The Gristle

Parsing the Puzzle

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

PARSING THE PUZZLE: Applications to fill a vacant seat on Whatcom County Council began with a trickle. They ended in a flood—a whopping 29 applications from a gratifyingly large and broad representation of the local community. Applications were received from farmers, from academics, from environmental and social justice activists, from the business, business support, and tribal communities. The list includes familiar faces in politics, some recent and some long absent from the scene. Some seek the position as a long-term assignment; others made it clear they intend only to hold the office until a special election fills the position next November.

It’s a tremendous list for Whatcom County Council to consider as they seek to fill a vacancy on its seven-member body in their first meeting of 2018. The seat is being vacated by Todd Donovan as he—as a consequence of redistricting—shifts over to a position as representative of Bellingham’s District 2 on Council.

Last time Council had to fill a vacancy, they received only a handful of applicants. Members selected Satpal Sidhu to replace Sam Crawford on County Council; and ironically Satpal may ultimately find himself running against this replacement in the fall as seated incumbents continue to shift to new positions as the county adjusts from three districts to five.

Council will need some organizational tools to adequately parse a list this large. They’ll need some boxes to sort these applications.

Membership is changing on Whatcom County Council as veterans Carl Weimer and Ken Mann end their terms in 2017; yet Council still has a great deal of work left unfinished on their legislative plate, work with a long and complex history. This work includes a water action plan in response to the 2016 Hirst decision that found the county was not coordinating growth with adequate water supply; development of a fee structure for a newly created utility service district for Lake Whatcom; a policy response to criminal justice and jail planning that is respectful to the cratering of a jail tax initiative at the polls last fall; and consideration of an array of policy in response to proposed fossil fuel export projects at Cherry Point. A consultant’s report on the last item is due in front of Council early next year.

In their final actions of 2017, Council also formed an advisory committee to study policy response to climate change and renewable energy, and it seems unlikely they will seek members with thoughts hostile to those efforts.

The Gristle reckons Council members will favor applicants familiar with these actions and issues. And given they need to move forward on these actions without knowing who voters will decide to place in this position next fall, we reckon they’ll also favor applicants who largely agree with them on these issues or who offer unique and important perspectives that are otherwise difficult to obtain. They’ll want Carl and Ken back—or their approximates.

We also suspect, as a secondary consideration, they’ll favor applicants with experience on a legislative council. And they may favor those applicants who’ve declared they seek only a caretaker’s role until the special election in November over other applicants who would use the seat to leverage their own political aspirations and incumbency. It’s a tertiary consideration, but Council may not want to unduly prejudice the election next fall.

Given those parameters, we might predict that applicants diametrically opposed to Council direction on their legislative agenda, and who also have political aspirations for a seat on Council, may be among the first names culled from their deliberations.

Among applicants from the political sector, this would exclude foes like Cliff Langley and Eric Bostrom, conservatives without Council experience who failed in their efforts to gain election last year. And it likely would exclude applicants like Carolyn Anderson, a top official in the Whatcom County Republican Party that has been critical, in particular, of Council action on Hirst and Cherry Point.

Also likely culled would be those applicants with otherwise excellent résumés from university, public sector, law enforcement and business settings but who have limited experience on a legislative council or with the political icebergs Council must navigate. These made up the lion’s share of a list of well-qualified applicants.

Former Council members with experience on these issues include Seth Fleetwood, Emily Weaver, and Kathy Kershner. Fleetwood and Weaver have made it clear they seek only a caretaker role. Stan Snapp, who brings experience on these issues from Bellingham City Council, also seeks only a caretaker role.

Whatcom County Planning Commissioner Natalie McClendon, a leader among Democrats, may run for the position in the fall.

The giant on this list of applicants appears to be Tim Ballew II, the excellent and capable former chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council. Ballew has extensive knowledge and experience with issues concerning water rights and Cherry Point exports, leading tribal efforts on both those fronts; and he comes at the issues from a tangent different from the Council but not opposed to Council on these issues. More than any other LIBC chairman in memory, Ballew has reached out to the community and took a proactive role on the Whatcom Council of Governments.

Ballew excels in every quadrant Council may consider in attempting to narrow their list; but, again, the Gristle offers just one model of how Council may parse their applicants.

The list of 29 is an amazing cross-section of the eager talent in Whatcom County, and we must ask ourselves as a society why individuals of this caliber seek appointment but do not run for political office. Many positions went unopposed last November.

We hope we’ll see these names again in local politics.

Btown Valentines
Past Columns
New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Camp Kelli

December 20, 2017

Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017


December 6, 2017

Gulag Goulash

November 29, 2017

Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

Lifestyle Talks

1:00pm|Ferndale Library

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Poetry Writing Group

5:30pm|Village Books

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

European Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

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Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden Park

Garage Sale and Health Fair

12:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Books and Bites

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Post-Holiday Detox

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Art Auction Gala

5:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Anacortes Women's March

6:00pm|Depot Arts Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Sierra Club Winter Member Party

6:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Opera Scenes

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

The Flick

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Tropical Heat Wave Dance


Space Trek, Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Five for Fighting

8:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

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Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Garage Sale and Health Fair

12:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Flick

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek, Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Smoking Crow Opening

9:00am|Smoking Crow

Mason Bee Management

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Nordic Ski Ambassadors

10:00am|SnoPark at Salmon Ridge

Plant Society Field Trip

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

March on Bellingham

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Of marching and mending


Travel to Cuzco and Machu PIcchu

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Mysticism in Art

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Mona Openings

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Cedar Weaving Workshop

2:00pm|Lynden Library

Teddy Bear Biographies

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Exploring Port

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Learn to Grow a Vegetable Garden

2:00pm|Sumas Library

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kindgom Quest

4:00pm|Village Books

Music and Memories

5:00pm|Swinomish Casino & Lodge

Robert Burns Supper

5:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Ensemble Electra

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

The Good Lovelies

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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