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.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

County offers literal bail-out?

Another story in today's Daily Record about the Upper County well moratorium, which the county precipitated in the summer of 2009 by insisting on supporting developers who were abusing the exempt well option1.

I'm afraid not much has changed since 2009: In published statements the county seems willfully unaware that the state, three counties, and the Yakama Nation have important interests when it comes to Yakima River flows. The county continues to equate real estate development with economic development (Paul Jewell is quoted in the article: "...this is costing the community jobs and is costing us lost opportunities for much-needed economic development.")

My favorite part of the article is the "centerpiece of the county's ideas," a domestic water reserve program. The idea is that the county will buy water rights in order to allow developers to offset new wells -- an almost literal bail-out of the developers who got us into this mess in the first place. Why should the county do this?

The county needs to do a better job of explaining the economic benefit of the Upper County development proposals. It needs to a much better job of reassuring us that county commissioners are not simply doing the bidding of their very large campaign contributors. And they need to get a clue about what real economic development means.


1For more on the well moratorium, see my Well Moratorium Summary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CWU budget: why no official concern from county?

One of the things I talked about this summer and fall was CWU's impact on our county economy, and how surprised I have been at the lack of concern shown by county commissioners about CWU's budget cuts. Let's look at the three regional comprehensive universities in Washington.

WWU (2367 employees*) is the largest employer in Whatcom county, but the county has a remarkably diverse economy. WWU employs about 1.2% of the population of Whatcom county.

EWU (1948 employees*) doesn't even make the list of top ten employers in Spokane county, which has a population about ten (10!) times larger than Kittitas county's. EWU employs about 0.4% of the population of Spokane county.

CWU (1815 employees*) is the largest employer by far in Kittitas county. (The Ellensburg School District is #2 with fewer than 400 employees.) CWU employs a whopping 4.5% of people in Kittitas county!

It's clear that budget cuts at WWU and EWU, as upsetting as they might be to their on-campus communities, will have little real effect on the economies of their counties. But budget cuts at CWU will have a big effect on our county's economy.

So I'm left wondering: why have our county commissioners not expressed concern about CWU budget cuts? It seems to me they should be actively raising this issue with both our legislators and in testimony to relevant committees in Olympia. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, building more buildings doesn't count, for many reasons including the fact that adding buildings increases operating expenses and doesn't help the county economy once they're completed.)

*2009 employee numbers, available from the state Office of Financial Management.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back in town

I spent almost all of last week out of town at various conferences: the Bioenergy Research Symposium and the the Future Energy Expo and State Energy Summit, both in Seattle, and the Tilth Producers Conference in Port Townsend.

A number of counties were represented at the energy conferences in various ways. I regret not taking the time to make a list. Of course, west-side counties like King and Pierce are leaders, but there are important things going on in Central/Eastern Washington counties, too. Off the top of my head, some east-of-the-Cascades counties where there's a lot of county government leadership in renewable energy as a source of economic development are Lincoln, Spokane, and Chelan counties.

There were at least four CWU people at the energy conferences, which was good to see. One Kittitas County government person, Kirk Holmes, gave a presentation on renewable energy project siting (and did a good job), but had to leave immediately after.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On winning and losing, and loyal opposition

To the Editor:

It's true: I expected to win, but then, why would I have run if I thought I was going to lose?

The real news is this: my opponent expected me to win, too1. Why? Because during the campaign he heard me and a variety of authors of letters to the editor explain, clearly and frankly and not in a negative way, a number of hard truths.

We discussed ways the current Board of County Commissioners has let the citizens of Kittitas County down2. We explained how the economy now and going forward is far different than the one in the recent past, and how this will require new thinking3. We pointed out that CWU has been ignored as an important part of our county economy and as a key part of our path to a better economy4. We noted that many citizens don’t feel county government has been listening to them.5 We emphasized that we need to move away from our current development-based boom-and-bust economy.6

All of this is true, and wishing or pretending otherwise won’t make it not true.

The major issues of the campaign will follow the new Board of County Commissioners as they begin their work after the first of the year, and their performance in dealing with the issues will be used to judge them in the next election7. The Commissioners deserve as much help as we can give them in getting Kittitas County back on track. I’ll be doing my part by, among other things, continuing to write my blog about county issues, http://whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com , where readers can find a more interactive version of this letter.

Finally, I am grateful for and humbled by the help8, ideas8, time8, and money9 contributed by so many to my campaign.

Steve Verhey

1As we waited for the vote tally to be announced, Obie was standing about six feet away from me, talking about how he had been too busy to do much campaigning, and generally making excuses. He was genuinely surprised when the result was announced.
2See Well Moratorium Summary, for example.
3The housing development boom was funded by toxic mortgages that contributed to the banking crisis and required a bailout by the Bush Administration. That kind of money will (hopefully) never be available again.
4Our local politicians' lack of response to CWU budget cuts was adequately addressed during the campaign, and doesn't need to be repeated here.
5I heard much more of this in meetings with voters. Don't forget that "listening" and "hearing" are two different things -- citizens actually don't feel heard.
6There is an opportunity cost to paying as much attention to development as the county has done. The county was blindsided by the first wind farm application because they had been distracted, for example, by development-related issues.
7Voters should not accept experience without real accomplishments.
8Scores of people helped in one way or another.
9Obie raised over $11,000 from 24 donors, including his party; I raised about $7800 from at least 40 donors (my donors aren't as easy to view, because I filed by mail instead of electronically; to see them, this link might work. $5500 of Obie's money was from the Republican Party, and about $3700 came from the real estate development industry (my favorites were $500 checks from Northland Investment Inc and from Northland Investment LLC).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election results

It doesn't look like the results will change much from the current situation: Obie has 6608 votes and I have 4041 votes: a landslide for Obie. I must say, I'm surprised. Indeed, Obie seemed more surprised than I was when the results were announced at the Courthouse. There is very little chance the basic outcome will change, and if I were Obie I'd be very humbled.

We ran the best campaign possible under the circumstances. Not a perfect campaign -- this result isn't a reason to quit trying!-- but a darn good campaign. I am proud of the campaign we ran, and I thank you for all your work on it. The beauty of a result like this is that there's no woulda-coulda-shoulda regarding our work. We were up against something irrational. We did our best, and that's a lot.

Thanks everyone, for your work, your contacts with voters, your letters, your donations, and your votes. We can't let this stop us, and we won't.

Thanks to all citizens who voted everywhere!