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!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wind energy in Italy

An interesting article in the New York Times about how over 800 Italian towns produce more energy than they use. The one in the picture, Tocco da Casauria, uses the money it makes to reduce taxes and fees. Keep in mind, though, that electricity in Italy is much more expensive than it is here, so the profit margin is larger for wind power there than it is here. Still, it's a nice example.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Voter Q&A dates and times

Sent by e-mail this evening:


I have scheduled four independent Q&A sessions with voters, to complement the more official ones organized by the Chamber of Commerce and others. As I said in my earlier e-mail, it would be very helpful to voters if we could both appear together, and I have tried to arrange the sessions with your schedule in mind. I thought our meeting with the Kittitas County Conservation Coalition yesterday was very well organized, and I suggest a similar format for these events.

Here is what I have scheduled:
Tuesday, October 5, Easton Community Church, 7 pm
Wednesday, October 6, Swauk-Teanaway Grange, 7 pm
Thursday, October 7, Kittitas Community Center, 7 pm
Sunday, October 17, Damman School, 6 pm

Please let me know at your earliest convenience which of these you will be able to attend -- I hope you can come to all of them. I will begin advertising tomorrow or the next day via newspapers, community calendars, flyers, my blog, and any other approach I can think of.

Best wishes,


Friday, September 24, 2010

Why toxic partisanship isn't just bad, it's really, really bad

It seems that to be a member of a political party these days is to be required to spend too much time on blaming the other side, and far too little time actually solving problems. The blame game also makes solving the problems much more difficult, so the whole thing spirals out of control. We're even seeing this in our own local community.

I came across this video this morning, and I think it helps illustrate the reason that toxic partisanship isn't just bad, it's really, really bad. The basic message is that good ideas happen when different people, sometimes very different people, are able to communicate. What we have now, and what the Manweller/Huber fracas is a symptom of, is something like the opposite of what we need. I think the only way out is to at least take a break from political parties, and to focus of actually solving problems. This will be easiest, and most effective, if we start locally.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On uncertainty and water modeling

As I wrote earlier, it looks like any model that is developed to help understand Upper County groundwater is likely to come with a fair amount uncertainty, in spite of the USGS's powerful computer model. This is because Upper County geology is complicated, and because rainfall amounts change rapidly with elevation and distance, not to mention the unknown but real future effects of global climate change.

I was trained as a scientist, and I taught science in college for many years. The best definition I ever came up with for science (I was actually rather proud of this) is that science is the management of uncertainty.

Scientists know that it is impossible to eliminate uncertainty, which is why they start to squirm when people start talking about "proving" anything. To a scientist, there's no such thing. Mathematicians use the word "proof" and mean it, but even in that field there can be room for judgment and reasonable disagreement.

Uncertainty can be reduced and managed, but never completely eliminated. Reducing and managing uncertainty can be difficult and expensive, and eventually one has to decide that enough time, effort, and money have been spent, and just accept the uncertainty.

Even so, when extended to the Upper County, the model will be useful. What computer models are really useful for is testing different management scenarios, which then can be used, carefully, for taking action and setting policy. It is uncertain when this will become possible, but it should be within months or a very small number of years.

Yakima Basin Groundwater Study

Last night I went to the USGS presentation on their Yakima basin groundwater study -- one of the most important water-related events I've been to.

The USGS has built what may be one of the most ambitious models the agency has attempted. The computer model (computer models are like giant spreadsheets, with equations that attempt to produce a mathematical description of something, in this case ground- and surface water flows) divides the Yakima River basin into thousands of 1000-foot squares. Beneath the surface grid, the model considers up to 48 underground layers, from the sediment near the surface to the bottom of the Grande Ronde basalt flows.

Like a complicated machine, the model has lots of what amount to switches and valves that can be adjusted. The first step is to try to adjust the switches and valves so that the model spits out an accurate description of what is happening now, and what has happened in the past. Using inputs of precipitation, water management from the reservoirs, weather data, irrigation and other pumpage, crop types, and so on, the model really does produce an accurate -- but not perfect, because that's not possible -- picture of how water behaves.

So far, the model works best on the part of the Yakima River basin downstream from Umptanum and the canyon. It turns out that the upper Kittitas County area is much more complicated that the rest of the basin. This mostly is because the geology is different and more complicated, and because precipitation levels change rapidly over distance. The current model's main water input is based on releases from the reservoirs, but the Upper County's groundwater depends mostly on rain- and snowfall.

The USGS team and their model will be focusing on the Upper County next. Because of the complexity of that area, it seems to me that the model will be more uncertain in there, which means we'll need to understand the role of uncertainty in science. I'll write more about that, probably later today. I've mentioned it before, in my post about making your case.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Voter Q&A sessions planned

From: verheys@hotmail.com
To: obie@writeme.com
CC: bowens@kvnews.com; mjohnston@kvnews.com; tribune@nkctribune.com
Subject: Voter Q&A sessions
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2010 14:30:53 -0700


I am working on setting up meetings with voters in Easton, Roslyn, Cle Elum, Thorp, Ellensburg, and Kittitas, and at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange and at CWU. It probably won't be possible to meet in every place, but I'm sure I can get several lined up by the end of this week.

I think it would be best for voters if both of us could be present, and so I am writing to invite you to join me at any or all of the sessions. I'm happy to negotiate details of the appearances, but my preference would be to be flexible and allow the audience to help guide us. Details of dates are mostly out of my control, but I am generally aiming for 7 -8:30 or so in the evening. I'll send you the complete list of dates and places as soon as I can, but I wanted to alert you now.

Some of the venues charge a small fee, and it looks like it will be necessary to get event insurance for at least one meeting location; I trust you will be willing to split the costs of any meetings you can attend.

I'll also post this message on my blog.

Best regards,


Verhey for Kittitas County Commissioner
read the blog: whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Local Leaders Exchange Punches

In this afternoon's Daily Record, a story about a physical fight between the chair of the local Republican party and the husband of a former Democratic county official who is no longer involved in partisan politics. The D was angry because of things the R had said about his wife on the R's talk radio program on KXLE.

I happened to listen to the part of the radio program that started the whole fracas, and compared to the other things one hears on AM talk radio, it wasn't particularly out of line. When someone says such things about a politician who lives in another state, it might be considered entertainment.

But when such things are said about a member of the local community, it is definitely out of line. We live in a community, and communities have mores -- unspoken rules about what is and isn't OK. Recent party politics have degraded our community values in a very important and unfortunate way. That's one of many reasons I'm running as an Independent.

Both people, as a friend of mine says, should accept 75% of the blame for the fight itself, but I'm afraid I think the radio host is who is responsible for damaging our community values.

Monday, September 20, 2010

TSR Development Agreement Meeting

Tomorrow's meeting (at 2:00 in the Board of County Commissioners' hearing room) is about the official agreement between the county and TSR on how construction of the project will be done. One issue that doesn't seem to have been formally resolved yet is how trees removed by the project will be replaced. During the run-up to approval by the Board of Adjustment, TSR said they'd replace trees at a 3:1 ratio, but this only applied to trees that were larger than a certain size. This is important because the site is much better for growing trees than growing solar panels.

Other claims were made by TSR, including how many jobs would be created during construction and on a permanent basis, and where the final assembly of the solar panels will take place. For the record, TSR predicts "as many as 225 family-wage jobs" during construction, and "at least 35" permanent jobs. Disconnects between pre-approval claims and post-approval reality are a common problem with projects like this one, so it will be interesting to see how this one develops.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Welcome back, Central students!

I was a professor in the biology department from 1999 to 2006, when I left to start a biodiesel company with some partners -- I'll come back to this later.

While I was at Central, I worked on a number of projects. One was even featured on the cover of Central Today, the alumni magazine. That project led to the formation of a multi-million dollar business; the student shown in the picture along with me (before my haircut) went on to medical school.

I also did research on biology education, and published a paper on the benefits of teaching creationism and evolution in college biology classes, which helps students understand evolution better. That work was a little controversial, to say the least. Here's a news item in Science magazine about the paper, which was published in the journal Bioscience. I have additional data, which I really should publish, that make an even stronger case.

Now I'm running for county commissioner. Since CWU is one of the most important features of Kittitas County, it only makes sense to elect at least one commissioner with a very good understanding of how it works.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Took the evening off from doorbelling to go to my second meeting of Save Our Water Rights. MyAroundTown.com was there, and will most likely be posting a report.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TSR Environmental Issues

I started this several post weeks ago, just after the Board of Adjustment meeting that led to the approval of the conditional use permit (CUP) for Teanaway Solar Reserve, but got distracted and didn't finish it until now.

I have been to a number of Board of Adjustment hearings and EFSEC hearings for wind farms, but I've never paid as much attention as I did at the BoA meeting on the Teanaway Solar Reserve project. I don't know any of the citizens who make up the BoA; I mean no disrespect here as I share some of my impressions of the meeting.

The meeting had two parts: first, the Board rejected an appeal of the County's mitigated determination of nonsignificance (MDNS), then they listened to presentations and testimony for and against the TSR project and voted to permit the project.

The MDNS appeal was interesting because it really seemed to me that the people bringing the appeal (the appellants) had a good case. They raised several points, but the ones that resonated most with me had to do with biological surveys looking for endangered or threatened species. These surveys were done over a single 5-day period in late June and early July last summer. I think it's pretty obvious that that's completely inadequate, but apparently it does meet the letter of the law. That doesn't make it OK, and one way to see that better surveys get done would be for the BoA to insist on them. Five days isn't enough time to wait for rare animals to wander by, and it's definitely not enough time to find plants. (Depending on the species, some plants start flowering when the snow melts, and others continue all summer into late fall. Because identifying plants generally depends on looking at their flowers, obviously it would be a good idea to check the site several times during the season. The biological survey for one of the wind farms missed a state threatened plant because the survey was done after the plant had flowered and died.)

One thing I think the appellants got wrong had to do with consideration of alternate sites -- they seemed to be focusing on alternate sites in Kittitas County, when the real question was whether the project would make sense anywhere in Washington.

The interesting thing is, I think the TSR people were prepared to lose the appeal. Their big-city attorney was definitely pounding the table, not the law or the facts, with sarcastic and trivial questions aimed at embarrassing the appellants. But instead the BoA voted 5-0 in TSR's favor.

I don't think the BoA realizes that they have the ability (and the responsibility, really) to insist that things like biological surveys be done not just technically correctly, but diligently. The BoA seemed entirely concerned that the application was technically correct, even though what we got was not good science, legal or not.

Another thing that struck me was that TSR used a WA Department of Fish and Wildlife document that provided guidelines for wind power projects. Apparently a similar document doesn't exist for solar projects. Which means WDFW hasn't had a chance to think about large solar projects in this state. And TSR is billed as the largest solar project in the country. It doesn't make sense not to do a full environmental impact statement, which is all the appellants were asking for.

This is all water under the bridge, of course, since the environmental appeal was denied and then the CUP approved. Now there's a new appeal, addressing the use of a parcel of land needed to connect the project to the transmission lines than run nearby.

Because a number of transmission lines run east-west through our county, various kinds of electricity generation projects will continue to be proposed for as long as there are incentives. I'm in the renewable energy industry, and I like renewable energy, but we don't need to approve every single project that comes along, and we can drive a hard bargain for the ones we do approve.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

About making your case

This is the third in a series of posts inspired by my visit to a meeting of Save Our Water Rights (SOWR) this past week. While I was there, I tried to help a tiny bit with their organization process, and these posts are a way for me to try to help both SOWR and other groups who want to petition for redress of grievances (here's a list of the 5 First Amendment Freedoms, including the right to petition).

Our system of government depends not just on our having these rights, but on our actually using them.

But just yelling at one another isn't what the Framers had in mind. For example, about a year ago the country was caught up in the debate over health care reform. The summer congressional recess had been marked by angry town hall meetings, so extreme that some people worried that violence might spill into the streets.

I got together a group of citizens to work on organizing a series of intentionally civil, nonpartisan town hall meetings for Ellensburg and Kittitas County. There was no hope of getting a public official to come to the meetings, and it was even pretty hard to find speakers. I finally found a brave retired doctor to speak at the first one, had a panel discussion for the second one, and invited Jimmie Applegate, a leader in the Republican Party, to speak at the last one. I handed out a card (front and back shown above, click to enlarge) to help people frame their statements as usefully as possible. The meetings all went well, and they were good practice for everyone. Here's the Daily Record's story about the first meeting.

What follows is some of what I have learned from the health care town halls and other experiences.

1. When you ask someone to listen to you, especially in an official setting like a public hearing, you're asking them to give you something very precious: their time. If you want to have the best chance of helping them see things your way, you'd better respect their time.

2. You respect everyone's time when you deliver the best statement you can. Just as we have rules for driving, games, spelling, and even war, we have rules for arguing. Some of these are covered by the guidelines shown in the inset above.

3. You have the best chance of having your argument be heard if you follow the rules. There are extensive lists of fallacious arguments to avoid; here's my favorite. One important form of argument to avoid is needling, which means saying things simply to make your opponent angry. It weakens your argument and wastes time, and worse yet, it can give you the illusion that you're winning, which is another reason to avoid it. Knowing how to withstand the effects of needling is also a good idea.

4. Not following the rules can be fun, and even tactically useful -- unfortunately this approach is used too often in politics by all sides -- but if you're serious about trying to fix real problems, your best bet is to stick to the rules. With all the problems we have to solve, we really don't have time to mess around.

5. Never, ever, suggest, mention, or threaten violence, not even as a joke.

6. Be critical of your own arguments and thinking. Play devil's advocate to your own ideas, and test them on other people who can try to poke holes in them. As you find weaknesses in your arguments, fix them. Be open to the possibility that you're wrong.

7. Use facts, and expect others to use facts. Don't cherry-pick information.

8. Try to stick to what's relevant, especially at public hearings: the officials you're talking to have specific things they are looking for. For examples, see my posts on conditional use considerations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

About running meetings

This is the second of three posts aimed at helping groups like Save Our Water Rights (see earlier posts) make the best case they can for their issues. Our system of government works best when everyone is able to do this. As in life, if we do our best we either get what we want or else we can at least know that we did our best if we don't get what we want.

As with the earlier post, about organizing meetings, I'm not referring to anything specific about SOWR's meeting last night, but just talking generally about what I have found to work in the many meetings I have organized and run. Running meetings can be hard, and takes practice. Some people seem to be better at it than others.

There are lots of ways to run meetings and to make decisions. What I have in mind here is a situation like SOWR's, where a group is forming, choosing goals, and planning activities. It's important to build a sense of teamwork and cohesiveness, especially if members of the group don't know each other. These comments are meant for informal, citizen/volunteer-type groups, obviously, not official/government meetings, although there is some overlap.

1. It's best to have a written agenda, with enough copies for everyone. Ideally, the agenda will have been sent out ahead of time.

2. If the group is small enough, everyone can sit around a table; slightly larger groups should sit in a circle. Make sure everyone can hear and see one another. Pass around a sign-up sheet to collect contact information.

3. If the group is not too large, go around the table or the circle and have everyone introduce themselves. The leader might make notes during this process, so s/he can call on people by name during the meeting.

4. Usually, making decisions by consensus is best, at least at first. This means a decision gets discussed and tweaked until everyone can agree with it. Everyone should have a chance to comment, and anyone who has concerns should be listened to respectfully and the concerns dealt with. Watch out for some of the problems with consensus, all of which I have seen. It takes practice to deal with or avoid the problems.

5. The group should have only one discussion at a time, not several conversations at once.

6. The leader of the discussion should keep the group on topic and try to make sure everyone is able to participate. Keep in mind that the goal is to get something done, so make a list of action items for each agenda item, as appropriate. Make a note of who will do each thing, and put these details into the notes from the meeting.

7. Someone should take notes during the meeting. I usually try to do this by writing on the agenda, or another member of the group can act as secretary. As soon as possible after the meeting, preferably the same day, the notes should be typed up and sent to everyone.

At Farmers' Market tomorrow

Unless Mom needs help at the farm tomorrow, I'll be at the Farmers' Market in Ellensburg tomorrow with Elberta peaches. These are a different variety than the Delp Hales I had last time. They're also a good canning/freezing/eating peach, and they tend to ripen better off the tree and store better fresh than the Delps do.

Some of my positions

Here are some of the issues that have come up in conversations with voters, and some of my thinking about them, along with brief comments about my opponent's views. (If any of my comments about my opponent's views are incorrect, I will of course correct them as necessary; my contact information is on the left side of this page.).

Well moratorium: I have written quite a bit about this, and I may be making some adjustments as I get to know SOWR better, but briefly, I think the County Commissioners failed the county by allowing the moratorium to happen. (During the Daily Record candidate forum, my opponent said he would not have behaved any differently than the current commissioners did. As recently as this past weekend, video of the DR forum was on their web page, but seems to have been taken down.)

Teanaway solar reserve: I have written quite a bit about this one too, mostly in late July and early August: I was against TSR before I was for it. I was against it because the project disregards the intent of the government incentives that make it possible. The intent of the incentives is to encourage renewable energy projects in the most productive locations; the TSR site is not a good location, so it is a misuse of the taxpayer money that makes it possible. Now that it has been approved (pending the results of the appeal) I am for it because it will bring at least some jobs to the Upper County. I do have doubts about the developer's claims about job creation, but this is a separate problem.

Wind power: I am basically in favor of wind power. While Kittitas County is not a very good place for utility-scale solar energy, it is an excellent place for wind energy. In addition to our famous wind, we have several important east-west power lines running through our county, which means this issue will be with us for a long time. We already have a wind farm zone overlay that encourages wind farm development on the east end of the county. We should fine-tune the location of that overlay. (During the Daily Record candidate forum, my opponent was unaware that we have a wind farm overlay, which really surprised me; he seemed generally poorly informed about energy issues.)

County economy: we need to move away from the boom-and-bust economy that we've been dealing with since the timber and coal days. Construction was the most recent boom, and is the cause of the most recent bust, and economists agree that it will take a long time for this industry to recover. Unfortunately, it will be a very long time until we see anything like 2007, when the county had the lowest unemployment rate in history. We need to work to diversify our economy and take better advantage of assets like CWU. We need to be working now to fix our economy ourselves, not waiting for the country's economy to recover. (My opponent seems to believe that a return to 2007 is just a matter of not very much time, and that while we wait we should be getting ready for its return.)

CWU: Central Washington University is the largest employer in the county, and over the last three years Central has seen its budget cut by almost one-third. This is a huge problem for our county, but the county has been distracted by other things. County Commissioners should be the chief lobbyists for the county in Olympia, but to do that most effectively the county needs to have good relations with Olympia. As a former CWU faculty member, I understand how the university works, and can address this issue with a great deal of credibility. (My opponent, like the current Board of County Commissioners, doesn't seem to be paying attention to this problem.)

About organizing meetings

Without mentioning anything specific about last night's SOWR meeting (see previous post), to avoid giving away any tactical or strategic details, here are some thoughts about organizing meetings for maximum attendance and effectiveness. I'm no expert, but I have done a lot of meeting organizing, and here is some of what I have learned.

1. Choose a day, time, and place that's convenient for as many interested people as possible. Try to have meetings at consistent intervals (weekly, every other week, second Tuesday, etc.) so people can get used to going to meetings regularly. If you have lots of people with complicated schedules, there are online tools like Doodle.com that can help with scheduling and other decision making.

2. I learned about the SOWR meeting from an article in the Daily Record, and I made a mental note of the meeting date when I read the article. But yesterday when I tried to find the article to get details of time and place, I couldn't find it. Meanwhile, the meeting wasn't listed in the Daily Record's printed calendar. (I'm not a subscriber to the Northern Kittitas County Tribune, but I should be; meanwhile, I try to read it at the library.) I finally found the details through an Internet search, which led me to the NKC Tribune's calendar -- I should have looked there first.

So: when planning a meeting, realize that some people who want to come will be like me. Send a press release to newspapers a week or two in advance. (Don't be bothered if they don't print it, it's nothing personal.) Be sure the event is listed in the newspapers' online and printed calendars, so people can find information on the day of the event. Consider listing the meeting on Chamber of Commerce calendars, too, if it's relevant.

3. Develop an e-mail list of people who come to meetings and others who might be interested. All leaders in the organization should have the technology and the know-how to at least send and receive e-mails. Consider using opt-out ("Please let us know if you'd like to be removed from this list") and/or opt-in ("If we don't hear from you, we won't be sending you any more e-mails) language from time to time, to make sure the right people are getting your e-mails.

4. Some of your most important people may be so busy that they need to be called with reminders about the meeting.

5. Meeting attendance will go up and down, because people are busy and not everyone will be able to come to every meeting. Don't worry if your group slowly declines in number until only the most active and committed people come to meetings. You're interested in quality of meeting progress, not quantity of people. Of course, you do need enough people to have, share, develop, and act on good ideas, and enough people to do what needs to get done.

6. The leader of the group can expect to have a significant workload, even though everyone who comes to meetings should be expected to help by volunteering for or accepting assignments.

7. Everyone should have contact information for everyone else.

8. If you volunteer for or accept an assignment, be sure to do it, or tell the leader if you can't. Just do your best.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Save Our Water Resources meeting

This evening I went to a meeting of Save Our Water Rights (SOWR), a group of Upper County citizens concerned about/affected by the well moratorium and its aftermath. I listened for a while and then introduced myself. I felt a little bad about interrupting their meeting, but I tried to keep it to a minimum.

I'm really glad I went to this meeting, and I'm hoping I can learn more about SOWR's point of view -- it was missing from the research I did for my earlier posts about the well moratorium issue, because SOWR didn't exist at the time.

Here's my Well Moratorium Summary, from back in July.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Time for a haircut

I have been waiting for an excuse to cut my ponytailed hair for over 30 years. I figure running for county commissioner is probably a good enough reason.

I originally started growing my hair long because my girlfriend in college liked long hair. That was a plenty good enough reason, but the fact that I come from a family of 6 boys and 1 girl, and my dad cut everyone's but the girl's hair, helped make it easy. I had never been to a barbershop. The hair was never really any kind of a political statement, it just became a habit that it was time to break.

Of course, I couldn't just slink out and get my hair cut and show up somewhere with short hair.

So I had my hair cut in Downtown Ellensburg, sitting next to the famously un-trimmed Ellensburg Bull. Channel 2 and the Daily Record were kind enough to send reporters, and local hair stylist Robyn Hull officiated (you can also find her by searching FaceBook for "Hair by Robyn"). My original plan had been to send the hair to Locks of Love (here's their faq), but they prefer hair without so much grey, so I'll just send them a donation -- Robyn also donated her fee, which was very nice of her.

I liked the new look and feel from the start. Robyn did a great job!