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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Friday, November 30, 2012

Things to Remember About Manweller and his Defenders

To the Editor,

Once Representative-elect Matt Manweller assumes office (after the election is certified on December 6, not when he’s sworn in1), it will be important to respect the office2 and try to help him do the best possible job for his district.3

But even after he takes office, it will be important to be wary of the fact that Manweller embodies the negative aspects of his party that were soundly rejected by the country as a whole in the last election: arrogance, dishonesty, extreme partisanship, gross disrespect of women, mindless dogmatism, cronyism.4,5

It will also be important to remember that the local Republican Establishment has brought us a man who, in addition to the above, is credibly accused of actions at which the newspaper won’t even let me hint (which is why everyone should read the Manweller Report).6,7 There are decent, traditional Republicans who are as outraged about this as anyone else.

Meanwhile, Dr. Manweller’s (and CWU's, come to think of it) thoroughly unconvincing defense is based on bluster and technicalities. And for someone who claims to be innocent, he has certainly fought hard to keep the Manweller Report secret.

One striking thing about all this is the number of people who are willing to publicly defend Manweller. Would these same defenders really be willing to send their daughters to be Manweller’s students or his legislative pages or staffers?

“Innocent until proven guilty" is a legal idea. Manweller apparently hasn’t yet broken any laws, he’s just committed one of the worst ethical crimes possible for an educator. It's a matter of character, not law.

What Manweller did is plain to see for anyone who reads the report. For a retired professional educator like Jimmie Applegate to defend him is particularly disappointing.

For an annotated version of this letter, see whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com .

1The Daily Record article about the swearing-in is here.
2Oh, dear. Try Googling "respecting the office" without the quotation marks, or just click here. If I had done this before I submitted the letter, I might have used a different phrase.
3I am dead serious about this. Representative Manweller will be 1/3 of our representation in Olympia. I will continue to criticize him and the Kittitas County Republican Party (which he until recently chaired) and call attention to his behavior as a CWU professor, but I will not do anything to undermine his effectiveness in Olympia. I hope everyone will join me in this.
4While the national Republican party rethinks everything, the local Republican Party has doubled down on Newt Gingrich-style politics. 
5For one example of thoughtful conservative soul-searching, see this piece at the American Conservative.
6Given the makeup of the 13th Legislative District, it is doubtful voters will remove Dr. Manweller. Only his party can do it. Will they? Time will tell.
7See also my earlier posts on this scandal, including "The Manweller Report." To read the Manweller Report itself, click here. The body of the report is only 18 pages long, starting on page 7 of the linked document.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Manweller Morning After

Note: the letter published in the Daily Record is slightly different from the one I originally submitted. The newspaper requested that I remove the portions shown in bold below. 0
The days after the election dawn chill for local Republicans. The only positive election outcome for them is the election of Matt Manweller, about which they must pretend to be pleased. Meanwhile, consequences of mismanagement by county commissioners are still mostly in the future, complicating 2014 election prospects for Obie O’Brien.1,2

In his day job, Professor Manweller is embroiled in a sex-for-grades scandal. Now we can focus on what is important: CWU’s past, present and future handling of this scandal.3,4

Manweller has been credibly accused of trading grades for sexual favors from students, of threatening students’ careers in an effort to keep secrets, and of stalking at least one student after graduation.5 According to the Manweller Report, his behavior was well known among students and CWU administrators and staff.6

Readers may find the details hard to believe, which is why everyone should read the Manweller Report for themselves.

One would think that it would be a mortal sin to trade grades for sexual favors. Manweller has failed his academic field and his colleagues at CWU and beyond. He has failed his department and Central Washington University. Most of all, of course, he has failed his students, and he has failed past and future graduates of CWU generally. His failure of his political supporters and of his party and new constituents is the least of it.

CWU has failed, too. The magnitude of CWU’s failure is virtually incalculable. Female victims learned not to look to institutions for help. Any students who might have played along with Manweller's alleged scheme learned that academic excellence is optional. Political science degrees from CWU are cheapened.

One would think that it would be a mortal sin to trade grades for sexual favors, but at campuses across the country, it isn’t.7

Here's the challenge, which we see in the most recent news reports: CWU isn't any more interested than Professor Manweller is in addressing these problems. CWU is in damage control mode, even as parents and students are working on their college applications for the 2013-14 school year.8

Professor Manweller has made a political career of claiming that he's a persecuted conservative in supposedly liberal academia. If nothing else, this case indicates the exact opposite: CWU avoided acting earlier, and avoids acting now, because of his political activities, not in spite of them.

For an annotated version of this letter, and a link to the Manweller Report, see whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com .

Steve Verhey

0I pointed out that all information in the paragraph had already been published, but they were unmoved.
1Interestingly, Manweller's support is lowest in Kittitas County, where his margin was about 60:40. In Grant County, it was 72:28, and in Lincoln County it was 77:23.
2A few quick examples of mismanagement: forcing the Upper County well moratorium instead of working with DOE for a job-saving compromise, continuing to drag out compliance with the Growth Management Act, skimming money from the hotel/motel tax to pay for the ill-fated work on the Armory, allowing multimillion dollar home construction in a fire-prone area without a Code-compliant exit road, use of road tax funds to balance the General Fund.
3Pre-election complaints about supposed political motivation were themselves politically motivated. The original student reports were not politically motivated, and nothing changes the reality and gravity of them.
4As one student I talked to observed, the reason the students didn't pursue formal complaints is that "they didn't feel CWU had their backs."
5 In the Manweller Report, the investigator uses the word "credible" to refer to all witnesses. The word is noticeably absent in describing Dr. Manweller's participation.
6While these details are technically allegations, a reasonable reader of the Manweller Report -- as opposed to Manweller or CWU spin -- will find it quite convincing. The body of the report is only 17 pages (double-spaced), and everyone should read it for themselves.
7There have been numerous news items and longer reports about this problem. Here's a sampling of articles about unsatisfactory college responses to sexual harassment: Naomi Wolf's "Sex and Silence at Yale," about faculty-on-student behavior and reporting; an article about student-on-student sexual harassment at Amherst. It is worth noting that Manweller's actions are far more serious than the sex scandal currently being played out in the national news, because of the asymmetric power relationship between faculty and students, and the trading of anything but academic performance for grades.
8Here's an excellent example of CWU spin: compare this article, in the Yakima Herald-Republic, to the last paragraph of the text of the Manweller Report.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

CWU Sexual Harassment Policies and Reporting

A recent anonymous commenter shared her experience of unwanted sexual attention from Professor Manweller:
Several years ago Manweller made unwanted sexual advances towards me. At the time I wasn't aware of his "history" of preying on young women. Had I known I would have been more likely to report the incident and would have avoided ever interacting with him. Instead, I had felt embarrassed and upset and didn't tell anyone. I had let it go until I heard about this report. I don't think he believes there is anything wrong with his behavior. He prioritizes his desires over any kind of ethical code. I read the report and would agree with the woman's statement that he is intelligent, manipulative, and sexually aggressive. I don't want to provide any more details and still do not want to come forward or make any kind of formal complaint or accusation. Part of me wants to come forward to strengthen the case against Manweller, but at this point I haven't been able to convince myself to do it. I do wish the university had done its job 6 years ago, it would have likely prevented this incident from occurring, either because Manweller would have been disciplined or because I would have been aware of his behavior and would have avoided contact with him.1
There is no way to know how many stories like this might be out there, both among current and former CWU students and among members of the larger Ellensburg community and beyond, and it's not clear whether this commenter is/was a CWU student. But it's worth looking at CWU's sexual harassment policy, and whether there have been any changes as a result of recent events.

A search on the phrase "sexual harassment" at CWU's web page turns up a number of hits, most of which are frankly not going to be useful to one of Professor Manweller's victims. 

Here's an example: the CWU Status of Women Commission's web page on sexual harassment (shown above, click on the image to go there) features four links to "Resources." Seems promising, right? But the first link leads CWU policy verbiage that even I don't have patience to read.

And the other three links are broken.

The CWU Diversity Center's page on sexual harassment is more useful. It features quotes from students describing sexual harassment, and a link titled "report an incident." The quotes even include one about improper faculty behavior, but you have to scroll down to see it. And the report-an-incident link goes to a page that requires the user to log in. It seems to me that it would be nice to offer a way for people like the anonymous commenter to make an initial inquiry, maybe as a step toward talking to someone who can help.

Considering the very real problem of sexual harassment that the Manweller Report describes, one would expect CWU to redouble -- and redouble again -- its efforts to help students who may be victims.

But there's another problem, which we see in the most recent news reports: CWU isn't any more interested than Professor Manweller is in addressing these problems.2 CWU is in damage control mode, even as parents and students are working on their college applications for the 2013-14 school year.

More on all that later, maybe. Meanwhile, I'm giving CWU's sexual harassment reporting system a D+.

1This was the fourth comment to my "The Manweller Report" post. Two subsequent posters urged her to report Professor Manweller, which can be done, if not anonymously, very discreetly.
2See, for example, "CWU Official: Manweller Probe Reveals No Wrongdoing," in the Yakima Herald-Republic. Make your own decision on whether the probe reveals wrongdoing by reading the report for yourself -- the body of the report is only 17 pages long.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Daily Record Editorial on Manweller

It is probably in the nature of small-town newspapers to be cautious about volatile issues involving the largest employer in town and charismatic public figures. Even so, the Daily Record's editorial about the Manweller Report is pretty damning, as far as it goes.1,2

As I read the editorial, it became clear that it is much simpler to ignore the election and assume Professor Manweller will be elected, then look at his academic life and his life as a State Representative, and at CWU past and present. This removes the irrelevant but confusing concerns about any political motivation of the investigation.

Ethical professional educators will recognize -- and citizens need to understand -- that there is absolutely nothing worse than trading grades for sexual favors. Manweller has failed his academic field and his colleagues at CWU and beyond. He as failed his department and Central Washington University. Most of all, of course, he has failed his students, and he has failed recent past and near future graduates of CWU generally.

Professor Manweller has said that he will continue as a CWU faculty member, taking leaves of absence as necessary for his duties in Olympia. He will continue to be a well-known sexual predator, and his long pattern of preying on students will either stop or, more likely, not stop. In an era of belated attention to sex abuse on campuses (former Penn State President Graham Spanier was indicted just the other day for his role in the Sandusky scandal), this is a remarkable and most unfortunate outcome.

Depending on how well newspapers like the Daily Record do their jobs, Representative Manweller's history of trading sexual favors for grades will follow him to Olympia either as rumors or as well-known alarms. Fellow legislators and citizens alike will unavoidably think, when seeking help from Representative Manweller, about the diversity of bargaining options Manweller might consider.

The point that the Daily Record's editorial makes most clearly is CWU's enormous failure to protect students from Professor Manweller for over half a decade. The magnitude of this failure is virtually incalculable. Female victims learned not to look to institutions for help. Students who participated in Manweller's scheme learned that academic excellence is optional. The list could go on and on.

Professor Manweller has made a political career of claiming that he's a persecuted conservative in supposedly liberal academia. If nothing else, this case suggests the exact opposite: CWU avoided acting because of his political activities, not in spite of them.

1Everyone should read the Manweller Report. The body of the report is only 17 pages long. You can read it here.
2This important editorial should be available free to anyone interested in reading it. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. Here is a link to it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Manweller Report

It's no secret that Matt Manweller isn't one of my favorite people, or that he and I are generally on opposite sides of the political fence. But CWU's report on his behavior toward female students transcends politics.

A little background: I taught at CWU for six years, from 1999-2005. Dr. Manweller arrived at CWU in 2003, and we had little or no professional interaction during our two-year overlap. I was denied tenure and left academia in 2005 (a senior administrator told me, "I don't know what you did, but you really pissed off your department"), and Dr. Manweller was granted tenure in 2008.

CWU's report about Dr. Manweller's sexual harassment is all over the newspaper web sites, or you can read it here. I've only read it once, quickly, and I don't have much desire to read it again, but everyone should read it.

I didn't hear any rumors about Dr. Manweller's behavior while I was at CWU, but I did have a female student come into my office once and say, "I'd do anything to get an A in this class." I jumped up, opened my office door wide, and told the student she really didn't mean that.

I was a little upset by this experience. After she left, I wondered what she had meant, and, if she meant what she might have meant, where did she get the idea to say such a thing? Maybe from Dr. Manweller, who really did exchange grades for sexual favors. He really did threaten a student's career if she told anyone about this. More than one student did tell someone in a position of authority about Dr. Manweller's behavior, years before he was given tenure, but it was the CWU's policy at the time to ignore complaints if they weren't formally submitted in writing. CWU failed those students, and for all we know is still failing students.

I was raised as a professional educator to believe that you don't trade anything but excellent student academic performance for an A, and to believe that you should do everything you can to ensure your students' success. In other words, I believe that one has a duty to one's profession and to one's students.

That's why Dr. Manweller's behavior is so repugnant. If a proper investigation had been carried out at the time -- 2006 -- of the first documented allegations, he would have had zero chance at tenure. Instead, here's what he got away with:
  • Trading grades for sexual favors from students and having this behavior be widely known among students;
  • Directly threatening at least one student's career, and indirectly forcing an unknown number of students to remain silent to protect their careers;
  • Stalking at least one student by finding her mother's phone number (possibly from university records, to which he would have had access) and calling her mother in an effort to arrange an assignation after the student graduated;
  • Initiating physical contact with female students that some students found uncomfortable;
  • Lying to an investigator by saying he didn't know the accuser, who had been in several of his classes and for whom he had written a letter of recommendation.
Politics has nothing to do with this. I would feel the same way about a Democrat who was a close friend (by the way, I am disappointed by the way this was handled by the Chair of Manweller's department, who happens to be a Democrat). I would not publicly defend such a person, as some are doing. I would urge a such a political candidate to withdraw from an election, and that's what I'm doing here.1

An elected representative has citizens come into their office asking for all sorts of things. How could a Representative Manweller really serve his district if citizens don't know what they might be asked to do in exchange for help?

1I've just sent an e-mail to Dr. Manweller with a link to this post.2
2He replied within minutes, writing, "Nobody else reads it, why would I?"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Manweller v. CWU

This morning I took the opportunity to go to a hearing to determine the fate of public records requests by the Yakima Herald Republic and the Ellensburg Daily Record. The records -- or, record, singular -- relates to an investigation by CWU of Professor Manweller after a sexual harassment complaint by a female student in 2006.
Before I go on, it's worth noting that this subject is timely: just the other day the New York Times did a major article on how poorly colleges perform when asked to investigate sexual misconduct against female students.
I had only read about this local matter in the local newspapers, but as discussed in court here's apparently what happened: late in the summer someone suggested to one or both newspapers that they might be interested in something that happened to Professor Manweller at his institution in 2006. The papers contacted CWU, CWU looked at their records and discovered that they had not done a proper/formal investigation in 2006. So CWU carried out, six years later, an investigation and found that there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing.1

Neither of the attorneys at the hearing disputed the facts in the previous paragraph, but Professor Manweller has been working to see that the record of the belated investigation not be released -- hence his request for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which had been granted and was the subject of today's hearing.

As near as I could tell, Professor Manweller's attorney argued to continue the TRO on these grounds:
  1. The law (an RCW or WAC whose citation I didn't catch) clearly states that a request for public records has to be made using the form provided by the agency to which the request is directed. Because the newspapers didn't use the form, no public records request had been made, and there was nothing further to discuss.2
  2. The investigation was politically motivated.
  3. Although the investigation found no wrongdoing, it does contain details, hearsay, and [my word here:] sordidness, so it should not be released.
CWU's attorney, from the state Attorney General's office, noted that
  1. CWU doesn't particularly want to release the record, because it will not cast CWU in a good light.3 However, CWU has been asked for it, and has a responsibility to release it.
  2. The lack of use of the proper form isn't a serious problem, since in practice forms are routinely not required (Judge Sparks agreed, noting that citizens should be helped to get, not hindered from getting, public documents).
  3. The key argument was this: this court doesn't have jurisdiction over public records requests, but the plaintiff (Manweller) brought the case here because he'd knew he'd lose in the proper court.
  4. Further, while not proceeding as appropriate under the Public Records Act, the plaintiff is trying to invoke the Public Records Act.
After talking about how important public records -- and also privacy -- are, Judge Sparks said he understood Manweller's motivation of block release. He said that he trusts the newspapers to act with discretion, as they do every day in their work. Judge Sparks ordered that the TRO be dissolved, and said CWU could proceed to release the results of the investigation with the name of the student redacted.

1If memory serves, none of the administrators (Dean of the College of the Sciences, Provost, President) in the appropriate chain of command are still at CWU, so the present administrators inherited this one. 2You can't make this stuff up. As I listened I wondered whether Manweller really wanted to win on such a flimsy technicality. 3Again, see the NYT article on how poorly these things are handled, even at fancy schools like Amherst. The NYT article is mostly about student-on-student misconduct. Imagine how a lesser college might handle a complaint against a pugnacious, outspoken, politically problematic tenured faculty member.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vote Clerf for Commissioner -- Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

This year I have been spending my political volunteer1 energy on the race for Kittitas County Commissioner, District 1. I have been working with Catherine Clerf, who is running against incumbent Paul Jewell.

Both are Republicans, and Catherine is actually more conservative than Jewell. Why would I support her? There are reasons for almost everyone to support her.

All county residents will appreciate that Catherine knows more about how county government works than does any other private citizen. She has attended almost as many county meetings as the commissioners themselves, starting before Jewell was elected. In many areas, she knows more than the sitting county commissioners.

Here’s an important example: Catherine is right, and Paul Jewell is wrong, on the water and well moratorium issues.2 Jewell inherited this problem when he was elected, and could have been a voice of reason in a difficult situation. Instead, he forced the Department of Ecology to use the big stick of the upper county moratorium, a choice that laid the foundation for the proposed county-wide well moratorium.3 Jewell may say he opposes the expanded moratorium,4 but he himself made it inevitable, and his opinion makes no difference to the reality of the situation.

Continuing with reasons for almost everyone to support Ms. Clerf: for Democrats, there's the fact that Jewell is an Establishment Republican and Catherine is a traditional Republican.5 She may be conservative, but she's not partisan. A vote for Catherine Clerf is a vote against dysfunctional Establishment politics.

Another example: the prospect of everyone being able to generate and sell their own electricity via the grid is being called “the third industrial revolution.” Catherine Clerf has championed the idea locally for years and has testified in favor of it in Olympia. Paul Jewell cast the deciding vote6 against allowing this opportunity into Kittitas County and he testified against it in Olympia. Jewell is not a leader or a visionary when it comes to energy policy, but Catherine is.

Independent voters will recognize Catherine’s independence. This year in both races for county commissioner, the good old boys7 are, well, boys.8 The groupthink that comes with good old boy politics has not served the county well. It is past time for a fresh approach, and electing Catherine Clerf is a big step in that direction.

For an annotated version of this letter, see my blog at whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com.

Steve Verhey


1Full disclosure: I first got involved with Catherine's campaign when she asked me to make her website. There was talk of this being paying work, but I haven't accepted any money yet. I didn't know her very well when we first started working together, but since then I have chosen to spend considerable time advising, writing and editing, and generally helping Catherine on her campaign on a volunteer basis.

2I started this blog when I was considering running for County Commissioner in 2010, and I spent a lot of time researching and writing about the issues (I eventually did decide to run, and lost in the general election to Obie O'Brien). I wrote an extensive post about the well moratorium in July 2010. At that time Catherine was arguing that surface water was indeed connected to ground water, and that surface water rights holders were having their rights taken by excessive groundwater uses -- the opposite of what Paul Jewell, development speculators, and the rest of the Board of County Commissioners were saying. Science and the State Supreme Court have since agreed with Catherine.

3Paul Jewell was kind enough to meet with me in June of 2010, when my campaign was just starting and I was learning about various issues. At that meeting he emphatically declared that the Department of Ecology's proposal to meter wells was "illegal! illegal!" This exactly mirrored what I heard when I met with a builder's association (the organization ended up endorsing my opponent) that included Steve Senger (who was  defeated in this year's primary for Commissioner, District 2). Like Jewell, Senger expressed genuine anger as he talked about the moratorium, calling both the moratorium and the earlier proposal to meter wells illegal. (The Department of Ecology had offered metering of wellwater usage as a perfectly reasonable alternative to the moratorium. When the county refused in a huff, the state had no choice but to act. In my well moratorium post I wrote about how it was clearly the case that the state was trying to help.)

4Late in the classic movie Casablanca, Captain Renault exclaims, "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on in here," an instant before he is handed his winnings, and it's meant as comic relief. The Commissioners' response to the recommendation that the well moratorium be extended county-wide was the same kind of comedy. The recommendation was made by the county Proscuting Attorney's Office, which acts as the county's attorney, based on a white paper that was drafted last fall. The recommendation was not a surprise.

5The local Establishment Republican Party has in fact publicly disowned Catherine at least once. For one thing, they don't approve of Republicans running against Republicans in primaries. Some of us thought primaries were part of the democratic process, but the local Republican party doesn't.

6I was actually present for this vote, and I was a bit stunned by it. I wrote about it at the time, initially saying that I felt Jewell had acted in bad faith by seeming supportive before voting against it. Jewell complained, and I removed my comments about bad faith negotiating. Nevertheless, the Board of County Commissioners' action had what pundits call poor optics -- it looked bad.

7 This is of course not a slam against good old boys. If it weren't for the groupthink problem, there would be nothing to worry about.

8 I had to use the word "boys" for parallel construction with "good old boys;" it is naturally not meant as any kind of insult.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fire danger in Kittitas County III

It's hard to swing a cat in some places on the Internet without running into data on costs of fighting fires at the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Try Googling "cost of fighting urban fires," for example, and most of the top hits will be about the WUI, not fires in cities.

One item that caught my eye is a white paper from Headwaters Economics (HE), called Solutions to the Rising Costs of Fighting Fires in the Wildland-Urban Interface. HE is based in Bozeman, MT, an area with even more WUI issues than we have in Kittitas County, if that's possible.

Actually, I don't know if that statement, the one about Bozeman's WUI issues compared to ours, is really true, because Kittitas County's wildland development policies are so remarkably pro-development1 compared to other areas, and Bozeman has always seemed like a sensible place to me.

One key factor in determining WUI impacts is lot size, which determines the density of development outside of urban growth boundaries. The picture shows one example, selected mostly at random from Kittitas County's Assessor's interactive map site. This development's access road is a loop, suggesting that it at least provides firefighters and residents good access for firefighting or escape, but this post is about lot size.

The lots shown in the photo average about 3 acres in area. This is well below the 5 acre minimum allowed by Washington's Growth Management Act, which Kittitas County has been bound by since the early 1990s. Although the county agreed to the GMA, it has rarely, if ever, actually been in compliance, and we have lost repeated appeals and cases as high as the state Supreme Court.

Why would the county allow developments that are so obviously
a) illegal in light of the state GMA,
b) dangerous to firefighters and residents in the event of a fire,
c) very expensive to defend from fire (these are tax dollars we're talking about), and
d) very expensive when it comes to provision of other services?
The reasons can be complex, but they boil down to one thing: too much influence on County Commissioners by the development industry.2 We see this in the form of campaign donations and over-representation of developers on citizen's advisory committees. The makeup of citizens advisory committees is decided by the Commissioners, and there are plenty of examples where the Commissioners have denied seats to concerned citizens, or have allowed citizens with serious pro-development conflicts of interest to participate in policy making.3

All three of the sitting commissioners, including Paul Jewell who is up for reelection this year, have been involved in decisions that have led to the unusual levels of property at risk to wildfire in Kittitas County.

1We're not anti-development! The development industry is very important! But, as we have unfortunately seen with the Taylor Bridge Fire, poorly regulated development at the UWI can be expensive and heartbreaking. Thank goodness there have been no serious injuries, but that's what's at stake, in a very real way, when considering development policies.

2There is an opportunity cost to paying too much attention to keeping developers happy. In addition to increasing fire danger, it takes away from time and other resources that could be used to encourage more sustainable growth in the county's job- and tax base.

3What the development industry wants, of course, is to keep costs as low as possible. That means maximizing the number of lots that can be platted on a given acreage, minimizing infrastructure costs borne by the developer, and maximizing infrastructure costs borne by taxpayers. Kittitas County has shown considerable willingness to help in all three areas, effectively socializing costs that should instead be paid by the developers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My favorite local natural history blog

Check out Five Acre Geographic, run by one of Kittitas County's premier amateur scientists. You'll learn, for example, that this critter is a moth, and why.

Fire danger in Kittitas County II

Some background (we'll get to the fire danger part soon): during run-up to the mortgage bubble, Kittitas county came under intense development pressure. This led to a number of hasty decisions and policy changes on the part of county government. The development boom also funneled money from real estate developers, builders, and land use attorneys into the campaigns of all sitting county commissioners; this effect on county government started late in the previous century and continues to this day.

The influence of real estate developers has had several unfortunate policy impacts, some of which, like access road requirements, increase the danger to residents and firefighters in the event of a wildfire like the one we're experiencing now. The most desirable land for development is in forested areas, but the problem extends county-wide. One example is the Tumble Creek development in Suncadia, the subject of my last post. That most expensive development in the county is served by only one county-standard access road, even though it contains (by my count) over 150 lots.

The Kittitas Count Prosecuting Attorney's Office (PAO) does more than prosecute offenders: it acts as the legal representative and advisor for county government. The PAO has repeatedly warned the County Commissioners that Kittitas County's access road policy is out of step with the policies of neighboring counties, and that this could put our county at risk of liability in the event of a large fire. Tumble Creek is out of compliance with even the most generous policies in the state, which are mostly found on the much wetter (and therefore much less fire-prone) west side of the Cascades.

Kittitas County's current policy is that a second access road is required for developments with more than 40 lots. This is 1/3 more lots than than the 30-lot limit recommended by the International Fire Code, and 2.5 times more than the very cautious requirement of 16 lots in Douglas County.

Incredibly, there is pressure from a citizen's advisory committee (which, perhaps not surprisingly, happens to be dominated by real estate developers; members of the committee must be approved by the County Commissioners) to raise the lot limit to 101 lots. In other words, a development of 100 lots would not be required to have a second access road, no matter where it was located in the county.

The PAO correctly observes that the county's existing 40-lot limit puts the county at risk, and has raised the alarm with increasing urgency in a series of memos this year. This wouldn't be necessary if the PAO weren't concerned that the County Commissioners might vote for the interests of their campaign donors, which is a rather alarming thought in the midst of a fire like the Taylor Bridge Fire.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Where the real fire danger is in Kittitas County I

The Taylor Bridge Fire is still mostly uncontrolled as I write this, and I've just read on Twitter (#taylorbridgefire) that the estimated cost of the fire as of yesterday is $2.7 million. Firefighting is very costly, and loss of property is both tragic and costly. Thank goodness there have been no serious injuries.

It's not too soon to be thinking about how our county policies and choices have put property at risk, and how things might be done differently.

Firefighting efforts primarily focus on protection of life and property, and in the case of range/forest fires it is well known that the rural-urban interface is a special problem area. It's an issue that's covered in detail by the Municipal Research and Service Center of Washington, for example.

Nowhere in the county is there more money invested, and more danger to the lives of firefighers and residents, than at the rural-urban interface that is Suncadia. It's a beautiful, troubled, spared-no-expense resort with hundreds of millions of dollars of assessed value in homes and other property. It's also surrounded by and webbed with forest around the expensive homes, golf fairways, and lodges.

And, unbelievably, Tumble Creek, the oldest, highest-value neighborhood in Suncadia, has only one road in or out.

Kittitas County allowed this neighborhood to be built in the early 2000s, and has allowed additional Suncadia phases to be built out since then, without requiring the completion of Jenkins Road, the second access road built to county standards as required by County Code and the original development agreement.1

1Note added August 24, 2012: a reader has e-mailed to tell me that 75 houses have been built in the Tumble Creek development. My understanding is that lot number is what triggers the second access road requirement, but apparently the number of houses is almost twice the 40-unit limit. Because the development was allowed to be built out of compliance with county requirements, it may be possible that the county would be liable for problems resulting from a disaster that was worsened by lack of a second road as required.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Matt Manweller's roadtrip to Olympia

With the election season upon us, I'm going to return to blogging about local political issues, at least for a while. To make things easier for everyone, here is the text of my recent letter to the editor of the Daily Record originally published August 1, ahead of the primary election in which Manweller was a candidate.

To the Editor,

In Saturday’s (July 28) Daily Record, Political Science Professor and legislative candidate Matt Manweller climbed back into the ring1 to go toe to toe with Von Ellison over her July 26 letter to the Editor (“Manweller Would Not Represent District Well”).

Indeed, Ellison landed a number of scoring punches in her letter. She noted that Manweller’s position as a tenured professor (essentially, he has a job for life unless budget cuts eliminate his position) means he is unable to relate to the challenges facing average citizens in his district. She correctly wrote that Manweller is “known for his temper and irrationality.” She also correctly observed that his extreme partisan behavior will hurt, not help, the democratic process and our district. And she pointed out that Dr. Manweller’s position on Obamacare is misguided (Dr. Manweller is not a “real” doctor, by the way).

In this latest bout, Manweller tries to land a haymaker by focusing on Obamacare. Ignoring Ellison’s legitimate points about his character and behavior, he responds by claiming that he recently traveled to Olympia, spending a “tiring day away from [his] family” to crash a legislative hearing about the effect of Obamacare on Washington State’s budget. He went, he says, so he can “cast an educated vote” for our district.

In reality, Ellison has opened cuts that won’t close.

The fact is, Manweller is already on the record as opposing Washington’s participation in Obamacare, exactly in line with the dogma of the most extremist wings of his party. Nothing he could have heard in Olympia would change his potential vote.

Mitt Romney, the author of Obamacare, refuses to release his tax returns because “people will just use them to attack.” That’s the reason Manweller went to Olympia: to get information to use in attacking Obamacare.

Take this shocking detail, from Manweller’s letter: Obamacare will increase the state's Medicaid rolls by 496,000 new people. Translation: half a million of our fellow Washingtonians who did not have health insurance, will have health insurance. Statistically, many of these people will be in our legislative district. Manweller opposes this. And yet he wants our vote.

He won’t be getting Von Ellison’s vote, and he won’t be getting mine, either.2

Steve Verhey

1The use of boxing jargon may remind the reader of the time Dr. Manweller got into a fistfight with a recently post-op cancer survivor after lying about the man's wife on Manweller's radio program. I have mentioned this incident a couple of times on this blog.
2This will hopefully be my last post about Manweller for a while. I'm annoyed to have to abandon what was once at least grudging respect for him.