Before we begin, I have a quick announcement. If you are interested in the proposed jail, I highly recommend you attend the Whatcom County Council meeting at 7 p.m. this Tuesday. Bill Elfo and Jack Louws will be introducing their chosen jail property, (documented here) and their chosen jail planner, and giving the public and the council a chance to comment. I plan to attend, speak and report on it here.
For the last week, I have been examining emails I received through a public records request concerning the proposed jail. Amid the myriad day to day business correspondence, there were lengthy back and forth’s about what the criteria should be to judge the properties (here’s how they rated their current choice), discussions about what questions to ask the jail planners and a great deal of logistical planning on how to get Bill Elfo to and from various speaking commitments about the jail. Most the material was rather uncontroversial, just what you would expect as the slow process moves forward. However, there were a few points of interest.
Public Safety Now (PSN), the community group made up of Elfo’s reelection campaign that is cranking up the pressure to build a large jail, seems thoroughly entwined with the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s department allowed them to use the taxpayer-funded booth at the Lynden fair to campaign for a new jail. He tapped several members of the PSN to become members of the Law and Justice Advisory Committee, and then, after having to skip a meeting because most advisory committee members were busy with PSN business, Elfo decided to just merge the public and private groups into one.
Most troubling is that this group plans to fund their advocacy efforts by soliciting vendors of the current jail. They intend to raise $10,000 from these businesses that buy from, and sell services to, the current facility. As outlined in the minutes from their June 7th meeting this year, “Fund raising: Our budget is $10K. We discussed asking for corporate donations. It was suggested that we send a letter to correction vendors. Bruce will immediately send a letter to Wendy asking for a vendors list. Public interest groups should also be solicited. Volunteers are funding this effort so far.”
This strikes me as a serious ethical concern. If I were one of those businesses, and the sheriff’s personal pet project contacted me and asked for a donation, I would wonder what effect this would have on my contracts next year.
Finally, I stumbled across a screenshot of my own facebook page in Elfo’s email box. Apparently, Clayton Petree had seen a discussion on my facebook wall about the new jail and sent it to the sheriff’s private email account. One of the other people he forwarded it to didn’t notice it had already been sent to Elfo, so they forwarded it to Elfo’s county email address, which is how I got my hands on it. I was unable to find any response from Elfo to Petree concerning me.
That’s it for now on all the ground breaking revelations, but there were some minor things that stood out. When Dan Pike published his pretty decent editorial in the Bellingham Herald about the jail, Bill Elfo, Bruce Ayers and Mike Johnson (at the City of Bellingham) all emailed each other to call Pike a liar (“full of miss-information”, “not wholly accurate”, and “made no sense”). Elfo then spent a great deal of time crafting an editorial response, which went up in August, and makes the case that video conferencing allows for the jail to be built out in the county.
The other thing that cropped up is Dewey Dessler’s omnipresence. For those of you who don’t know, Dewey Dessler has been involved in county government since before the invention of email, having served as the number two under Pete Kremen for most of his terms in office. Dessler has been the subject of some criticism and, in many circles, there was celebration as people hoped Kremen would take Dessler with him when he left office . No such luck. Dessler stayed on, after initially retiring, to help Louws craft the budget. In addition, he seems to be deeply involved in many different spheres with the county executive. I would often find him cc-ed on emails, or his materials (like his plan to pay for the jail) would show up in lots of places. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, it is just an impressive testament to the bureaucratic chops of Dewey Dessler.