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, Shiftwa.org 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.