, even Tom Steyer’s millions won’t buy credibility to drive votes using the Colorado Blueprint. But, until then, we must endure giddy, well paid millennials wooing us with the latest Colorado Blueprint survey.

Also from the Colorado Blueprint—501c4’s—lots of them. Just because Tom Steyer says his money will go to target other key senate races farther south, does that mean the Fleetwood race has been back burnered by the progressive gurus? Don’t count on it. Keep watching. The money moves here and there and everywhere, through the “collazione” of progressive 501c4’s. It is pure genius. What a Colorado Blueprint meal! It is not over til the “fat lady sings”. Or til the Scott Walkers of the world outflank the Colorado Blueprint. Think about that!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Muddy Waters

Tuesday evening at Whatcom County Council, a hearing on the formation of four new Watershed Improvement Districts will take place. A formality, this hearing precedes an upcoming vote by farmer—owners of open spaces qualified properties on whether to initiate WIDs over themselves, and join Bellingham, Whatcom County, the tribes, and the PUD as a tax assessing authority at the table of water negotiations.

In the local world of water rights, quality and quantity, this is a big development. Water is a big deal, and the prospect of farmers successfully organizing into a cohesive group is—well, shocking, kind of like a large brontosauros, waking up and looking long at your stilt house. Maybe the farmers will change the water game. Maybe not.

Having made a serious effort to understand the water issues, and participating as a small Whatcom County hobby farmer, I see several factors.

Funding is a central issue in determining water rules.

Money pays salaries and determines balances of power. City water managers, contract water managers, expert hydro-geological engineers, soil conservation regulators, tribal water system managers and lawyers, state and federal water oversight and grant agencies, NGO socio-environmentalist lobbies generally can count on funding with generous amounts of not water, but money.

There are some things funding can’t buy, such as children who work the soil for love of farming, foregoing the relative ease of urban living. Many big farmers in Whatcom County advise their children to not take on the increasingly onerous burden of perpetuating the family farm. Out of state and country corporations and individuals continue to buy up prime Whatcom County farmland.

Toughing it out, the average Whatcom County Farmer does not have the luxury of a staff of water experts to secure ditch cleaning permits, negotiate water rights, argue with Fish and Wildlife Agency activists, and lobby other recalcitrant government agencies, often staffed by planners who seem more concerned about their career peer legacies than walking a mile in the farmers’ shoes.

Then, there are native tribal customs. If you have opportunity to work in planning sessions with them, tribal leaders can be approachable. However, there is a huge ring of appointed bureaucrats, activist judges, government and non-government agency activists who hedge in the tribes, making finding local solutions a big headache.

If the farmers are not at the table, they will be on the menu. But do Whatcom farmers want to organize and represent themselves at the table of water negotiations?

After attending a significant number of farmer meetings, my observation is that farmers are highly independent, expect their virtues will protect them from activists, and thus are really not interested in collective funding or organizing, unless it is within their own crop sector. Farmers have traditionally kept their heads down and tried to fly under the radar. Most farmers choose partnerships with marketing boards, co-ops and corporations who will buy their product in one annual agreement, freeing them to roam their fields and have coffee with their friends. The people who grow our food generally avoid us.

Muddying this further are well meaning conservative small acreage holders. Not farmers themselves, they push back at the aggression of socio-environmental activists in NGO lobbies and local county agencies. Having the same adversaries, however, does not guarantee them understanding of, or standing with their big farmer neighbors.

Some of the Whatcom small acreage people have revived the state mandated WRIA 1 Water Planning Unit that was sidelined by the “Joint Water Board” about five years ago.

The Lummi and Nooksack Tribes formally abandoned the Planning Unit almost from the beginning. Contentious and dragged out legal and water engineering studies destroyed momentum and farmer interest in the Planning Unit, giving a cadre of well placed civic water officials the freedom to move water policy along socio-environmental activist lines.

Unofficially, the tribes and the civic officials have made a host of decisions behind closed doors. However, as conservative acreage holders began observing the public meetings of related county and city agencies, these plans were uncovered and challenged, and a movement to resurrect the oversight of the Planning Unit took place. Farmers looked at this with skepticism and open hostility.

Key civic officials scoffed at and sought to sabotage the Planning Unit revival. And, the Planning Unit advocates have duly noted the disinterest of the farmers in water rights issues for small acreage holders. On the other hand, big farm advocacy groups have supported the County appeal against the recent Futurewise lawsuit over “exempt” residential wells.

So, to sum up—on one side is a host of well funded (by the taxpayer, in various ways) non food growing “guardians” of water and land, and on the other side is a ragtag, conflicted band of farmers and small acreage conservatives.

Enter Watershed Improvement Districts. Central in water conflict resolution elsewhere in Washington State, Watershed Improvement Districts in Whatcom County have the legal potential to absorb irrigation and diking/drainage districts. Assessing a tax, WIDs will have more or less money to secure grants, and coordinate and carry out projects with other peer agencies with legal standing, whether county, state, or federal, whether volunteer or salaried.

Farmers have duly noted the sluggish agency staffers who soak up irrigation and diking/draining funds, and county administrators who transfer these funds to other contentious projects outside the initial scope of the tax assessments. Hence, there is a plan to create a joint WID board, representing the two existing and four proposed WIDs, and not with county staffing or administrative service.

What does it mean to improve a watershed? WIDs have a broader scope of endeavor than irrigation or diking districts. Assuming watershed responsibilities can be a headache, but has been looked on with significant favor by state legislators, who have provided very large financial grants to WID projects in other counties. The key is working out a watershed improvement plan acceptable to WID members and other entities such as tribes and cities.

This early October ballot will allow farmland holders in Whatcom County, whose land is in the “Open Spaces” reduced tax program to decide to organize as WIDs. In other words, the WIDs are being organized in a way that gives farmers control of their agenda.

A temporary committee of farmers, framers of the watershed “boundaries” have modified the initial boundary lines to increase the chances of the 2/3 approval needed to establish the WIDs. And, votes are based on acreage, specifically, 2 votes for every 5 acres enrolled in the boundaries. This “gerrymandering” has been contentious, not only with “yes vote” farmers who have been excluded, but also with “no vote” farmers who have been excluded.

My informal observation is that the volunteer boundary committee is pressed to the limit by lack of organizing staff and bare bones funding, just as the Planning Unit revivalists are struggle as County officials fund meeting facilitators handsomely, but provide relatively little staff or funds for Planning Unit members to carry out real life, non-meeting projects.

In other words, “gerrymandering” accusations seem to be largely fears that the WIDs will be a foe of legitimate Planning Unit processes, becoming a power center that overshadows the Planning Unit and further marginalizes rural non farm conservatives on the Planning Unit. Farmers and Planning Unit conservatives need patience and a servant’s mindset here. There is no perfect, eternally static balance of power or system of checks and balances. It is the open hand that undergirds community life. And, the consensus decision making process of the Planning Unit is onerous and notoriously slow.

What sets apart pretending and legitimate water curators here? 1) Children. 2) Growing food.

Thirty or fifty years from now, whose children will manage the water and land resources? Progressive partners have few children. Farmers’ children don’t stay on the farm. Many tribal children move off the reservation and out of the boats. Grey headed activists, environmental and conservative, rarely have their children and grandchildren engaged locally with them.

Perhaps, the greatest contribution towards good water policy will be farm sensitive youth living on food producing parcels, who can, in community and good faith, without endless overlays of urban officials, negotiate water use rules that provide balanced stewardship of natural resources.

Who provides food from the land and the water? It is the tribes and the farmers. Working the soil and the seas are the hard scrabble trusts that validate water policy expertise.

Maybe the WIDs and tribes can work together to sweep away the Seattle based, UN/federal agency funded NGO encrustments in Whatcom County, to model service based, not adversarial driven agreements. Again, the open hand gets things done. The closed hand destroys.

Maybe the big, local Whatcom farmers will pursue a model that allows global sales, yet also enables local urban and suburbanites and their children to again produce value added foods, to balance and preserve farming with businesses and cash flows, farms not so dependent on bank financing and government subsidies.


Collaring Public Employee Negotiators/PAC Managers OR Collaring Citizens in Blaine

Last week, two petitions were submitted to the City of Blaine, which, if there are no insurmountable regularities, will either be approved by Blaine City Council as written, or will be approved or rejected in a February 2015 ballot initiative put to the citizens of Blaine.

This is interesting. Novel. Amusing. Even threatening. City and County officials have been tasked with processing two petitions that cut to the core of their group identity and vocational remuneration.

The Bellingham Herald gave a news report Saturday on these petitions. “Blaine voters may consider measure to weaken city employees’ unions.” It was a basic article, basic news reporting. Or was it?

I see a number of questions that were not answered.
1) What union or unions serve Blaine city employees?
2) Are all Blaine city employees unionized?
3) Are collective bargaining agreements in Blaine negotiated behind closed doors, with terms buried to all but the most persistent researchers? Or are these agreements an open public process?
4) How do Blaine City union agreements compare to those, say of Lynden, or Ferndale, or Bellingham?
5) What percent of Blaine city employees approve their union’s political contributions?
6) How many citizens live in Blaine?
7) What percent of that number is 500 petitioners?
8) Do residents of Blaine (and Whatcom County) disapprove of levels of public sector service under unionization?
9) How hard was it, how many hours did it take to accumulate these signatures?
10) Has the public perception of unions changed from champions of the underdog to body guards of privilege and nepotistic politicking?
11) Should unions for public employees have more limitations than other unions?
12) Do all public sector unions nobly avoid collusion with elected legislators who ratify their contracts?
13) Who is Freedom Foundation?
14) Why would they have boilerplate initiative language for these petitions on their website?
15) What marks Freedom Foundation’s relationships with unions in Washington State?
16) What marks Freedom Foundation’s relationships with conservative activists in Whatcom County?

These questions were not addressed by the Bellingham Herald Reporter. In depth, balanced reporting takes time, which is money, something the Herald seems to be in short supply of these days.

I would make some additional observations.

1) The two largest employers in Whatcom County are Western Washington University and the Public School Boards. Public sector union engagement is a central issue in Whatcom County.
2) A ballot result in Blaine is also a referendum on the public sector unions serving these larger entities.
3) I know a number of public sector unionized employees who are happy to take their pay, yet highly critical of levels of service, political priorities and management collaring brought about by their union’s contract agreements.
4) This is not a little issue.
Who should be collared? Unions? or Public sector employees? or Citizens? We may see what Blaine voters think.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Executive Fiat

Once upon a time there was a land where attendance at the state approved church meant the difference between liberty or death. Many people died when kings and queens changed which church was approved. It became obvious that the decreed church had less to do with God, and more to do with the king’s grip on power.

Thousands of loyal subjects joined together to build a far flung colony of that land. They made covenants and implemented local town hall rule. They wanted a church unshackled from royal fiat, and hoped the king and his clerics were watching and learning.

Each landed citizen had a voice and used it. A later king did not like the distant ministers whose unfettered sermons thundered against unjust government policies. He made plans to send an army and trash the distant churches. That king died suddenly, and the ministers and townhalls and churches lived on.

A century later, another king moved to crush the town hall people. A war was fought, and the king lost his distant colonies. “We the people” and citizen based rule was allowed to enlarge itself over the next two centuries into the America that we know today.

Today, “we the people” honor citizen based rule, and bump along with the forms and instruments of government handed down from our New England forbearers, yet something is wrong.

Kings are quietly beginning to rule over us. And being at great ease, “we the town hall people” let them.

At local, state and federal levels, the voting game plays its loud tunes, but the quiet power more and more lies in unelected coalitions of bureaucrats and non profits and multi national corporations, not with the town hall people.

Last week, an enterprising group, published highlights of e-mails obtained from the first year of Washington State Governer Jay Inslee’s term in office. In essence, Governor Inslee’s office right from the start, hired outside consultants to solicit non profits and corporate leaders to fund up an environmentally driven governor’s agenda that would not be mired in restraints of the legislature. This is executive fiat.

A month or so ago, April 29, Governor Inslee signed executive order 14-04, creating a Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force. Read the whereas line items. Do sweeping, minimally supported conclusions and initial West Coast regional discussions (not even non-binding alliances) justify unilateral executive orders?

Do you know the governor’s powers vested in unelected appointments to the Growth Management Hearings Board? What about the Governor’s Office controlled (and ailing) Puget Sound Partnership that dishes out EPA funds for environmental “improvements”?

At the Whatcom County level is the unauthorized spending of the WRIA1 Joint Administrative Board. Stopping short of direct legal suit, a coalition of water districts have written an open letter to the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office and Executive Jack Louws, detailing violations of the Whatcom County Charter in the budgets and spending of the Joint Administrative Board. They are challenging executive fiat.

Who will prevail? Who really rules, the executive or the cadre of non profit advisors and facilitators, the business consultants and specialists who hover in clouds in city and county health, planning and parks offices, and further their interests through our youth and educational halls, and honor themselves through a complicit media.

Schooled and skilled ingroup manipulation tactics, progressives keep the town hall people three steps behind in the game of public policy and media/education virtual reality.

Don’t you want to be liked? Didn’t you fill out the “share your thoughts” survey? Wouldn’t you like to attend a neighborhood discussion on bike lanes and downzoning of arterial roads? Your thoughts collected by skilled progressive group manipulators are usually excluded from their predetermined reports, and worse, you stop watching and resisting with a false sense of being heard and represented.

Conservatives, newly elected to public office, struggling to learn the ropes of public policy, networking with the panoply of local, state and federal bureaucrats, NGOs and business alliances, and wanting to establish a reputation for balanced, productive, teamwork in governing, are easy prey for environmental handlers. “Getting along” is not always a good thing.

The media pats you on the back, and your legacy unwittingly becomes one of furthering the progressive, environmentally justified takings of private properties and personal freedoms. And the town hall people who elected you slumber on.

Executive fiat. The new reality. Or is it all that new? What is the lesson of American history?

When people of Christian faith walked the talk, there was salt and light, amid conflict. That was the story of the “Black Robed Regiment”of 1776. That was the motivation for British generals to stable their horses in New England church auditoriums, or use them as beer halls. Today, there is precious little Christian salt and interest in town hall or citizen driven legislation. Kings and executive branches take up the slack, and a saltless Christian church, drowning in comforts and Madison Avenue marketing, is poised to be ground into the pavement. There may be a temporary euphoria of freedom while the culture is in free fall, but when the ground is found, the “kings” grind fine and hard.

Maybe the future hot political career will be court advisor. Maybe not. Maybe it will be salt maker.

Are you voting conservative in the primary? Vet your state representative candidate over loyalties to executive agencies like Puget Sound Partnership or the Growth Management Hearings Board.  

At the county level, did your rep candidate turn a blind eye to the WRIA 1 Joint Administrative Board’s (Bellingham Mayor, County Executive, PUD manager, Nooksack and Lummi tribal representative) out of compliance, unfettered spending and policy making? You may be surprised.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

Parades, Ballots, Scorecards

Have you looked at Whatcom County Ballot for all open positions, and for primary elections this year?

How well informed are your civic taste buds?

A couple of days ago, my wife suggested we invite some other families to walk candidate floats in parades this summer. It is a fun way for younger children to begin to learn about civic processes, and you see that political candidates are real people, with very diverse personas. BUT…

This year, who should we help? For example, State Rep Position 1 has four candidates, two of whom we would be inclined to help. Walking in parades means choosing now. Am I ready to choose? Have these candidates fully framed their legislative priorities and values? Do they intend to do so? Or must I choose by sentimental feelings? A candidate first serves voters by defining his or her self to those voters.

Last year, my daughter Krista and I covered 2013 Whatcom County school board elections.  A large slate of uncontested candidates stayed home and silent. Competition may spend dollars, but the value far outweighs the cost. Competitive elections enable informed votes.

Voters grapple with three levels of citizen responsibility in civic government.

At a foundational level is virtue. We teach our children to listen well, honor jurisdiction, be grateful, be truthful, be orderly, and work hard. The list of character goes on. Families, faiths, schools operate on a cycle of childhood, about fifteen to twenty years.

At a practical level is public policy. Happy people know issues, jurisdictions, and rules, and work within them. Unhappy peoples ignore or twist them. Public policy issues generally are a project of 2-5 years.

At the painful level are elections. “Go to” people rise to the top, and whether by formal ballot or habituated service, are there in times of need. The wheels of humility and pride grind hard, however, and elected service has large costs in addition to large benefits. Election seasons are measured in weeks and months, short and intense.

Easy to ignore, elections are still the hinges of the future, a time to mix epoxies that shape very long trajectories. Elections are like weddings—a lot of pomp and fuss, a big party, and a potential big hangover. Yet, that wedding intiates a fruitful or disastrous family life. So are elections. The hassles of elections underwrite both big rewards and losses.

This Saturday in Lynden, the 2014 season of local small town American fairs and parades begins. Who should I vote for? What do these candidates stand for?

Should I vote for a candidate because I knew them from childhood?
Should I vote for them because they have raised a good family?
Should I vote for them because they manage money well?
Should I vote for them because they successfully help needy people?
Should I vote for them because we need racial diversity in government office?

Frankly, what is the job description?

Do you buy a dump truck to go to the corner store? Do you buy a sports car to drive the baseball team to out of town games? Do you buy a corn chopper to take your RV to the lake?

The volume of local, state and federal business that elected officials deal with overwhelms the best voter. After the election, the newly minted public voices begin yelling into the meat grinder of the bureaucracy. Elected representatives come and go, but bureaucratic apparatchiks stay long, very long. Elected reps must be very perceptive, focused and quick -- tough and able cookies.

Candidates, please do me a favor. Can you write your own score card? I don’t mean photo opp flyers.

Can you write an honest scorecard that compares your priorities to your competition? Sometimes good score cards are very unsettling. But that can also be very good in the long run. And, how you frame issues on your score card shows us your underlying assumptions.

1) Prove to me you know what the policy categories of your civic arena are.
2) Prove to me you know how to coordinate research, amendment, and writing of law.
3) Prove to me you can improve bureaucracies, especially vis the public sector unions.
4) Prove to me you have staying power, can ride the bronco of day to day rules making.
5) Prove to me you can delegate, can build your team, can affect good policy in caucus.
6) Prove to me you can swim with media sharks, not serve them, not quarrel with them.
7) Prove to me you are a quick study.
8) Prove to me you are not for sale to the highest bidder, especially to global corporate or non profit trusts.
9) Prove to me you will not allow outside grant/tax dollars to overwhelm local governance.
10) Prove to me you will reduce the power of shadow government in unelected regional councils and boards

I could go on. Is it possible to be an informed voter? Is it possible to be an informed candidate?

One last thing. What might you gain by working for candidates, by letting the barbecue stay cold for a few more nights than normal this summer, by helping an election campaign? Why care? Why walk? Why doorbell?

Elections close the loop. What value has virtue if it is not applied to policy? What value has policy if it does not connect with people? Elections remind us that we must steer our own boats if we don’t want to be swamped by the side winds.

You may not know it all, but you can scrape the rust off, re-oil, and re-engage. Turn off the TV and turn out to some meetings. Ask some hard questions.  It is better entertainment, and better living.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Correction. More Honor. Environmental Lawsuit Settlement Tactics.

Last Thursday, I went to a forum on water, hosted by Doug Erickson and Vincent Buys. It was an upbeat rollout of a solution for some of the water woes of Whatcom County.

Simply said, constraints on water use from the Nooksack River Basin, driven by environmentally clad activism, legislation, and bureaucratic oversight, have risen to the level that local cities, tribes, industry and farms are being turned into bitter rivals. And, there seems to be no end in sight.

The rotating door of local and state environmentalist activist groups keeps putting fresh, enthusiastic, activists into the fray, attaching to, penetrating and wearing down local business and government leaders. Grant driven, environmentally clad, social reform pays well in Whatcom County.

The forum last Thursday had a sense of fresh air. A very high volume water flow, not hydrologically connected to the Nooksack Basin has been appropriated by the Birch Bay/Blaine water authorities. Excess water from these deep wells, added to the reclamation water from Blaine’s state of the art septic treatment system is being proposed as a solution to supplement the twelve or so “distressed” rural water systems located around and north of Lynden. For now, this water is beyond the reach of the environmentalists.

Time will tell how this plays.

Last Sunday, a friend sent me a link to a Growth Management Hearings Board Case 13-2-0022,  a very recent settlement extension. My friend said this settlement extension was for a citizen lawsuit against Whatcom County over water management, filed with the Growth Management Hearings Board. They said it showed settlement negotiations were ongoing between Whatcom County officials and the appellants, contrary to, and undermining Whatcom County Council’s decision to continue funding the appeal of the GMHB ruling on Whatcom County non-compliance in ground water management in Skagit and/or Thurston County Superior Court regarding this lawsuit.

After being challenged by another friend on a mix up of GMHB case numbers, I found the first information incorrect, and have rewritten this article to reflect these facts. The settlement extension is for Case 13-2-0022, not for Case 12-2-0013. No excuses for my error—please accept my apology and corrections.

The primary question I asked earlier still stands. Can Whatcom County Council members resist the request by the Futurewise supported appellants Jean Melious, David Stalheim, Laura Leigh Brakke and Eric Hirst to negotiate a settlement rather than undergoing the more rigorous scrutiny and final precedents of Superior Court? What if the GMHB was found out of compliance in their non-compliance ruling?

Who on County Council would want to negotiate a settlement with these folks? Carl Wiemer? Rud Browne? Ken Mann? Sam Crawford? Pete Kremen? Barry Buchanan? Barbara Brenner? Did not the County Council vote to continue funding for the appeal of this GMHB ruling to a higher court?

Why would a settlement not be better than a ruling? Why not kiss up and avoid the legal burdens?

“A typical way these policies get implemented is for environmental interest groups to sue a government agency under either the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and for the agency then to settle the lawsuit in the interest group’s favor.”

“Sometimes—as in a 2008 lawsuit filed against the U.S. Forest Service by three environmental groups to prevent oil, gas, and mineral extraction in Pennsylvania—the government not only settles the lawsuit but also pays the interest groups for their complaints (in that case paying out nearly $20,000)…”  - Sagebrush Rebellion Redivivus” by William Perry Pendley, Hillsdale College Imprimus, April 2014

Did not the Lummi Groundwater Management Lawsuit go to settlement several years ago, with the tribes coming out much bigger winners than they would have in a court ruling? Did not Washington State grant property rights not in law to the Lummis by refusing to complete the court adjudication? By going to settlement, did not Washington State leave private non-tribal land owners subject to tribal approval if they want to buy or sell their parcels? Is this not an effort to create a tribal reservation by fiat, contrary to fee title law?

Settlement Tactics 101.

One. Raise environmental concerns through the media / education / smart growth echo chamber. Fully research environmental laws and tort options. Watch for an alignment of sympathetic bureaucrats, judges and elected officials.

Two. Bring an egregious lawsuit that has little chance of standing up in final courts. Request benchmark claims that make all ears ring and eyes bug open.

Three. Wait for lawsuit fatigue to set in.

Four. Offer to drop the lawsuit if a settlement with some teeny, weeny concessions can be made.

Five. Negotiate a settlement behind closed doors, in extended executive sessions, getting as much as possible in the process. Make those giving up things feel guilty for existing. Rely on your media echo chamber to cover your back. It is of utmost important to destroy the morale of your opponents. Resource use changes come after the social fabric is melted and reformed with “social equity”.

Six. Retire into the shadows

Seven. Do it again, in another place, at another time, with another issue. Activist lawsuits and court rulings happen all the time, only usually at a state or federal level, far removed from our local sensibilities.

In American Representative Republican Democracy, elections have consequences. County Council may legally flaunt open public meeting laws with back room executive sessions to deal with lawsuit driven issues. What a gift between environmental comrades. And what is the test for the rest of us?

Honor. Virtue. Should collusive lawsuit tactics draw dirt in reply? In the face of evil, render what?

What was the major foundation of American Democracy until post civil war anti trust legalese was needed, leading to Constitutional Societies drumming up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the 1930’s?

Rule of honor. A mans word was his guarantee.
Rule of honor. Elected officials were accorded more honor, and generally served with honor.
Rule of honor. Virtue, not religion, not money had the highest respect.

Rule of honor. More honor. Elections have consequences. Elections place officials on stage for service, for praise or shame. In the end, what counts more? Water? Salmon? Shell fish? Crops? Manufactured goods? Drinking water? Children?

Whose children? Who will the next generation honor?

Here’s the rub. Children will honor the adults who deal with honor. Can elected officials rule with honor? Yes. Is this an honorable lawsuit? Doubtful. Was a pressurized settlement always the end game? Likely. ReSources has proven, locally, that small lawsuits do get cash settlements rather than run up larger legal fees. And, ReSources and Futurewise have the hot line to County Council right now, in this big stakes lawsuit. Is this not so?

Honor? More honor? County Council, Whatcom County is watching.