Letters to Editor
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Thursday, August 30th
Loss Of Credibility
The Islands Sounder should lose all credibility for their recent editorial “Divided We Fall”. The title is as worn-out as their newspaper. All you get anymore are advertising inserts that fill every recycling bin each Wednesday. By the time you get through tossing out the mass quantities of ads you are only left with a few pages of uninformed opinion.
In this article the Editor tries to make the point that we should all just get along. All rural landowners should happily pay to subsidize developers in urban areas for the common good. If you disagree then you are a “NIMBY” cheapskate who wants to promote division and disharmony between the islands.
They implied in their editorial that I was one of these people because I questioned the fairness of a tax that subsidizes development. Therefore I am singing out of key in the unification choir.
The problem with the editorial is that the facts about the storm water issue are wrong. They say that “Eastsound residents pay 50% more” than the rest of us. Not true. Only commercial property owners pay more. All residents pay the same rate. Owners of undeveloped property in Eastsound pay absolutely nothing yet the value of their property increases. Why don’t landowners who directly benefit from projects help to pay for them?
They mislead readers again when they state that the tax is only for 6 years. There is no “sunset” clause in the Ordinance. The committee recommended this but it was not included. This tax will go on long after 6 years. Does the Editor have a responsibility to check the facts or at least read the ordinance?
The editorial states that this ordinance was over a year in the making. Not quite. According to email documents I received it was slapped together and given to the brand-spanking-new Council less than 24 hours before they voted on it. The committee had 5 meetings in 5 months leading up to the last minute preparation of the ordinance.
A team of expensive consultants told the committee that, “The idea of all sharing in a cost without regard to actual demand for service is a tax-based approach and is inconsistent with the objectives of user fees. We recommend an island-specific rate approach, based on the cost of serving each island."(FCS Group, issue paper #3 page 2)"
The committee didn’t do it this way. Instead they recommended a countywide tax rather than an island-specific rate approach. Now there will be a vote on the issue of fairness.
The Sounder Editor should do her homework and stop misleading the readers. After all the hard work the readers did to recycle the ad inserts the least you can do is give them the facts instead of your own spin.
(A version of this column was first sent by Mr. Petersen as a letter to the Editor of the Island Sounder; who refused to pint it. Mr. Petersen has asked that it be posted as a column. -Editor)
Wednesday, August 22nd
Remember when local people used to gather at various places around the islands to talk about issues that were important to them? The grocery store, the coffee shops, and almost any place where people gathered you could hear discussions about local issues that concerned islanders. We knew that we could actually change the direction of local government if things were out of whack. Sadly, those days are gone.
Now our elected leaders have given away most of our local control to people that don’t live here and don’t share our concerns. They seem determined to wriggle out of their responsibility for making decisions locally. As a result most decisions about local issues are made by the State. This idea of passing the buck is disconcerting to me.
It began when we gave our authority to plan our future over to the state government by signing on to the GMA. Now an unelected board of bureaucrats must approve all of our local planning decisions. We must beg them for mercy when we fail to comply with their demands in a timely manner. If we fail to please them they have the power to punish us. The people we trusted to represent us sold our cherished local control for a pittance without understanding the implications of the deal.
For those of you who thought “home rule” would bring decision making back to the local level, think again. One of the first things to happen under the Charter was the appointment of a “big city” Administrator to manage county affairs. Of course he needed a staff of people around him to insulate him from the unwashed locals. He even hired an outside “communications specialist” to spin things in defense of those decisions that may seem unpopular to those of us concerned about the truth. There’s more.
Our new Council seems bent on giving away any remaining power that may have been inadvertently left to the people. They gave away the opportunity for local people to elect a new Superior Court Judge. They decided that the State Governor should appoint one instead of the islanders who actually know the candidates personally.
When the people used the power of referendum for the first time to petition the Council’s decision to place an unfair tax on citizens, their first choice of action was to take the power to decide away from the people and give it to an off-island judge. They seem oblivious to the democratic principles that we cherish.
Several years ago there was a victory for local control that seems to be forgotten today. The big bumbling bureaucracy called NOAA attempted to place all of San Juan County in a protective bubble called a “Marine Sanctuary”. In those days our leaders knew how precious local control was and said, “No thanks, we’ll do it ourselves.” So they created the Marine Resources Committee made up of locals to deal with our own surrounding marine environment.
Now it seems that this committee has become an advocate for choosing another big bumbling bureaucracy to manage our surrounding waters instead of us. They recommend giving up local control to yet another state agency in Olympia.
Because our Council is determined to give away local control they will jump at any chance to hand it off. They are now in the process of giving control of San Juan County over to the Department of Natural Resources, to be managed as an “Aquatic Reserve”.
This action will make things much easier for the overworked and underpaid Council. They will no longer have to decide what is best for the County. According to Council Chair Bob Myhr, “less choices make the process easier.” Apparently he believes the State will be a better steward of our County than the people who live here. Fewer choices for the local people equal loss of local control. You can thank these guys for selling us out again.
I guess the Council has decided that it will be better to let bureaucrats in Olympia decide our fate. For example, we won’t have to be concerned about pesky laws that require power companies to generate alternative energy by placing tidal turbines in Cattle Pass. Let the bureaucrats and the power company executives work out a deal. The Council can relax while the people can rest assured that the bureaucrats have our best interests at heart. With local decision making muted they will have less to worry about.
How very sad.
Thursday, August 9th
After reading Randy Gaylord’s comments on the Council’s decision to drop their lawsuit against a citizen for filing a referendum, I was flabbergasted and speechless all at the same time. This did not last long because I am not speechless now. In fact I have so much to say I hardly know where to begin.
For many years I have been a supporter of Mr. Gaylord. He has had a brilliant career as a champion of the people from the infamous “Jet Ski Ban” to his courageous and principled stand on the guesthouse issue. But somewhere along the line Randy has lost his way.
From challenging “free speech” in Supreme Court and entangling our county in one expensive loosing appeal after another he has squandered his good will. By suing a citizen for filing a referendum and threatening others who dare to do the same he has set a precedent of governing through intimidation. Listen to his comments here.
“It makes sense that this process includes fair warning to referendum sponsors that they
may have to appear in court and tell a judge why their proposal is consistent with the law,” said Gaylord.
And that isn’t all. If you dare to file a referendum in San Juan County armed deputies in squad cars may serve you with a summons at any hour of the day or night. You will have to pay your own legal fees for years until the appeals run out. You may be forced to pay the County’s legal fees if you lose! Governing by intimidation. This is what the Council termed “Repugnant”. But Mr. Gaylord disagrees.
“Frankly,” Gaylord added, “I found comments made about how ashamed we should be for having standard legal notices delivered to the petitioner, an attorney who knows how the process works, to be disingenuous at best.”
Since when is telling the truth disingenuous? Is “Home Rule” just another word for “Police State”? Lord have mercy!
Later in the day after the Council voted to drop this repugnant lawsuit they discussed the possibility of changing the Ordinance that started this whole mess. Our County Attorney put a halt to this conversation by saying basically that to do this would be handing a victory to the people who signed the petition. So this is all about winning a meaningless personal victory over the people not about government by and for the people. And it gets even more repugnant.
“The courts have ruled that when the state legislature specifically requires elected local officials to do something, local voters are not allowed to prevent them from doing it,” said Gaylord.
Let me be crystal clear about this point, the referendum does nothing to prevent the county from complying with state law. It simply questions the method of funding to carry out the mandate. All funds collected in 2007 under this ordinance are intact. To say that the people are not allowed to question a particularly repugnant method of funding is bunk.
The people should never yield local control over to a higher power especially when the local legislature seeks to impose an unfair and possibly illegal tax upon its citizens. The State did not mandate the County Council to impose a tax upon us and call it a fee so they could cleverly skate around the law that limits a tax increase to 1% annually. That is the real issue, not some GMA compliance smokescreen.
The only thing that could possibly keep the County from complying with State mandates is the Council’s own incompetence. They could change this funding ordinance at any time and substitute a fair one in its place. They have at least 5 months to do this and make no mistake they should do it ASAP. To sit around and twiddle their thumbs instead would be ridiculous, possibly even repugnant.
Wednesday, August 1st
Imagine sitting home on a pleasant evening watching the sunset. Suddenly you see a police car coming up your long driveway. The officer strides up to your door and knocks. You open the door expecting bad news and it is. Very bad.
It’s a Legal Summons. San Juan County is suing you. Why? What offense did you commit?
You filed a popular referendum challenging the unfair tax to pay for storm water. Almost 2000 friends and neighbors signed it because they thought it was unfair also. You dared to question authority. You thought that filing a referendum was a right granted under the new Charter. You thought that this power was in the hands of the people now.
Wrong. That is why you are being sued. Now you are forced to pay to defend yourself in court!
I am not making this up. It is really happening to the first person to ever file a referendum in San Juan County. And it gets even weirder.
The Prosecutor drafted the language for the “ballot title” that appeared in the petitions and approved the form of the referendum. Councilman Ranker asked Mr. Gaylord at the July 10th Council meeting if there were a way to evaluate referenda for their legality before citizens spent the time and effort to collect signatures. Mr. Gaylord’s response was, basically, that it was not his job to evaluate referenda and his department did not have the time.
Contrary to this statement, the Prosecutor’s office believed that this referendum raised significant questions. To that end, the County spent money requesting an opinion of the law firm of Foster, Pepper and prepared a memorandum to the Council on April 19, 2007. This was done shortly after the time period for the collection of signatures for the referendum commenced.
It is clear that the Prosecutor’s office was intending to torpedo this referendum and cover their tracks from the start of the process. I filed a request for documents from the County in order to understand how the idea of suing the maker of the referendum originated. The Prosecutors office has denied access to these documents. Apparently open government is not a priority in this County. Covering up the reason for the lawsuit is their main concern.
This action by the Council and the Prosecuting Attorney will have a chilling effect on all future efforts to use the power of initiative and referendum, a power reserved by the people under the Charter. The reason? They do not want citizens to question their authority. They do not want the people to vote on this issue. It is as simple as that.
The question is not just about controlling storm water. Most people support reasonable solutions that promote clean water. The question is really about fairness. Is it fair to force people living in all rural areas of the county to pay for the cost of growth in urban areas? Should rural land owners on different islands in unique drainage areas, be forced to pay for the improved value of real estate in urban areas because they have a ditch near their parcel that this Ordinance magically changed into a “storm water facility”?
The answer to this question of fairness is exactly the answer the Council doesn’t want to hear. That is why they are blocking the citizen’s right to vote. That is why they want to sue us if we dare question their authority.