What happens in the courthouse...

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Lack of oversight, competition leads to questionable Chamber choice

To the Editor: 

I read something confusing in last Thursday's Daily Record. It said economic development (EDD) director Ron Cridlebaugh had taken a job in Douglas County, effective the very next day. David Bowen had been appointed to take over Mr. Cridlebaugh’s duties. Mr. Bowen had very recently – and just as quietly -- been appointed to operate the Central Washington Renewable Energy Collaborative (CWREC).

Those are the peculiar facts as reported. Here's some of what I understand about the background of the situation.

When Mr. Cridlebaugh was hired, the Chamber made a big deal about its search -- it might even have been a national search -- for someone with strong economic development credentials. By lucky coincidence, the very best candidate was right here in economically depressed Ellensburg.

Mr. Bowen, now appointed to both the EDD and the CWREC jobs, has a checkered history in the county and currently owns Mike’s Tavern in Cle Elum.1

The Chamber of Commerce is a private organization that can (and, as seen here, does) do whatever it wants without regard to what anyone else might think or what might actually make sense.

The Chamber would not be able to operate without substantial public funding, and it has positioned itself to play the key role in economic development and other activities for the entire county.

Now, in case they are not already obvious, some confusing things.

CWREC and economic development are being combined. This is a big change, so why is this decision not being explained?2 Is this move the reason an actual economic development professional is suddenly not needed? Or has the title simply been changed?

For Mr. Bowen, there is a clear conflict of interest with the Teanaway solar reserve project, among others.3 TSR is opposed by its neighbors and requires subsidies to make up for its poor location.4 The Chamber knows all this. Why does it not care?

The Chamber will no doubt take it upon itself to lead an effort to establish a port district in Ellensburg. A port district is potentially a good thing, but why should taxpayers support it if this is the way the economic development show is run here?

Finally, how could the Daily Record’s related editorial have been so uncritical? It simply rehashed information from the news item.

We have seen how trust matters. Trust is an issue here too, with both the newspaper and the Chamber.

1On the matter of Mr. Bowen's checkered past, there is the time he accepted a full-time (and apparently unadvertised) job with PSE while still a full-time county commissioner, something disclosed only after the fact. This was another conflict of interest issue, since county commissioners made many decisions before and after this time that affected PSE and PSE's major customers. The move drew at least one interesting letter to the editor. Then there's the fact that Bowen and his fellow commissioners made a series of bone-headed land development decisions and laid the foundation for the county's ongoing problems with the state GMA (over land use) and DOE (over water use). There is not room for a more extensive list.

2Since neither activity has produced much in the way of results, how will combining them yield something greater than the sum of the parts? Instead of addition, might it not be more like multiplying by zero?

3Until recently Mr. Bowen worked for American Forest Land Company (AFLC), which had planned a large development in the Teanaway area; the Teanaway solar reserve project was related to the development plan, and is still on the drawing board even though AFLC has sold most of their land.

4I had forgotten how many blog posts I have written about TSR. Here is a particularly relevant one.