The Gristle

State of the County

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

STATE OF THE COUNTY: Jack Louws delivered his final State of the County address last week as chief executive officer of the Whatcom County administration, having decided not to seek reelection in the fall. The County Executive’s annual address was a bittersweet recap of the successes and challenges of his administration as he identified the accomplishments of the various departments under his charge.

In particular, the executive underscored the continued issues related to aging infrastructure and capital facilities in a county that has not significantly raised property taxes in more than two decades, and which categorically refuses to take on debt to secure those hard assets.

“Our ongoing work towards achieving a new public safety facility continues to be a struggle,” Louws admitted of his administration’s inability to produce an alternative to a crowded and aging jail—perhaps the most notable bruise on Louws’ otherwise competent and measured administration.

“It is a disappointment to me that we were not able to move this forward during my tenure as County Executive,” he said. “The bottom line is that having a state-of-the-art facility is the most humane course of action for us to pursue. I encourage the Council and future administration to be bold in your approach to solving this problem. Inaction, at its best, will mean continued substandard care and a lack of rehabilitation opportunities for inmates in our existing facility, along with ever-escalating cost increases for the solutions. At worst it may result in a catastrophic event beyond our imagination.”

Later in his presentation, Louws summarized what is very likely the solution to the county’s crushing capital facilities dilemma: A well-managed financial ledger with capacity to take on long-term debt to service hard assets:

“I can report that the county’s financial condition is sound,” Louws affirmed. “Revenues have increased modestly with slight upticks in economic activity…. We have a significant amount of financial capacity available for future needs. We have virtually no debt, our bonding rating is strong, and we have a large sum of banked property tax available for use. My desire would be that this money be used for the decisions necessary to meaningfully address our criminal justice and general government building infrastructure,” the executive noted.

The previous administration kicked this can down the road for 16 years, and Louws is certainly due high praise for attempting to grapple with the issues and bring them to public attention. The solutions will have to wait for a future administration, however, and it is encouraging that talent is stepping forward for the office in advance of Filing Week later this month.

Most prominent of those who have expressed early interest in the office of County Executive is Satpal Sidhu, the genial and practical County Council member and former dean of engineering at Bellingham Technical College.

“My experience as problem solver, including as an engineer, business executive, educator and small business owner, is what Whatcom County needs right now, and that’s why I’m running,” Sidhu said. “The executive must leverage the county’s limited resources to effectively address seemingly never-ending issues: housing affordability and homelessness, mental health and the opioid crisis, an ever-changing labor market, climate change, and water rights and water quality, among others. As I make my case to voters, I think they will see me as the candidate most qualified to handle the complexities of this position.”

Sidhu brings the county’s legislative efforts strongly to the executive’s office, where they have at times met resistance—particularly in the areas of water resource management and response to fossil fuels and climate change. Yet he is a pragmatist on these issues.

Another early applicant is Karen Burke, the executive director of Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS), whose perspective and expertise on social issues is unique and welcomed, and she appears strongly aligned with a perspective to reduce the jail population through alternatives to incarceration.

In her years as director of DVSAS, Burke has expanded social service programs across the county, where she helped to develop and manage programs such as the Lummi Drug Court and the Lummi Juvenile Justice project. She was also the founding director of the Lummi Nation child support program.

“I am ready to work with our residents and partners to find and implement the right answers to local issues: affordable housing, living-wage jobs, criminal justice reform and crime prevention, rural transportation and technology access, water quality and capacity, land use, and economic development,” Burke said. “My vision is for Whatcom County to be healthy, safe and equitable for all who live here.”

More candidates will come forward with official announcements as Filing Week approaches, and as the county enters its final adjustment phase of redistricting and the electoral dynamics of the highly competitive Coastal District (Ferndale and Blaine precincts) come into focus.

The political ferment (and the tension between progressive and centrist wings of Democrats) continues, and Whatcom’s likely to have another crowded primary in August.

There’s a cost associated with that, which County Council addressed in a resolution last week, seeking support for the state to pay its “fair share” of election expenses in elections when many state candidates are on the ballot.

“Same-day voter registration, more ballot drop boxes, and prepaid postage are important additions to help improve voter access. However, they are costly additions that have been mandated by your state legislators,” County Auditor Debbie Adelstein wrote in support of the resolution. “They are either not funded fully or not funded at all, creating more unfunded mandates to county governments which already struggle to meet other obligations in providing public health services, law enforcement, courts and myriad other statutorily and constitutionally required programs and services.”

The unfunded cost to Whacom County over the past four years has topped $782,000. The price of democracy is high, but when good people step forward to serve it is worth it.

Past Columns
War Waged on Two Fronts

December 11, 2019

Work Horse, Not Show Horse

December 4, 2019

Toward A Housing Summit

November 27, 2019

Dueling Data

November 20, 2019

Of Apples and Barrels

November 13, 2019

Hide the Money

October 30, 2019

Anchors Are Weighed

October 23, 2019

A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

Due East II

July 31, 2019

Events
Today
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Holiday Favorites

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Songs of Peace with Kulshan Youth Choir

5:30pm|First Congregational Church

Bellwether Premiere Wine Social

5:30pm|Lighthouse Grill

Holiday Party

6:00pm|Camber Coffee

DSA Movie Night

6:00pm|Academic West

Winter Pop-Up with Taylor Shellfish

6:00pm|Aslan Depot

Peaceful Poetry Reading

6:30pm|Village Books

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Storm Music Extravaganza

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Peace, Love, and Ukuleles

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Avalanche Awareness

7:00pm|Backcountry Essentials

History Holiday

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Holiday Craft Bazaar

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Drayton Harbor Shellebration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Gingerbread House Making

4:30pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Photos and Stories with James K. Papp

5:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Kids Night Out @ Western

6:00pm|Western Washington University

Lost Feast

7:00pm|Village Books

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Christmastime is Here with Skagit Symphony

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Saturday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

NSEA Work Party

9:00am

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Sedro-Woolley Community Center

Winter Faire

10:00am|Whatcom Hills Waldorf School

Winter Arts & Crafts Festival

10:00am|Pioneer Park Pavilion

Old-Fashioned Christmas Market

10:00am|Friday Harbor Brickworks

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Fairhaven Winterfest

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Sumas Book Club

10:00am|Sumas Library

Mastering Wisteria

10:30am|Full Bloom Farm

Award-Winning Book Club

10:30am|Lynden Library

Snow Geese of Skagit

10:30am|Christianson's Nursery

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am| South Whatcom Library

Saltadena Celebration

11:00am|Saltadena Bakery

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

Holiday Craft Bazaars

11:30am

Holiday Maker's Market

12:00pm|Terramar Brewing and Distilling

Holiday Joy with Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Holiday Tea and Crafts

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Festive Feasting Reception

1:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Teen Art Fair

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Big Holiday reds tasting

2:00pm|eifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Shrinking the Worry Monster

2:00pm|Village Books

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

Bowman Bay Holiday

3:00pm|Bowman Bay

Noel Ensemble

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

A Deep Dive Into Eve Deisher's Psyche

3:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

One Meditation

4:00pm| Boulevard Park

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Early Railroads of Whatcom County

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Center Into Solstice

7:00pm|Cafe Blue

Holiday History Hi-Jinks

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Winter Solstice Concert with SeaMuse

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Cidertails with Alexine Langdon

7:30pm|housand Acre Cider House

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

The Kelley World Tour

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

see our complete calendar »