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.

Past Columns
The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

3-in-1 Oil

August 22, 2018

A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018


July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

Holiday Festival of the Arts

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Skagit Folk Dancers

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Comedy Open Mic


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Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Mike Allen

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

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