Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 7, 2013

Liveblogging the Human Services Forum

I am delighted to discover that the Bellingham Municipal Court has reliable wifi! So, coming to you live from Downtown Bellingham, here is the Human Services forum. So far, the only candidate no-show is Michelle Luke. Here opponent, Carl Weimer, is looking quite sharp in his tie. For some reason, I’m feeling very fashion conscious today.

First off the bat is Kathy Kershner and Barry Buchanan. Kershner gives her usual boilerplate but Buchanan gives what can ironically called a trainwreck of an opening statement. Starting out citing his work on Trident submarines, he then does an awkward segue into a mention about jobs and the growth management act. Buchanan, despite looking very professional today, is jittery and nervous.

I'm filing this liveblog with random photos of candidates

I’m filing this liveblog with random photos of candidates

Kershner and Buchanan go back and forth about why people move to Whatcom County. Buchanan comes out swinging – using the first question to pivot to a discussion about the Catholic Community Services project, highlighting his support for the proposal that was shot down by the County Council this year. Kershner responds by pointing to a veterans support program, she begins to respond about the Catholic Community Services project but is cut off before she can get to the point.

The next question is about the evils of payday lenders and check cashing services. “The first thing we need to do is fold people into our community, so that they have access to education, services and jobs.” Buchanan says. “If we can find jobs, they can rebuild their lives so they can get out of that cycle.” Kershner talks about the systemic approach. “When people take out a payday loan, they did not just get there one day. They failed at several failures to get to that point.”

Moving along, it is time for Ken Mann and Ben Elenbaas. Mann opens with his local credentials. “This is my home. I’m raising my children here. I own a business here, and I love it here.”

Buchanan gets my NAMI award today, calling for funding for mental health funding, as well as drug prevention and domestic violence prevention. Kathy Kershner has taken some heat for slashing domestic violence prevention funds while on the council.

SIDENOTE: You can watch all the fun online here

Buchanan just revealed that he owns a turtle, but brings it back with a call for increasing our funding for the Food Bank. Kershner responds “If we don’t spend the money on the animal control services. There is a good program and system for the food banks and it has been a success over these last four years.” Kershner voted to slash $80,000 from the Bellingham Food Bank in her first year on the council.

We come to the jail – the question frames it as two competing proposals between a 521 jail and a 649 jail. Buchanan comes out in favor of mental health court and supporting a mental health triage center to help handle the mentally ill. Kershner is in favor of the larger facility but says that “we need to look at that sort of system to divert people from the jail system.”

Kershner makes an odd connection; If we have good jobs, and a healthy economy, we will not need as much social services. Does she believe that people commit crimes because they are starving? I suspect Kershner might believe we are living in a Charles Dickens novel . . .

Slaughterhouses? 80,000 acre upzone? Are you kidding me?

Slaughterhouses? 80,000 acre upzone? Are you kidding me?

Moving right along, it is time for Ken Mann and Ben Elenbaas. Mann highlights his local credentials, toting his endorsements and involvement with a wide range of organizations. Elenbaas stumbles through reading his statement – with long awkward pauses and a few restarts.

The question is about the increased demand for social services. Mann talks about the essential role education plays in promoting the economy – and the need to provide certainty in our regulations. “The rules need to be clear and consistent.” Elenbaas responds, “Government doesn’t create jobs, but it can destroy them in a hurry.” Elenbaas says that Mann’s votes don’t provide certainty in zoning. Mann, in his response says that we have fantastic partners in our community . . . and cites the Catholic Community Services. Shocking considering Mann’s vote against their proposal.

Elenbaas continues to take his slow plodding style into this debate. Personally, I’m just pleased to see Elenbaas showing up for a debate, after his repeated debate dodging. Mann highlights his votes to defend the WIC program in 2010 – “those are the kind of programs we need. I’ve always prioritized children.” Elenbaas responds, “I think that would be everyone’s priority.” Perhaps he could inform his fellow Republicans Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen, considering they both voted against that funding in 2010.

Local environmental champion and hopefully future state legislator Matt Krogh offers his two cents: “Is Ken Mann eating Elenbaas or just his lunch?” Elenbaas is really having trouble – barely making it through more than two sentences before halting but he does manage to call Mann out for voting against the Catholic Community Services project when he thinks they are so great and we need to have those resources downtown.

Elenbaas as Galactus

Elenbaas as Galactus

Mann responds that the details of the project were troubling and the proponents were unconcerned about the impacts on the neighbors. Elenbaas fires back that the Catholic Community Services don’t seem like people unconcerned with the community. How far down the rabbit hole are we when Ben Elenbaas is the advocate for common sense here? UPDATE: Ken Mann clarified his comments in the comments below. Thank you Ken!

Mann brings the fire on the Slaughterhouse question. “You are talking about allowing unlimited slaughterhouses across the county? That proposal?! That does not have anything to do with food security. We don’t need 88,000 acres of slaughterhouses to feed ourselves.” The audience is definitely chuckling – warm towards Mann, Elenbaas is having trouble connecting.

Elenbaas once again hits his themes of “Vote Local, Vote Farmer Ben.” Mann ties his opponent to the extreme tea partiers in Washington DC, calling for rational and responsible leadership.

Carl Weimer

I would like to respond to Mr. Weimer

Carl Weimer is mugging to the empty podium next to him. One answer in and Weimer is already coming off as the funnest candidate, comically squeezing whole ideas into one minute statements. I am once again blown away by his depth of policy expertise – name-checking a slew of programs and specific challenges facing each program.

And the moderator just asked Weimer to respond to himself . . . and he does! “I would just like to say that was an excellent response by Mr. Weimer,” The crowd cracks up. Weimer cites his job creating at the REStore, another contrast with his opponent.

Weimer gets the same question about the jail. “We really need to size the jail so that prioritize prevention over incarceration.” Weimer hits the key points about not imprisoning inmates for simply not making bail.

Weimer talks about his work funding the Food Bank. “We need to support the gleaning program. The County owns some property that could be potential farmland.” He closes out his statement talking about the huge issues coming down the pipeline; lake whatcom, the new jail and the coal port. “We need to elect people who will make fact and science based decisions.”

Rud Browne and Bill Knutzen are up now. Browne doesn’t mess around, cutting straight to his work creating over 360 jobs at Ryzex and how he will bring that experience to the County Council.

Rud Browne in Blaine

Browne on July 4th. So much Red White and Blue!

Knutzen is in full folksy mode – with his dashing sweater vest. No speech from Knutzen would be complete without a mention of his fourth generational status, but also gives a shout out to his foster kids.

At each iteration of the questions, the moderator asks if the candidate needs the question reread. Elenbaas and Kershner both mentioned their lack of reading glasses making it a little tricky. Knutzen makes a point to say, yes, he remembered his glasses. Oh the thrills of local election humor.

Browne, in a discussion about nutrition and hunger in Whatcom County, ties it to education once again mentioning illiteracy in our prisons. “These people didn’t go to jail and forget to read, we didn’t teach them as children to read. We are putting a bandaid on this problem at the end rather than tackling it early.”

Moderator, “We assume all candidates have specific ideas for job creation . . .” That is a bit of an assumption, but Browne is there driving towards our competitive advantage. “We have this thing that Walt Disney could never reproduce. We have a natural wonder here.”

Browne brings the fire, “I don’t know how many jobs you’ve personally created, Knutzen and maybe you can illuminate us, but I’ve created over 360 jobs. I know what I’m talking about.” Knutzen, “I’ve created lots of jobs, I’ve had employees over the last twenty years.” Um, say what?

Knutzen is a little rattled by the exchange. He starts talking about the contrast of cutting seniors out of our county budget but we can find the money to triple the size of our parks. Browne brings factoids, “Tourism creates over 5,000 jobs in our community. To think that the reconveyance is not supporting by the business community is just ridiculous.”

Are they arguing over his bald head?

Petree Versus Vargas (bald spot not included)

Browne brings it back to the number of jobs Knutzen has created, “I’m curious what sort of job creating experience you have and what you will bring to council.” Knutzen fires back, “I didn’t realize this was going to be an internal audit, if you want to know how many jobs I’ve created, I will have to ask the IRS.” Browne shot back, “I don’t have to ask the IRS to know how many jobs I’ve created.”

And we are on to the City Council campaigns. Pinky Vargas and Clayton Petree face off. Petree starts out declaring a “housing crises” in Bellingham and quotes the Cascadia Weekly. He is definitely swinging for the benches with this debate. “We need a city-wide coordinated effort to combat our housing and poverty challenges.”

Vargas brings her personal story into her opening remarks, talking about becoming self-sufficient at the age 16 before segueing to her support from a whole slew of organizations and “five of the sitting city councilmembers.”

Pinky offers up my favorite out of context quote, “These graphs are horrifying.” Also both of them passed on using their extra time when offered, very polite but very unusual for candidates.

The Political Junkie hams it up with Pinky Vargas

The Political Junkie hams it up with Pinky Vargas

Petree talks about the need for a plan for supportive housing for those with disabilities. Vargas echoes his call for a plan, working in a great call for supporting our seniors as part of her answer. Petree talks about the low vacancy rate – and how it drives up the cost for housing. Vargas points out that more housing is great but you need funding to do that.

Vargas calls for gardens at our schools as a way to teach agriculture and produce food. Both Petree and Vargas highlight how large a crowd this debate has drawn. There are around 70 people present, with 100 attending during the County Council debates. It is sad that this qualifies as a large crowd but that’s how it is.

Now it is time for the fireworks. Bob Burr and Roxanne Murphy square off and they come out with big grins. Murphy gives another shout out to Evergreen College (Go Geoducks!) and explains that while she has lots of personal experience with the difficult challenges facing our city, “But I’ve never been to jail!” Drawing contrast with Bob Burr as a member of the Bellingham Twelve.

Bob Burr

Bob Burr

Burr calls for more State and Federal funding for social programs while Murphy calls for more local control. The next question is about the criminalization of our homeless through vigorous enforcement of loitering laws. Burr talks about how troubling it is and ties it to the need for supportive housing. “The homeless need to be directed towards programs like that.” Murphy talks about her current work with the Nooksack tribe where there are hundreds of people looking for any sort of housing help. “We need to support that organizations that help with the mental wellness, whatever it is to create that stability so they don’t have to rely on the streets, they can rely on a job.”

Bob says the most blatant fib of the evening. “I’m a man of few words.” But he follows it up with an inconvertible truth, “I’m a liberal, love me!” Burr continues, “It is strange that everyone agrees that jobs, jobs, jobs is the answer but the problem is the jobs we bring in are not living wage jobs.”

The crowd has thinned out to around 50-60 people, but a few notables are still here. Sheriff Bill Elfo has sat through the whole thing, as well as conservative activist John Kirk, taking notes on some sort of awesome-looking mental clipboard. Burr takes a swing at the proposed bridge from Boulevard park to the Waterfront.

Burr gets ugly at the end. “I’ve lived her for fifteen years, she has lived her for two.” Murphy responds highlighting her 51% win in the primary and her support from a wide spread of organizations. “They support me because I will represent their diverse interests.”

That’s it for tonight! I apologize for all the misspellings. I blame Michelle Luke, because, you know, she wasn’t here fix my grammar. 



  1. Another nice piece of reporting, seasoned with humor and irony (as if these proceedings required the latter; they certainly benefit from the former). I particularly favor the para-logical construction offered by Mr. Elenbaas, to wit, “Government doesn’t create jobs, but it can destroy them in a hurry.” He must be channeling Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman here with solar flares further confusing the transmission.

    Looking forward, as always, to more!

  2. I neglected to affirm your endorsement of Carl’s succinct, informative and directed comments. An excellent choice for the position…if any of those points are relevant to local voters.

  3. Rud B. also seems informed, articulate, focused and coherent (in stark contrast to his opponent).

  4. Wasn’t familiar with Petree prior to this broadcast, but he seems to be knowledgeable and informed (and he can muster specific facts), as contrasted with the inane platitudes offered by “Pinky”.

  5. For me, the most memorable comment made tonight was from Rud Browne, “How can a child focus on studies with the pit in his stomach from hunger.” Properly pointing out that without assistance programs to feed hungry children (yes, right here in America), curriculum and the world’s best teachers become meaningless to the hungry student.

    • I agree, Steve. That was a spot-on comment and deserves emphasis. Rud Browne was quite impressive: command of the facts, concise presentation, focused and aware of the “big picture” (as are you).

  6. Hi,

    Just wondered if you are aware that there will be a “candidates night” forum at the Point Roberts Community Center this Wednesday night, Oct. 9th, 7 pm. I am not sure which county level candidates have agreed to participate. The forum is run by the PR Registered Voters Association, and the contact person there is their presidentElizabeth Lantz . There is WiFi in our Community Center, courtesy of Whatcom County Library System.

    Mark (360) 945-1357

    >________________________________ > From: The Political Junkie >To: >Sent: Monday, October 7, 2013 5:34 PM >Subject: [New post] Liveblogging the Human Services Forum > > > > >sweeneyblog posted: “I am delighted to discover that the Bellingham Municipal Court has reliable wifi! So, coming to you live from Downtown Bellingham, here is the Human Services forum. ” >

  7. I just wanted to mention that I wasn’t just pointing out a housing crisis to be dramatic. I was explaining that Bellingham officially declared an affordable housing emergency under a special state law, RCW 84.52.105. I pulled this from a site that explains it:

    In 1995, the Washington Legislature enacted RCW 84.52.105, which authorizes cities, counties and towns to impose an additional regular property tax levy up to fifty cents per thousand dollars of assessed value of property for up to ten consecutive years. The ability to impose a levy is contingent on a city, county or town declaring an emergency in respect to the availability of affordable housing.

    • Your presentation this evening was impressive. I assessed it in conjunction with Riley’s interview with you conducted in August, 2011 and I note his reservation regarding your positions: “…his thoughts of removing barriers to development makes me nervous.” I share the same concern. Perhaps you might occasion yourself of this opportunity to clarify (succinctly) your position on “development” in the city and in the county.

      • The kind of barrier we need to work on first I talk about here:
        Sending people back and forth between departments over street trees is, unfortunately, a barrier to development in Bellingham. Just this week I learned of a new sort of barrier: Sending people between departments over where lot access may occur. One department says it must be on the left side of the lot, another says no, it must be on the right. This person I met with has spent money and a very long time (many months) waiting for the city to tell him where he can enter the lot to a home he would like to build. That is a barrier to infill development as well.

  8. 3 things: Anyone who gives a shout out to Evergeen and has never been to jail doesn’t really support what Evergreen is about. 2. Why is Bob being mean when he points out how long each candidate has lived in Bellingham?

    And 3. I am as much for her opponent as anybody, but i don’t agree with you when you said “Kershner makes an odd connection; If we have good jobs, and a healthy economy, we will not need as much social services. Does she believe that people commit crimes because they are starving? I suspect Kershner might believe we are living in a Charles Dickens novel . . .” She is right about a healthy economy and good jobs (i would add at a living wage) would have us having less of a need for social services, and yes, lessen crime. We may not be living in a Diskensian dystopia, but the gap between rich and poor and the capitalist system which causes it, is still alive and well.

    • As an Olympia native, I agree with the sentiment behind your first statement. For number three, I agree that a stronger economy lessens some of our need for social services but most of the people in jail are there because of they committed a crime, not just because they are poor, although a significant number of people are there because they can’t make bail. I just felt like Kershner was approaching the issue as if people are in jail because they were stealing food because they are so hungry, it felt simplistic and not at all realistic.

      • Riley, just pointing out that you elided Dean’s Point 2. That’s OK. We all have our jobs to do.


      • You are quite right – I guess a fairer note would be that I felt it was a cheap shot.

  9. Riley – well done. I would like to ask you why my praise for Catholic Community Services is shocking? They do wonderful things in this community. Yes, I voted against one CHS project in 4 years while funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to them for other items. CCS/CHS are excellent organizations, but not infallible. I am glad they are here and grateful for their service to our community – but one project has some flaws that were never addressed. Please don’t mistake the vote against one project as a vote against CCS overall.

    • That is a great clarification of your vote, I’ll link it in the text above.

  10. Thank you, Dean. As I got to the end of Riley’s narrative, I too was surprised and perplexed by his characterization of me as getting “ugly”. Roxanne Murphy of course never mentions that she has only lived in Bellingham for two years and has never worked here. Smart, because many people would doubt whether such a person could adequately understand things and represent them well. I think the contrast between my 18 (not 15 years) and her two years is relevant. It is not like I called her “a carpetbagger” I think Roxanne’s comment “about never having been to jail” was both funny and relevant, but “uglier” than my simple comparison.

    I am not ashamed of my participation in a peaceful coal protest on City property at the C St crossing. The arrest of the twelve of us was both unnecessary and unlawful. And, it was costly. The overnight incarceration was also costly and unnecessary. I am grateful for my stay, however, because it sensitized me to the disgracefully inhumane conditions at our County Jail. The place is a deathtrap, but not all of the inhumanity is facility related. Some of it is Staff related. Working at the jail cannot be easy duty, and I can understand why it causes some to act like goons; but, I can in no way condone it. I’m sorry that Sheriff Elfo became so upset when I characterized a good number of the jail deputies that way at the only EIS hearing on the jail, but that it my perception–one shared by most others who have spent time there.

  11. Thanks for being there and getting information to people on the slide toward using taxpayer dollars to fund an expandable sprawl inducing jail/prison complex out in the county, rather than using what the county already owns to build in Bellingham where the infrastructure including lawyers, courts bail bonding and the hospital are. And what about funding for mental health triage and followup by professionals and drug court/diversion and re-entry programs located outside the jail? All of that planning needs to be public and done before ground is broken in Ferndale.

  12. Riley,
    Thanks for the liveblog. I was in the same room as you, but I’m not sure we always saw the same event!

    I did not see anything “ugly” in Bob Burr’s mentioning experience in the community. A track record is important- how else can voters truly calibrate a candidate’s statements and claims?

    Example: Had I not witnessed almost four years of seeing Kathy Kershner fight any funding that would help the unfortunate in our community, then I might have been lulled by her soothing social-worker-speak at the forum. Had I not known that Kathy was an enthusiastic supporter of Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney, they of Ryan Budget fame, then I might be vulnerable to believing or at least hoping that she has a coherent commitment to the unfortunate. Only a candidate’s track record allows the discerning voter to separate PR from reality.

    Example: In his 2011 reelection, when Maginis almost unseated him, Sam Crawford’s campaign literature featured glossy brochures about his commitment to a clean environment and preserving Whatcom’s great farming resource. I am sure that many voters who do not follow County issues might have gotten a warm and fuzzy feeling from that material. I did not get that fuzzy vibe, though. I had watched Sam’s record unfold, and the brochure caused just cognitive dissonance.

    Example: Ben Elenbaas has successfully packaged himself as a nice organic farmer, tapping into the goodwill of people who should know better but who are unaware of his egregious record on Whatcom Planning Commission. But I have been to enough of his Mad Hatter sessions (Commission meetings) to know what a boor and a bully he can be. Organic or not, there is nothing “nice” about the candidate’s calibration in my mind.

    You do not have to have held prior elective office to have a track record- there are other venues for building a community track record. For example, Stan Snapp had already done a lifetime of community volunteer service when he ran for City Council; he was well calibrated by the discerning voter.

    Similarly, when Catherine Chambers ran for City Council, she had not previously held elective office, but she already had an ample track record of community involvement.

    Having hired several people during my career, I am humbled by how incredibly hard it is to assess a prospective employee in lieu of a track record, and that when I’ve substituted hope for evidence, I’ve often ultimately been disappointed. Isn’t assessing a candidate more or less comparable to a hire? (“Hope and Change”, anyone?)

    So, no, I do not have any problem with Bob’s allusion to experience. It was not a curmudgeonly or unkind remark- it was simple realism. He was not being meanspirited, although you may have heard it as such. I hope that his opponent, if elected, will turn out to be a splendid public servant, a truly wonderful community leader. But at this time she has no local track record, and hence I lack enough hard data with which to calibrate my hope.

    Abe Jacobson

    • I agree that track record is important and I appreciate all those great comments. I just felt like Bob’s comment came off as pretty harsh – but as Bob pointed out, so did Roxanne’s mention of going to jail. Local involvement is important – and seeing the good work coming out of the Nooksack tribe thanks to Roxanne’s efforts, I am sure she will bring that same quality to the City Council, but I can understand some hesitation.

  13. […] working for Carl Weimer at the Pipeline Safety Trust. He is thorough, knowledgeable and at times, amusingly cantankerous. From his roots creating jobs in Whatcom County by founding the REStore, to his tireless […]

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