What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

Feel free to join the conversation: welcome aboard!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Meeting with Commissioner Jewell

I had a good visit with Commissioner Jewell, who was very generous with his time. We talked about the community wind ordinance, and as a result I have edited my earlier post on that topic.

I had been prepared to limit the conversation to the community wind issue, but Commissioner Jewell brought up a couple of other important issues on his own.

We talked about the upper county well moratorium, and he helped fill in some of the blanks in my understanding of how we got to where we are. If only there were a way to take all the mental energy - - on all sides -- that's gone into that issue, and use it to generate electricity! Anyway, I'll write more about this later.

He noted that there have been past abuses of real estate development codes, but that those abuses happened before his time, and, he said, they are no longer happening. He agreed that the past abuses still reverberate, and that they are influencing some things that are happening now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I've got an appointment to talk with Commissioner Paul Jewell tomorrow. He handled the community wind ordinance process, and he's offered to help me try to understand what's happened.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More on community wind

As reported in today's Daily Record, Cascade Community Wind Company is asking the Board of County Commissioners to reconsider their unanimous decision against individually owned commercial-scale wind turbines. I don't think the BoCC should reconsider, but I do think the issue could have been handled better.

Here's what happened: the county was approached with an idea by a group of local farmers and by an engineering firm from Bellingham. Over the course of a year-and-a-half the county held who-knows-how-many meetings, all of which were attended by local farmers and a company engineer who drove almost 4 hours one-way each time. In the end, not even the commissioner who organized and led the open houses and public hearings voted for the proposal.

Let's say the engineer made a dozen trips, and ignore the time local people invested. That means he spent a hundred hours just driving to meetings. Of course, he viewed his time as a worthwhile investment, because he expected there was a reasonable chance that if he did a good job, all his effort would pay off. That's how business works.

Being in business is about managing risk, but being led on by the county isn't a risk anyone should have to accept.

I followed the community wind ordinance process, and went to two of the public meetings, plus the final one where the vote was taken. It seemed all along that the county wasn't putting much effort into making the ordinance work -- it had an unfinished feel to it, and it had some strange parts. For example, it would have allowed lattice wind towers. At one meeting I commented on this, saying I thought it was a bad idea.

Lattice towers were still allowed in the final ordinance -- and were cited by Commissioner Jewell as a reason he voted against it. Apparently the proponents of the ordinance wanted flexibility in tower design.

It doesn't matter if you were for or against the proposal, we should all care if and when the valuable time of so many people -- not to mention taxpayers' money -- is wasted by a process. Those in favor of the ordinance seem to have made a good faith effort, and the final ordinance largely reflected their wishes.

Virtually no significant new business development can happen in this county without the Board of County Commissioners' say-so. Any new business is going to look at what happened here and think twice about bothering to jump through the hoops. There are plenty of other places to locate business without having to play risky games with the BoCC.

Is Kittitas County open for business? It sure doesn't look like it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A surprise contribution

Today a person who I knew, but who I didn't know knew me, handed me a check for $50. I was somewhat astonished. He said, "it can't get any worse." I'm sure he meant that in the nicest possible way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WSU and higher education

Last night I went to the reception for and presentation by Elson Floyd, President of WSU. A very impressive man, Dr. Floyd. A couple of highlights:

He started by showing a brief video about WSU, including how WSU research helps Washington agriculture -- and the very first feature was the mint composting project I did when I was at CWU! It was fun to see my old friend and WSU colleague Lynne Carpenter-Boggs on the screen.

Lynne (that's her in the picture, on the Scarab compost turner) and I were really proud of that project, which took a crop residue that was a huge liability and turned it into a multi-million dollar business over on the west end of Royal Slope. It's an excellent example of how CWU and WSU can and do contribute to our local economy and especially to agriculture.

Many of us were concerned last year that budget cuts at WSU would affect Extension programs in Kittitas County, but Dr. Floyd assured the crowd that that was not and will not be the case. (Here's how it works now: WSU pays the salaries of two Extension Educators, and Kittitas County pays their benefits and also pays for the staff and office facilities. The Kittitas County part of the budget is a little under $200,000, and this is obviously a good deal for the county. In return we get 4H information and education for local farming and ranching, among other things.)

Dr. Floyd talked about the budget cuts he's had to make at WSU, amounting to over 10% of the university's budget, and how in some ways the cuts have made the university better. But another round of similar cuts would be disastrous, he said.

Although he didn't draw the connection himself, Ellensburg and CWU have a relationship that's similar to the one between Pullman and WSU. The next round of cuts, if it comes and is large, will involve many peoples' jobs. In many cases at each university, both spouses of families work at the university. If one spouse loses his or her job, the entire family would probably be forced to move, and would have to sell their house at what would be a very bad time for house-selling.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Barbara Newman had a rather flattering letter about me in the paper yesterday, also with comments about my opponent, Obie O'Brien. It made me cringe a little to read such blunt language about Obie, but I have to admit that I don't actually know him. Barbara has been working as a citizen on the issues she mentions (urban planning, quality of life) for a number of years, and so should know about Obie's policy views in those areas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More Barbecue! Mountains to Sound Greenway

I had a chance to go to another barbecue, at a meeting of the Mountains to Sound Greenway organization in Cle Elum. This one featured Glondo's sausages, which were extremely juicy and delicious. Excellent turnout of about 35 people, including a number from Vision Cle Elum.

Mountains to Sound turns out to be almost 20 years old, and they're getting ready for their 20th year by taking a look at the entire area between the Seattle waterfront and Ellensburg, collecting ideas and thoughts about what's important from people and groups all along the way. I had only read about the organization before, so I'm glad I went. They've been involved in bringing together individuals, businesses, farmers, timber companies, and many others to develop things ranging from open space and recreational trails to gravel pits and condos. Seems like a good group.

They're having a series of meetings about their Heritage Study project through the summer, all at the Ranger Station in Cle Elum, to meet people and collect information (click on the map to download a large version).

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Official

I formally declared my candidacy today, using money instead of signatures. Let 'er buck!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wind Ordinance

The community wind ordinance was unanimously defeated by the Board of Commissioners. I think most people in the room were surprised that the vote was 3-0. After all, one of the commissioners had been closely involved with writing the ordinance -- it was surprising not even he supported it in the end. If he had concerns with the ordinance itself, why didn't he see that they were fixed before putting it to a vote? If he didn't think it was a viable idea at all, why drag the county, the public, and the individuals who supported it through the year-long process?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Community Wind Ordinance

I've been to an open house and a public meeting about the county's community wind ordinance, and I'm going to the County Council's meeting this afternoon (see you there at 2). I regret missing the last meeting, reported in Monday's Daily Record, because it sounds like there was a misunderstanding I could have helped with.

The misunderstanding has to do with the use of the word "sustainable" near the word "agriculture" in a particular sentence of the county's application to be named an Innovation Partnership Zone, or IPZ.

Properly used, the term "sustainable agriculture" refers to agriculture that is profitable, conserves soil, and uses pesticides carefully. I think we can all agree that those are all good things, and that it's always possible to be making improvements. The good news is, Kittitas County agriculture scores almost 100% on all three components.

What most people in Kittitas County don't realize is that we ALREADY have some of the most sustainable agriculture possible. Our most profitable crop is hay, and the great thing about hay is that it is grown on the same ground for several years. This reduces tillage to zero for most fields most years, and also almost eliminates the need for pesticides.

Kittitas County agriculture is an amazing success story, and news of this needs to be spread around. The IPZ proposal was just using words to make a rhetorical point, and it's unfortunate that that caused upset.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Collecting signatures -- and $$

In case you'd like to try it sometime, the way it works if you want get your name on a ballot is you either turn in money equivalent to 1% of the annual salary for the position, or an equal number of signatures of voters registered in the district covered by the position.

I decided to go with the signatures, if at all possible, for at least one obvious reason: the number of dollars is over 600, which seems like a lot of money. Besides, collecting signatures gives me a chance to face my natural hangups about knocking on stranger's doors. And there's something to be said for working for something, instead of just having it handed to you. I'm old-fashioned that way.

I got a good start last week. On my first day I collected 80 signatures, and only one dog bite. The bite is almost healed, but I'm not sure if I'll make it to the magic number of signatures (it works out to about 15% of the voters in District 3). Still, it's fun and worthwhile to meet people and ask them about things that are important to them.

A number of people have asked me where to send money, which I really appreciate. Here's the address:

Verhey for Commissioner
POB 1043
Ellensburg, WA 98926-1043

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What I Learned at the Barbecue

Until the '60s and '70s, most agriculture in the Kittitas Valley involved irrigated pasture for cattle. Then, at about the same time my Dad started doing custom harobed work in between teaching high school on Royal Slope, grass hay production got profitable here, and good markets developed. So the irrigated pastures turned into irrigated hay fields, and hay became a key part of diversified ranch-farms that included cattle. I hadn't understood the transition before: it was basically the result of technological progress.

I still don't understand why it's grass hay here and it was alfalfa hay that my Dad and I stacked on Royal Slope (I don't mean to brag, but one time I put up 23 loads in 5 hours -- that's over two thousand bales). I'm sure someone will explain it to me one of these days.

But I digress. At the barbecue I had good visits with several ranchers, and tried to listen as much as possible. Some topics of conversation included on-farm commercial-scale wind power, the need for better horse buildings at the fairgrounds, hassles with neighbors who don't understand agriculture, and opinions about the Department of Ecology and the upper county well moratorium.

It's nice to have some interesting things to write about in the future.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cattlemen's Association Dinner

Had a great time at the Cattlemen's Association Dinner. I have plenty of farmer/rancher cred, but it felt a little strange to be going there just because I'm running for office. Now I wonder what took me so long to go to one of these -- it was really fun.

Check out that barbecue dinner. When I saw the plastic knife, I reached for my pocket knife, but no need. The meat was so tender you could almost cut it with the plastic fork.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yes, there's a web page, too

People keep asking if I have a web page. I do, but there's nothing but a jowly picture of me there at the moment. The URL is 2010.steveverhey.com . I'll be adding more information soon.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In which I introduce myself

My friend Bob, an old political hand who has done hard time in Washington, D.C., suggested I write a 1-page speech introducing myself and explaining why I'm running for county commissioner.

I grew up in Central Washington: as a kid I remember shoe shopping at Mundy's; my family still farms north of Royal City. All my life I have worked hard to stay close to Central Washington, and in 1999 I had the opportunity to move here to teach at CWU. While I was at CWU I worked on real-world problems having to do with both education and agriculture. My work led directly to a multi-million dollar agricultural business on the other side of the Columbia. Of course, CWU is one of the most important employers -- and education and agriculture are two of the most important industries -- in Kittitas County, and I have an insider's respect and understanding for how both of them work.

About 4 years ago I left academics to start a biodiesel business with a colleague. It was the best thing I ever did, even though I haven't made much money at it. As a businessman, I learned more things, faster, than I ever had in any class in any school. I've been through the SEPA process. I've been through Department of Ecology permitting processes. Even better, I got in near the beginning of the latest surge of interest in renewable energy. We did some things I'm proud of: my company supplied the biodiesel for the Microsoft server farm in Quincy, for example, giving me a first-hand look at the kind of economic development that is happening just across the Columbia.

After a couple of years I started to miss academia, a little, so I started a renewable energy think tank, the Cascadia Carbon Institute, doing consulting projects at the state- and international level. Most recently I chaired the committee that organized the Renewable Energy Roundup and Art Show, a uniquely Kittitas County event that I expect to grow next year. We planned the Roundup specifically in response to the Economic Development Group's Development Plan and leadership, and we were extremely happy with the result.

At the regional level, I have been working with the Port of Chelan County and the Commerce Department on a project to install electric vehicle charging stations along I-90 through Kittitas County to Wenatchee and back. I think it's fair to say that I have a good understanding of existing and emerging forms of renewable energy and energy issues in general.

These are some of the key issues in Kittitas County: CWU, agriculture, economic development, responding to state regulations, and renewable energy, and I have solid experience in all of them.

There is one thing I don't have much background in, beyond dealing with DOE: land use issues. This is actually an advantage in this election. From my talks with people around the county, it's clear that there is an alarming amount of genuine anger and frustration about past land use actions and policies. I don't have any baggage in this department: no one is mad at me, and I'm not mad at anyone. We need someone without past hangups who can focus on doing what needs to be done, not on past problems.

As a businessman I learned the importance of branding, and Kittitas County's brand is in very poor shape right now. Our county's economy is in much worse shape than it should be, even with the national recession. We have water and land use challenges that didn't need to happen in the first place. Our county code is blocking sustainable economic development. The structure of our county government itself may be part of the problem.

I haven't run for elected office since I was ASB president for two years at Royal High School. I'm running now because our county needs someone with new ideas and broad experience and because I want to pitch in and help.

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Going to declare tomorrow

Today I dropped in on Mike Johnston of the Daily Record to tell him that I'm running for county commissioner. His first question was, "Have you talked to your wife about this?" Well, yes. I suppose it's normal, but she runs hot and cold on this whole thing. On the one hand, she has to agree that the county really needs a change, and that for too long good people have failed to step up, and that I'd be really good at the job. On the other hand, there's no telling what it will be like to be involved in a campaign.

I am running as an independent, even though I am a life-long Democrat. Why? Because I think county commissioners need to make decisions that are best for the county, not because a party or party backer wants things done a certain way.