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
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

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Due East

July 3, 2019

Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

Fall Lynden Craft and Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center


7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Anacortes Vintage Market's Evergreens and Icicles

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Scream Fair's Camp Fear

7:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre


7:30pm|Upfront Theatre


8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Blaine Senior Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Orca Recovery Day Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack River

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Yoga and Detox

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Blanchard Beast Trail Race

9:00am|Blanchard Forest Lower Trailhead

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Steam Expo

10:00am|Lynden Middle School

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Fall Festival

11:00am|Camp Korey

Kraut-chi Ferment Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Winter Warmth Drive and Pickup

11:00am|Assumption Church Gym

Art Therapy Workshop

1:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Telling Tough Stories

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fables and Tales Upcycle Runway Challenge

6:00pm|Settlemeyer Hall

Concrete Ghost Walk

6:00pm|Concrete Theatre

Brew on the Slough

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Civic Way Sportsplex

How I Learned I'm Old

7:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to the River Live

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Skagit Symphony presents Highland Heritage

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Trails to Taps Relay

9:00am|Depot Market Square

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Wild Mushroom Show

12:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Harvest Festival

1:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

What If We All Bloomed?

4:00pm|Village Books

Murder Mystery Dessert Theater

6:00pm|Christ Fellowship Church

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Housing Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Northwest Paella

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op


7:00pm|Alternative Library


9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »