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Island Guardian

Will Hospital Board Place Levy (For Less?) On The November Ballot?


We are told by some, directly, and indirectly, that a vote against the August levy increase is a vote that will end EMS….in December.

That part is true, but if, and only if, another levy is not placed on the November ballot. That November levy request must be filed on or before August the 2nd, which is, coincidently, also the last day to vote for the current levy increase.

A November levy election would be a backup to extend the current levy that expires in December -but would only be necessary if the levy increase that is on the current ballot fails.

Our guess is come election day in August, someone from the San Juan island Board of Hospital Commissoners (Board) will quietly go in and file for a levy extension to put a levy request -and presumably at the current rate without the increase- on the November ballot

Assuming the November levy only asks for the same levy amount we currently have, and not what EMS states they want, it is a certainty the voters will approve it, because we really do need, and want, EMS to continue. But we have yet to be convinced that EMS cannot function within the current budget restraints to provide core services without more money than it currently receives.

And speaking of budgets, where is the budget that requires the increase? it strikes us as odd that while the Board’s election campaign committees states we must vote for the levy increase to save EMS (”levy is do or die” and “a vote on very existence of EMS”), the Board’s budget committee has not developed a budget that shows the need for the increase, and the ballots are about to go out. As a result the public is not informed.

The board is on record stating the increase will fund “outreach” and “education,” in addition to the core services, Maybe so, but the voters should have had ample opportunity to read the budget, ask questions at more than one public hearing and receive answers and explanations on budget questions at another public hearing, and then there should be an open meeting when the Board takes up the draft budget, debates amongst themselves, and then votes for the final version, publishes it, and makes it widely available to the public.

That is the way it is suppose to work; but that’s not what has happen, and now there is no time to take all those steps before the ballots are mailed out.

It is for these reasons that, while we endorse the continuation of a levy, we will be voting against this one.

Hopefully the Board will do a better job for the November election in having a budget for the voters to review and comment on in a timely fashion before voting for the only levy that really counts, the one we assume they will place on the November ballot: the one that carries the message the voters did not pass the current one because of the increase.

It will be difficult for them to do this, but for the Board to do otherwise would be a dereliction of duty to respond to the message the voters have now twice sent, if they send it again, and the Board just puts the same measure on the ballot, it would have potentially serious consequences, not only for the heath and safety of the public, but also for the integrity of their elected positions.

If the voters do pass the current one, then the Board can simply withdraw the November measure, and there will once again be piece in the valley.

See you at the polls.




One at a Time … One on One


By Marcy Hahn

So often social issues are addressed to the masses through ads and letters to the editor. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the issue of improper disposal of cigarette butts needs to be broached one smoker at a time, one on one.

On a recent weekend, while waiting for the ferry in Anacortes, I observed a bearded gentleman in a gray sedan (you know who you are) smoking and flicking cigarette ashes out the window. I continued to watch because I guessed he would be dropping the butt on the ground below - I was correct. I sat a few minutes and the more I thought about it, the more incensed I became about his behavior.

Deciding to be a champion for the anti-litter campaign, I went up to his car, knocked on the window and informed him that he had dropped something. Actually he had dropped not just one butt, but three. He agreed he had. My response was: “In Friday Harbor we have an anti-litter campaign. I live there and would appreciate it if you didn’t drop your cigarette butts on the ground.” With that, he rolled up his window and I walked away feeling better for having said my piece, but I doubt that I made much headway with him.

But that wasn’t the only “teaching” opportunity I had. When I got to Friday Harbor, I made a quick stop at a store and the sales person was smoking outside. When she saw me coming, she hurriedly extinguished her cigarette, tossed it toward the storm drain and went inside to meet me. With her I took a softer approach. I asked if she knew that it took years and years for a filter tip to break down. She was most receptive and said she wished there were a cigarette receptacle outside her building. I think she truly listened and I applaud her for that, although I hope the next time she will realize that the absence of a receptacle is an unacceptable excuse for throwing her butts onto the ground.

The facts:
1. Traditional butts made of “synthetic polymer cellulose acetate” will never degrade and merely break down into smaller parts after roughly 12 years.
2. New butts made of food grade starch decompose within two months, but only if in contact with a micro-organism rich compost environment.
3. Butts that are dropped into storm drains (or are washed there after being dropped onto a sidewalk or gutter) can begin leaching chemicals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into the marine environment within an hour of contact with water. These chemicals can end up in the intestines of fish, whales, birds and other marine animals.

My guess is that many smokers who drop their butts on the ground wouldn’t dream of doing the same thing with a candy wrapper or soda can. Perhaps they never think of their butts as “litter” that can have a negative impact on our environment.

Please join me in trying to deal with the problem of carelessly discarded butts -- one at a time, one on one. When you notice someone dropping a butt on a roadside or beach, try approaching the person with a gentle “did you know?” conversation, telling them about the damage improperly disposed of cigarettes can cause. The upcoming Earth Day reminds us that our environment needs protecting. Perhaps our individual efforts, taken together, will in fact make an important difference.

(Marcy Hahn is a member of the Trash Masters Litter Clean-Up Group on San Juan Island)





For The Sake Of Argument


By Janice Peterson

I find it true for many of us on the island that we live so much in the here-and- now that we know little about each other’s past lives. Before I came to this paradise I was a college teacher of argumentation and debate and I learned quite a lot about what works and doesn’t work in the midst of discussions on dicey topics.

Unfortunately, I am often not as good at putting the rules and conventions of argument into practice as I am at offering insights from the sages through the ages to others. So please understand that I write from the position of one who is still learning, still trying to avoid looking like the wrong end of a horse when I jump into the fray on topics such as global warming, the Iraq war, storm water ordinances, and so forth.

Click to view the rest of the article ******



The Bigger Question Is Not Trash


The subject is "trash". SWAC and other citizens have been working through what they believe are the priority of options, and now want more input on the tentative draft recommendations Previous story they will soon make to the County Council

The two top options being considered for possible recommendations to the County Council (who will hold their own public hearings) fall into two areas: Who should transport household trash, and where does it go?

● Do we continue, as we have, with curbside pick-up available to those willing to pay for it, while allowing homeowners and commercial business the pleasure of making a "dump-run", or do we go with one of the other options up for discussion tonight:

● Do we provide so called curb-side pick-up to all, and all pay a fee (set by the State Utility Commission) for the service, while still allowing self-delivery of trash to the dump; or

● Do we limit self-delivery only to commercial haulers and businesses?

● Or some other combination of possibilities?

The related, and potentially expensive part of how garbage is handled is the question: Where does it go, no matter how it gets there? The decision made on this may have greater impacts on cost for the County as a whole, then who hauls what. Some in the community believe the driving force behind the discussion is the desire of the County to build a new modern transfer station on the land the County purchased last year on San Juan Island( Previous story ), and a perceived lack of will on the part of Public Works to address some of the real problems with the current transfer site.

Public Works maintains the site has always been inadequate, dangerous, and simply will not provide a facility necessary to properly, safely and efficiently serve as a transfer station. If the use of a transfer station is open to all, does the County have to build a new facility on the now un-used land they purchased on San Juan Island? And if so, how much will that cost (the original land cost was 1.8 million for 27 acres) to build and run? And will the money spent mean the County will not be able to proceed on any of the other pressing needs facing the County?

The County purchased the land on San Juan Island for use by Public Works, but without any clearly stated decision as to what will become of it, and they recently did the same with the purchase of the old LaFarge gravel pit (which they gave to the SJI Rec), and the associated beach, that were not sure what it may be used for, or if the fill from the gravel pit that made it will simply wash away over the years. The Council is currently in the middle of a discussion of what should the long term plan for the Carlson property look like. They purchased that property for around 1.75 million (and may decide to tear it down it in 5 or 10 years in order to build a new modern building; but then again maybe not).

While the Consultant hired to run the show tonight is charged only with dealing with the question of how solid waste is handled on San Juan Island, one can only hope the bigger question of how a decision made on this subject, may effect other decisions yet to be made by the County Council, will not be far from the mind of the citizens who do their civic duty tonight by asking questions, and give advice and consent to SWAC members who will soon make a recommendation to our decision makers at the County Council level.





Council Selects Nielsen Over Dufford


on Tuesday the County Council met in an extended executive session to review the credentials of the two top applicants to replace Wick Dufford, the current Hearing Examiner. Prior to entering the executive session, David Goldsmith listed the names that had applied for the position. The stating of the names was a surprise to the Council, and Kevin Ranker asked if it was appropriate to name them in open session. Goldsmith responded that it was public information, but that the review of their background and qualifications would be done in executive session.

If naming-names surprised the Council, some of the names surprised some of the observes. One applicant (who did not meet the final cut) was Lynn Bahrych, an attorney who has been both a long time Board member and past president of The Friends of the San Juans, and is one of those who has appealed the guest house regulations to the Growth Management Board. Of the two who did make the short list was -surprise- Dufford, who had teamed up with another attorney to do a sort of tag-team approach to the job. But the real surprise was the second applicant on the short list, Bill Nielsen, who is the former chair of the growth management board. The growth management board is the board that has heard the Friends appeals of SJ County's regulations, and those appeals have resulted in the County going to court to defend the current regulations that control and govern guest houses in San Juan County.

The day of surprises was not over. After having bemoaned the loss of Dufford as one of the best Hearing Examiner the County could hope to have, the Council passed over the opportunity to retain him, and chose Bill Nielsen instead. But the big surprise was the fact that, according to both Council Chair Lichter and Councilman Myhr, neither of them were made aware that Nielsen had been paid by the Friends to testify before the SJC Planning Commission, when the Commission had taken up the proposed ordinance the Council and Friends had agreed on, in executive session, as a settlement to the guest house issues; the very same issues that had been appealed by the Friends to the Growth Management Board; that is, a Board that Nielsen was once the Chair of.

after the Council had made their decision to hire Nielsen, one of the concerns raised was what happens if applicants come before Nielsen as he sits as the Hearing Examiner, and ask that he step down because the applicant feels there may be a potential conflict of interest, since Nielsen had once been retained by the Friends, and was now in the position to rule on applications that the Friends may oppose. Would he be impartial in hearing testimony against some applications? A legitimate problem? Perhaps not, but It could still bog down the process, and cost the County and the applicant money if Nielsen's rulings are appealed, or if they result in lawsuits that the County has to defend. Win or lose a case, and there are still costs involved.

Click to view the rest of the article ******



Sunshine In The Council Hearing Room


As anyone who has sat in on County meetings knows, it can be difficult to know what is being discussed, because often the officials will have reports, letters, draft regulations and such that they are referring to in their discussion, but the public has no idea what they are looking at, and then no way of knowing later when -and if- a document is made public, how the content of the document evolved, and why certain choices were made as the officials worked on it. Over the years there have been numerous complains throughout the state about the hidden nature of the government, and in response laws have been enacted in an attempt to make information more easily available to the public.

San Juan County has been the leader in the State on a number of issues, but open government has not been one of them. One example is how differing departments treat a request for copies of documents. Asking for copies in one department results in the copies being made and handed over right on the spot. In another department one is required to fill out a multi-page form of dubious value, and then wait for days for a response, while in yet another department the form is one page long. And the same problem exists in requests for electronic files. Now there are signs of change coming, and the good news is the sighs are coming from the County leaders.

Councilman Bob Myhr has repeated made public statements that County Government should be as open and as transparent as legally possible, "What are we doing that we would want to hide from the public?" he has asked on several occasions, and Ranker and Lichter both nod and agree with him. But still the problem has persisted, and then last week Stephen Robbins stood up in a Council meeting and said it is difficult to response, or give and opinion on what the Council is doing, if the public does not have a copy of what is being discussed. The irony is that the very same question was asked of some county department heads by Councilman Myhr when he first took office.

At a Council Staff meeting and work session on Monday morning (1-30-06) Myhr once again stated his view that the County should be making material available for the public. The County staff stressed the importance of marking such material as a "Draft", so the public understood such material was part of a work session, and not a final work product. The other Council members agreed, and at the next regular Council meeting there were copies neatly laid out for members of the public, so that they might be able to follow along with the Council as they worked their way though the dally agenda.

Click to view the rest of the article ******



Guest Houses: BOCC to Try Settlement- Public In The Dark?


The BOCC may try for a fifth time to sit down with a group of citizens that has appealed the County on the degree to which the County allows guest houses, and attempt to reach an agreement with them that would limit guest house construction in the county (See Ranker Guest Editorial ). The question is what will the County have to give up to satisfy their opponents in this matter, and if they do settle with a private group outside of the Courts, and without -as Commissioner Lichter likes to say- full transparency, will any future public comment and hearings on the matter be clouded by the settlement?

The BOCC has historically gone into executive session whenever the law allows them to -but does not require them to, and in doing so they prevent the public from seeing and hearing how they got from point A, to point B, on matters that can have profound effects on taxes, property values, and a host of other issues that can impact -for good or bad- the public they represent.

Up to this point the new BOCC has been back and forth on public involvement, stating there will be involvement, and then backing away from their general statements on the importance of citizen involvement and review, or not acting to implement it. One can sense they recognize the importance of open government, but their actions do not always support their rhetoric.

While there is no question that the BOCC has the right to meet in private, with a private group, and have an open and frank discussion that may lead to agreement and settlement of costly legal actions, there is also no question that to do so leaves the public in the dark as to what was said, and by whom, that may, or not, result in any "agreement". Finding out the conclusion after the fact is not the same as watching the process, and it is not the same as having our elected officials being watched and judged as they barter towards a settlement that, to some degree, will effect everyone in San Juan County.

Click to view the rest of the article ******



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