Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 3, 2012

Inside Bill Elfo’s Email Box

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.

Elfo at his desk

Elfo at his desk

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.

Oh look! It's me!

Oh look! It’s me!

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.

Dewey Dessler

Dewey Dessler

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.



  1. If there’s one thing we know about Elfo, ethics aren’t his strong suit evidenced by court rulings against his office where taxpayers funded the results of his mendacity.

  2. @ Riley – Yes, I did forward that off to a few people I worked with during the campaign as I would expect you would for anyone you supported. After all, the facebook posting was by Steve Harris, a former and potential future rival.

    I am not involved with Public Safety Now.

    • I figured as much. I often share with my less facebook literate friends when I see something odd. I don’t blame your or bear you the slightest ill will. It was more surprising than alarming. 🙂

    • No it’s still creepy.

  3. If I were just a candidate (like Clayton) with no current ties to the Sheriff’s Office it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning. However, considering Elfo is still my boss and the election (in which I was a candidate) was over a year ago, I also find it a bit “creepy”.

    Perhaps, I should be flattered to know that my personal observations about the jail process are worth “watching”.

  4. Harris,

    What a dippy, self serving comment… You were running for office then… Of course your opinions on various issues would bear consideration while you are running for office… Don’t be coy… it is beneath you… A candidate running for office needs to know everything possible about his or her opponent… are you saying you didn’t care what your opponent might think? Give me a break… Riley is a political consultant. If you were his client he’d kick your butt if you didn’t track opponent opinions… If he didn’t he wouldn’t be worth the money you paid him, assuming he were your consultant…

    • Okay, several things wrong with this comment. This screen shot was taken a couple months ago, not back in 2011 when Harris was running. Harris was not “running for office then”.

      Also, I agree that it is important to keep appraised of what a political candidate is saying, but capturing an idle conversation of little import a whole year after losing a lopsided election seems a little over the top. I don’t blame Harris for finding it creepy.

      • Oh goody, then you don’t mind any of us finding it creepy since it was done behind the back and not fessed-up to until it was discovered. On another note, I wouldn’t say anyone is dippy unless I was one-O’-those denigrating types that Righties always whine about.

  5. Thanks, Riley, (a) for requesting this material and (b) poring over it as mundane as it may be. As I expected, there seems to be no there, there for the citizenry to get roiled about.

    I just want to see the jail constructed soon and the current hellhole.firetrap abandoned. I know it is too much to hope, but I would also like to see the attitudes of many of the deputies working there change. Too many see their role as making jail as unpleasant of an experience as possible–treatment that should not be extended to any human let alone those presumed to be innocent.

    • I would like to say, I found the possible ethics issue of the PSN and Sheriff’s office sharing resources troubling. I’m sure the Whatcom Excavator would be spiting fire if the Parks Department let RESources share their booth at the fair.

      • I’m sure it would as well. I am glad that the Sweeneyblog is merely troubled. Spitting fire is a bad thing, but my mother always told me that sharing was a good thing.

  6. […] can find the numbers I used here). Two members of the Public Safety Now group, that organization made up of many of Elfo’s campaign volunteers that has been cranking up the volume for a large jail, decided to speak after me saying that I was […]

  7. As I noted above…Thanks Riley for keeping on top of this continual effort to keep needed public information and inclusion from getting in the way of getting what the (bigger, better, jail/prison) proponents are hoping for in the name of efficiency (?). When I heard during the Council meeting that the Seattle based jail planner was with an INTERNATIONAL company that BUILDS PRISONS, my neck hairs rose . I believe a low rise jail can be built in Bellingham using property above and below ground we have now and it need not wait for the longer processes that will continue to delay getting those sad folks, including staff out of that pit.

  8. […] the Sheriff chose his former campaign chair Bruce Ayers (in his role as head of Elfo’s faux-community group, Public Safety Now) and the police chief of Ferndale, Michael […]

  9. […] some elected officials do that – I’ve had my facebook page end up in the Sheriff’s email box and I know another public official that angrily emailed anyone who reposted my blog post critical […]

  10. […] Speaking of people who are always around, Jack Louws is asking the County Council to fund Dewey Dessler’s continued role in the County Executive office. When Pete Kremen retired as County Executive, his right-hand man, Dewey Dessler, announced that he would also retire. […]

  11. […] The central charge of the lawsuit is that Sheriff Elfo fired Deputy Paul Murphy because Murphy supported Elfo’s opponent, Detective Steve Harris for Sheriff. Murphy ran a facebook page called, “Boot Bill Elfo” but now titled “Bill Elfo’s Scribe” which aired a great deal of dirt from within the department, including sexual harassment charges that were allegedly swept under the table and ridiculously photoshopped images. I know that Elfo is fan of facebook since last time I did a public records request, I found a screenshot of my facebook page in his inbox. […]

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