We passed laws to bring sunshine and transparency into the actions and decisions of our government. With narrow exceptions, decisions must occur in open meetings. Public records are subject to examination. These requirements serve the interests of people of every persuasion.
We were shocked again when the Council informed the County Auditor on August 20th that it had filed with her the wrong draft of the ordinance and sent a new one. Apparently, they too were not sure what they were voting on. Haste makes waste!
The Council majority also specified the general layout of district lines, instead of leaving that the duty of the bipartisan Districting Committee under the County Charter.
The Review Commission rejected the five-district proposal by a super-majority vote of 11-4. But one day later, the County Council enacted its five-district proposal, after only 14 days of public review, only to switch the version that it was voting on at the last minute. Most people could not tell what the Council was actually voting on. So much for transparency and having respect for a Charter review process that has worked well for four decades.
- The Charter amendment language the Council is putting before the voters says, “The approximate geographic areas covered by each district are anticipated to be:
District 1 – Central and South Bellingham
District 2 – North Bellingham…” etc.
But the Council’s ordinance directs that each district “shall contain” the communities they selected for their five districts. This is bait and switch politics.
- The driving forces behind the Council’s scheme appear to be political operative Lisa McShane and ReSources, an environmental activist group that receives grants from the County, with a subgroup they created called Fair and Equal Whatcom. Their website’s frequently asked questions, state the following:
“Who decides where the five districts are?
“…While a redistricting committee will adjust the lines to make sure they’re equal, the districts themselves are described in the County Council ordinance…” [Emphasis added].
So the puppet-masters agree the Council-members are drawing up their own safe districts.
- Even Council-member Ken Mann, a proponent of the Council’s scheme, was worried about interfering with an independent Districting Committee. In an email exchange with McShane discovered through public records requests, Mann wrote:
“It’s going to be a tricky operation to get this crafted. We are creating two new districts – do the 5 new districts have to be defined in the ballot proposal? That’s impossible to do now – it would have to be done by a districting commission of some kind, no?”
Three days later, Mann wrote to McShane: “We don’t want to end up in court and lose over a technicality.”
- In teeing-up the Council’s proposal, Mann told McShane:
“Bottom line, let’s hear from the proponent (does it HAVE TO BE ReSources?) via email not later than June 22, so that we can introduce it on the 23rd, vote on July 7th (and I will still be here!).
“I think we can avoid or inoculate ourselves from a lot of griping if we have somebody more benign propose it to us. Perhaps a Charter Review Commissioner? Perhaps an interested observer?” [Former Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas presented the idea to the Council.]
Mann also told McShane that “we may need…possibly my in-person persuasive powers on Barbara”, a reference to Council-member Barbara Brenner, who wound up voting for the proposal.
Under state law, Mann had to make these email disclosures. But in doing so, he said “…it won’t look great for me…”
To add insult to open government, the Council voted at its July 7th meeting to place another Charter amendment on the agenda for a future meeting, but the next day voted behind the scenes, out of public view, to kill the measure. This, we allege, violates state law requiring votes to be taken in public meetings.