Tuesday, February 13, 2018

It's time to acknowledge how messed up the Thurston Conservation District is and you should vote to change that

This is not the blog post you were looking for if you're looking for the entire story behind what's going on at the Thurston Conservation District.

I've been hearing about this on-going train wreck of a story through second-hand accounts and snippets I could find in the official record for months. And there is totally enough here for a real reporter to dig into. And I've been hoping for the adults in the room to take over.

But, in the last few weeks, the district dumped a bunch of draft meeting minutes onto their website, giving a more complete picture of the dysfunction over at the TCD. So, I'm going to take a shot at giving you a picture of what's going on.

Also, Dani Madrone and I will interview Joel Hansen, an associate (non-voting) board member of TCD, on The Olympia Standard at the end of this week.

Lastly, while there is some diagonal overlap between my professional work and this topic, this blog post in no way represents the opinions of anyone I work for. It's all me.

Here is the too long, didn't read of the situation: somewhere in the last year, the board of the TCD decided they wanted to change how they funded most of the functions of the district. This is a complicated process in the best of times. But in the meantime, they decided to not re-up the method of funding they did not prefer (as assessment) while they prepared the new method (fees and charges system). Actually, the new system wouldn't even be submitted to Thurston County until May of this year, at best. So, as of January 1, the district lost 40 percent of its funding. Additionally, the dysfunction on the board (which you can read about below) has further slowed the process. Because these obviously aren't the best of times for TCD.

Some state-level organizations have taken notice of what is going on. The state Recreation and Conservation Office (which works with TCD on salmon recovery projects) shot off a letter basically telling TCD to stay in their lane.

The state Conservation Commission, which oversees all local conservation commissions, began threatening consequences in November if the dysfunction didn't tamp down.

So, what dysfunction?

Here's the bullet list put together by the state conservation commission in the letter linked to above:

The state Conservation Commission has the power to remove board members of local conservation districts and will at least start considering removing board members from TCD soon. The state commission recently gave their executive director the authority to "issue a notice of a hearing to each supervisor of the Thurston Conservation District regarding removal of supervisors under RCW 89.08.200."

One example of board members behaving badly is described by  one of the staff members from the State Conservation Commission when he laid into the board during the November 21 meeting:

Another is a how the board has been limiting public comment, seemingly to people they like. 

During their December meeting, the board allowed one member of the public to take up all five minutes of public comment. That's all they had allotted, five minutes. And, if one person took it all up, then everyone else would have to give it in writing. Now, it really is up to a board of a commission how they handle public comment. But there's an issue of fairness here. If you only have five minutes, then why let one person take it all? And, if you're going to let one person talk, then why not let other people get up and talk? Most local boards I've either served on or witnesses allow anyone to come and speak, but they've put a limit on the individual speakers' time. Anyway, as you can see from below, this didn't go over well.

From the December board meeting minutes:

In this particular meeting, the board ended up relenting, but it still looks pretty bad that people from the audience had to essentially shame them into letting everyone talk. It is worth pointing out that the one person they did allow to step up and speak (Joe Hanna) has had at different times interjected into board discussions during the meeting. Also in my experience, this isn't a normal practice either.

Also, apparently, no one at the conservation district was signing checks so they weren't even paying rent (again from the December meeting):

So what you can do right now to voice your desire for change at the conservation district is vote before March 3. The last day to request an absentee ballot is February 28.

There's an open seat on the board which is being filled by probably the weirdest election you'll ever vote in. There's no mail-in ballot, you have to work directly with the conservation district to vote. It used to be that you had to go to the district office, but now you can go online and directly request an absentee ballot.

The League of Women Voters are also holding a forum tonight on Tuesday, February 13 for several of the candidates.


Mark Messinger said...

Voters new to all things TCD must now choose between the three candidates vying for the one empty seat. Official statements from the candidates are at https://www.thurstoncd.com/about-us/board-member-elections/2018-candidate-statements/ but there is (so far as I have found) woefully little online information, comparing or endorsing any of these candidates. I'd certainly be interested in reading comments regarding a specific candidate.

Thad Curtz said...

If you care about environmental issues, vote for Paul Pickett.

Deane said...

Truly astonished at how corrupt the so-called leaders of the Thurston conservation district appear to be... What's really going on here? What's their agenda? Why won't anyone state their agenda in clear terms?

Is the person who is suppose to sign checks for the district refusing to do so because that person is part of the new right-wing takeover of county leadership? Or is there more to it than that?

Also, is this election method even legal? I followed all the instructions, voted for Paul Picket and printed up my ballot at FedEx store for $.050 and now the instructions say to spend another $0.50 on this supposed free and fair election? Does anyone know what is really going on here?

Seems I need to file a complaint with state elections commission? Has anyone looked into that yet? Who can we complain to and how to best do that? As in how and who do we complain to at all state levels to ensure the overseer of conversation districts in the state experiences overwhelming and unprecedented public pressure to roll heads in Thurston Conservation district?

I don't even know where to begin? The level of corruption/stupidity in everything this link offered is so confusing... Who's working on this? How can we help organize and inform a massive public backlash of these fake leaders/destroyers who seem to want to run the conservation district into the ground and destroy it? Is that really their objective?

Awaiting more info, Deane

Emmett said...

Hey Deane,

Yes, the election is legal. The district explains how this election is different than nearly every other election in Washington here: https://www.thurstoncd.com/about-us/board-member-elections/elections-faqs/