The Gristle

Dirty Deeds

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

DIRTY DEEDS: A minor election is once again shaping into a major controversy.

The elections for the Whatcom Conservation District board of supervisors historically have been handled in-house. It’s a small office with limited influence, but nagging cycles of controversy and ballot irregularities suggest future district elections should be managed more comprehensively through the county elections office.

This year’s taint began early, when supporters for the reelection of board chair Larry Helm improperly obtained through a public disclosure request the mailing lists of past WCD elections that were then used to distribute campaign information in support of Helm. This was in violation of the district’s policies and procedures for such requests.

“Records of voters who are issued a ballot are disclosable and subject to public records requests,” noted Bill Eller, commission elections officer for the Washington State Conservation Commission. “However, the disclosable information on a voter’s registration does not include email addresses. But, the subject of this request was not a voter’s registration, but rather a voter’s request to be sent a ballot.”

Whatcom Conservation District Executive Director George Boggs issued an apology for the violation of district policy, which stresses that mailing and calling lists from those seeking a ballot will not be provided to third parties.

“A third party may have sent you a campaign message regarding our Board of Supervisors election using the information you provided when requesting a mail-in ballot,” Boggs wrote. “In setting up the mail-in ballot request system, the intention was to create a pathway that would provide more access to voting in the district elections within our limited financial resources. I did not anticipate that the information gathered would be publicly requested and used in this way, violating our promise of confidentiality to you. If I did, it would have been made clear to you before you shared your email address and phone number.

“Email addresses were requested as a way to acknowledge that your ballot request was received,” Boggs wrote. “It was also used to notify you that the ballots had been mailed and the timeframe in which to return them. Again, the intention was to provide the best customer service and ensure access to the election process for all.”

Additional irregularities have arisen in Helm’s campaign for reelection.

The Whatcom Conservation District has a posted policy that discourages one person making a ballot request on behalf of another person, except for a family member or a domestic partner. This policy is clearly stated for anyone attempting to request a ballot. The policy is not an arcane detail that anyone requesting a ballot could miss.

Yet in January, Helm sent out a message across broad social media: “Send me your Name, Address, Email, and Phone Number, and I will request a ballot to be mailed to you.” His effort was supported by Whatcom Republicans, who declared, “We need to get the ballots to the voters, one way or another.”

This is clearly electioneering; and as ballot stuffing is discouraged by WCD policy it placed those candidates who observed the rules at a disadvantage in this election.

Candidates who played by the rules were harmed by the actions of Helm and his supporters.

Helm, an aggressive committee officer for the Republican Party, has installed himself on nearly every possible board and commission dealing with county agriculture. In doing so, he has certainly imposed his iron views on that subject, but he has done so at the cost of reducing the variety and diversity of other views on agriculture. By design, he has sucked all the oxygen out of the topic.

“The farmer’s profit is regularly negatively impacted by fees and environmental regulations, which generally result in higher food prices,” Helm asserts in his campaign literature. “If a farm is not polluting-producing clean water downstream, then government should minimize their impact to that farm operation. Without a healthy profit margin our farms will slowly disappear.”

That’s certainly a commonly expressed concern, but it is an unfortunate one for a conservation district. Their purpose is to provide resources to farmers to help navigate state and federal regulatory laws, not to serve as a pulpit to snarl and sneer about those laws.

Conservation districts were originally formed during a rough patch for farmers in the middle part of the last century, to help them remain solvent and operating at a time when many farms were failing. In subsequent years, the mission of conservation districts expanded to serve to help landowners respond to new land policies and environmental regulations.

Conservation districts work with landowners on a voluntary basis, providing support and information to enhance land conservation on private lands. The partnership is essential, as private land management is understood to be key to conserving Washington’s renewable natural resources.

Conservation districts are a unique form of non-regulatory government, matching local needs with technical and financial resources to help landowners solve issues. They are inherently conservative in approach, and focused on rural life.

Several election cycles back local growers began to notice that issues of sustainability, resource conservation and organic farming were under-represented by the WCD board and began to field progressive candidates. County reactionaries responded aggressively, instantly polarizing this once quiet, modest election in an agency that exists solely to connect farmers with resources.

An election that once garnered a few hundred ballots that could easily be handled in-house has become an existential death match, poisoned with the underhanded tactics of a familiar slate of bad actors perpetually at the center of local election mischief. The district’s days of innocence are over.

Past Columns
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

Vote

July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bringing Memoir Alive

5:00pm|Village Books

Art Uncorked!

5:00pm|Windows on the Bay

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Healthy Meal Planning

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Cruisin' the Fossils Coastline with Ray Troll

7:00pm|Village Books

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Zambia Travelogue

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

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Sh*tty Ted Talks

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Village Books
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Fall Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit Valley Fairgrounds

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Museum Advocates Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Commercial Street Night Market

6:00pm|Commercial Street

International Day of Peace Community Dinner

6:00pm|Majestic

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Banned Books Week Kickoff

6:30pm

John Whelan, Hayley Richardson

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

African Children's Choir

7:00pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

Anna's Home

7:00pm|Village Books

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Courthouse Comedy

8:00pm|Territorial Whatcom County Courthouse

Internetland

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Blue Brothers
Saturday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Fall Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit Valley Fairgrounds

Museum Advocates Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Internetland

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

American Legion Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Queens of Dirt Mountain Bike Race

9:00am| Lake Padden Park

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival

9:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Community Cider Press

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

Kitchen Cutlery Class

10:00am|Blaine Library

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

From Weapons to Art

10:00am| Gentry House

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Museum Day Live!

10:00am|Whatcom Museum, Lynden Pioneer Museum, Skagit County Historical Museum, and Bellingham Railway Museum

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Fall Into the Holidays

10:00am|Birch Bay Activity Center

Sundial and Mural Celebration

12:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Fall Bunting Workshop

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Trial Vineyard Open House

1:00pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

The Politics of Conservation

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Artist Talk with Allen Moe

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Kulshan CLT Community Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Fall Demo Derby

6:30pm|NW Washington Fairgrounds

Lake Memoir

7:00pm|Village Books

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Songs of the Salish Sea

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Official Blues Brothers Revue

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Stories of the Salish Sea

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Catching up with Elwood and Jake

7:30pm

see our complete calendar »

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