Posted by: sweeneyblog | February 15, 2015

Interviewing Mayor Kelli Linville

Mayor Kelli Linville

Mayor Kelli Linville

Last Tuesday, I sat down with Mayor Kelli Linville to discuss the pressing issues of the city. Linville is just finishing up her first term as mayor – a capstone to a long record of public service.

For several years, she was the state representative from the 42nd District, however the Tea Party wave in 2010 allowed newcomer (and rock-collecting enthusiast) Vincent Buys to oust Linville. Rather than simply return to her antique furniture business, Linville decided to run for Mayor of Bellingham barely edging past incumbent Dan Pike in a campaign that can at best be described as brutal.

Her administration has been marked by some dramatic movement on the Port, but also some sharp criticism over her struggles with the Roosevelt neighborhood, her support for Peacehealth’s $1.2 million tax exemption, and most recently, her proposed ordinances to address the homelessness in our downtown core.

Mayor Linville with her big board

Mayor Linville with her big board

Starting with this “street-sweeper” ordinance, Linville is quick to correct me that this is about “the homeless issue.” She said these two ordinances were developed by a community solutions work group, “that brought together non-likeminded  people to look at solutions that can be enacted quickly to address this problem.” This solutions work group included city staff, downtown business owners, mental health professionals and social service workers with the goal of creating a downtown that was safe and welcoming to all walks of life. The Cascadia Weekly did a great article this week summarizing all the city’s efforts to tackle homelessness in Bellingham.

“The real issue is the failure to respond,” Linville said. “When you or I get a ticket, we usually do something about it, but there is a certain group of people that don’t.” Last year, 376 citations were handed out downtown for drinking in public. Linville says that of those 376, 50-60 are chronic offenders. “There was no teeth in responding to ordinances . . . this would make sure that we can hold them accountable and give them an opportunity to hook them up with services.”

ferndale tank

Meanwhile the Ferndale Police bought a tank . . .

Linville ties it into police discretion. “Cops are able to use this, but they don’t have to. It just gives them another tool they can use.” In the wake of Ferguson, and more recently, Pasco, WA, police enforcement can be a hot button issue, but Linville sees our local police differently and took a rare swipe at City Councilmember Terry Bornemann.

“During the discussion (over the ordinances), Terry said that he doesn’t trust the police to use discretion. I’m a little saddened that he would say something that hurtful in public.”

Linville notes that she has complete confidence in the Bellingham police to do the right thing, noting the recent community and neighborhood policing efforts. “(The ordinance) was written broadly because not responding to law enforcement is not good, but I trust that they will only enforce this when they don’t respond.”

Noble intentions, but Linville readily admits that “the introduction of these (ordinances) was clumsy,” something for which she takes full responsibility. However, she is confident that these are the right solutions and will be supported by the council.

James St. Repairs

James St. Repairs

Moving right along, I asked about my current pet peeve, the closing of James Street. The project, which was started in August of 2014, was projected to be complete by November, yet here we are in mid February and it is still closed. Why is it closed, I ask. “I don’t know,” Linville sighs and I shoot her my best questioning eyebrow.

“Some of it was the weather, part of it is the public works director took his attention from the project to other issues.” Although she briefly reassures me that Public Works Director Ted Carlson is “wonderful” and that the street should be finished by the “end of February.”

I asked Linville point blank if she was running for reelection, she said yes without pause but asked that I sit on it till Friday (which I did) so she can send out an email to her supporters. “I feel really good about what we do. I have a good record and I’m proud of it.” She notes that I’m the first news person to ask her about reelection.

Circling back to the waterfront, Linville stresses that she is very happy with how it is going. “We have made more progress when I was mayor than any other mayor before.” She points to the signing of the plan in 2013 with the port as a big step forward but “everything takes longer than you think it will.” But she is crystal clear about the final goal. “We’ll get the clean up we’re asking for . . . we can’t give people access to contaminated soil. Nothing’s perfect but I can see the progress we are making.”

With that, we wrap up the interview. This will, hopefully, be a recurring feature. So if there are some questions that you want answered, leave them in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll go back to reading Sen. Doug Ericksen’s legislative proposals . . . blech.



  1. So Kelli Linville is “sad” that Terry Bornemann had the temerity to talk about police discretion at a public meeting. She said it was “hurtful.”

    I’ll tell you what hurtful is, Kelli. Hurtful is when you get your head cracked by a policeman, or arrested for sitting, or shot dead when you are unarmed.

    Obviously Kelli Linville lives in a fuzzie-wuzzie world populated by unicorns and gumdrop trees.

    • Yeah, Ted Carlson is wonderful. That says it all.

  2. Walter, that is exactly what make me choke as well. Council Member Bornemann is an elected official acting on behalf of the public. If he has concerns about the police which make him react negatively to proposed legislation, (and considering the fact that his day time job gives him personal knowledge that most of us lack, and that he is usually one of the strongest supporters of the administration), I would expect him to express those concerns publicly. Thankfully, he did. That fact that Linville does not want these things discussed publicly should be a matter of grave concern to all residents. The Linville administration has been marked by back room deals, and some weird cultural phenomenon that I do not understand where the public is afraid of publicly criticizing her. (Isn’t it odd (and creepy) that there are no comments to this story beyond Walter’s?)

    My name is Wendy Harris.

    • All of these Whatcom County mayors are similar… Gary Jensen is the Kelli Linville of Ferndale.

      “Starting with this “street-sweeper” ordinance, Linville is quick to correct me that this is about “the homeless issue.” She said that these two ordinances were developed by a community solutions work group, “that brought together non-likeminded people to look at solutions that can be enacted quickly to address this problem.” This solutions work group included city staff, downtown business owners, mental health professionals and social services with the goal of creating a downtown that was safe and welcoming to all walks of life.”

      Having police go out and harass (or even kill or seriously injure) homeless people is NOT the solution to any sort of “homeless problem.” She wants to look at “solutions” to address the “problem.” Well, the people of Bellingham should look at the real “problem.” The REAL problem is that they have a mayor that doesn’t care about the well-being of residents of Bellingham that have it hard enough already, and the last thing they need is to have police harassing/ injuring them (and that their mayor goes about these strange ideas through corruption). In fact, this specific ordinance doesn’t only inappropriately hurt the homeless in Bellingham, but everyone else, because their tax dollars are being wasted on jail space for the people who are wrongly arrested. This ordinance does NOT sound like it will create a “downtown that was safe and welcoming to all walks of life.” I am also skeptical on whether mental health professionals were involved (like Kelli Linville said). My dad is a mental health professional that works right in the middle of downtown Bellingham, and he was not involved in any sort of “solutions work group.” I think that saying mental health professionals were involved was just a way to get support for this ordinance. And people aren’t flocking to support this anyway. So far, I have heard very little support for this, rightfully so.

      There is still hope; the 2015 election will be here before we know it, and then will come the new mayor.

      • Whoops, I didn’t mean that comment to be in direct reply to Wendy’s.

      • “This solutions work group included city staff, downtown business owners, mental health professionals and social services” Therein lies the rub. A few ordinary citizens from the neighborhood(s) might have given the work group a dose of reality. Maybe even a homeless person or two could have been found to add that perspective. All the homeless are not mentally ill or on drugs.

  3. OUT WITH LINVILLE! She failed the 12 steps program.

  4. A good deal of our behavior and beliefs are dictated by unspoken social norms. I think the Linville interview reveals things I have observed about Hamster culture generally. First, there is the concept that disagreeing with someone openly and directly is unacceptable, but talking about people behind their back is acceptable. This is really unhealthy for our community, and we need to learn to have disagreements publicly and constructively, without making it personal. By telling us that Bornemann’s attempt to do so was hurtful, Linville is reinforcing this social norm, most likely without being aware of it.

    The second social norm reinforced is that government is based on trust. The opposite is true. Good governance is based on separation of powers, and clear, specific regulations and policies that remove individual discretion and subjective application of the law. The law must be applied consistently against all citizens, regardless of the situation. Where the law allows the use of subjective interpretation, strong guidelines and policies must be in place so that there is always a basis for public accountability. Personal relationships are not an appropriate basis for governance. Whether we like and/or trust someone does not change these facts. There is far, far to much talk about “trust” at city and county council meetings and I hope people will remember that it is more important to have local government be accountable, transparent, and consistent over long periods of time when there is a turn over of city employees and loss of institutional knowledge.

    (These few concerns are not a specific criticism of Linville because they are widespread, but I thought this interview provided a good example.)

    • Yes, Wendy, you are absolutely correct. I worked as a volunteer at the Bellingham Police Department for 6-7 years. Most of the mid-level officers at the time I started are now part of the senior staff. I know and trust them but who will replace them in the future?

      The problem also is that the public does not have information about the department’s rules on enforcement of various statutes. We know little or nothing about policies related to the license plate readers, the body cams, automatic weapons and other equipment such as the armored “rescue” vehicle. Like you, I am not calling our police to task. By and large they operate well but this is no guarantee for the future when who-knows-who will be leading the department and Chief Cook and Mayor Linville are long gone.

  5. I wonder if the Mayor of Pasco trusted the police to “use discretion.”

  6. Considering the tactics used by the Bellingham Police to remove Occupy Bellingham from Maritime Heritage Park, I have reason to be skeptical that the Bellingham Police will choose the humane approach to problem resolution.

  7. I’ll pipe up in defense of Terry, too. A councilmember raises concerns about contested legislation which gives an enormous amount of discretion to local law enforcement. That is him doing his job. And apparently our Mayor think’s shutting down any dialogue that challenges the status quo (violence) is her job. Our police department may very well be ‘above average’ at not abusing poor people, people of color or homeless individuals, but since they don’t collect any data on it, her assertion remains tidily anecdotal.

  8. Worth reading

    • Thanks, Doug. It is a good read with the items gaining the most legislative attention being far down the list. Criminalizing more things is not a solution.

  9. Let’s get real:

  10. […] I posted the interview but the timing looked TERRIBLE so I pulled it down. For those of you who thought I was too generous to him, my interviews tend to be rather gracious profiles, no matter the subject (see Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, Ken Bell, Kelli Linville). […]

  11. […] […]

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