Have you ever wondered where all of the money goes that you and the rest of the nation freely provide to our government? You hear all kinds of stories of the bridges to nowhere, extravagant agency parties, and overpriced muffins. Well, the following is an example of that very same type of spending going on in Whatcom County.
Have you ever heard of the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP)? Well, PSP is a Non-Government Organization that was charged “by Governor Gregoire and the Legislature… to create a real Action Agenda that turns things around and leads to a healthy Puget Sound”. The PSP states that it “is a community effort of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists and businesses working together to restore and protect Puget Sound”.
Here in Whatcom County the PSP and our county government are financing a special group of people called the Whatcom Integration Team (WIT) with our money to “clean up and protect Puget Sound”. Having attended the second in a series of up to eight monthly meetings between November of 2012 and June of 2013, the pointless spending and the planned continuum of spending was obvious. There were 17 individuals siting at the table and an additional 3 sitting away from the table for a total of 20. When you assume an hour travel time to and from the two hour meeting it adds up to 60 man-hours of work. If you also assume a very conservative average wage $50.00 per hour, that is about $3,000.00 per meeting and a total of $24,000 for all of the planned meetings. Add into this the cost of the contracted meeting facilitator. The County Executive just recently increased the contract value for this person an addition $90,000 for a total of approximately ???.
A second and somewhat unexpected sign of the wanton spending was the open comments by participants that they needed to make sure that they structured the meetings results to identify the best outcomes to assure their ability to obtain additional grant moneys from the government. It is also noted that the meeting schedule (interestingly called a “roadmap”) shows that for Meeting #5 (in March) the “members consider options for criteria for grant funding purposes”. One can draw their own conclusions from this type of thinking, but to us it is wasteful thinking and not necessarily keeping with any concept of reduced government and reduced spending.
The third indication of this fanciful and unnecessary over-spending only proposition was the makeup of the meeting members. The members are from our county and city planning staff, from Ecology, from the tribes, from the Whatcom Land Trust, from Farm Friends and from various other resource groups and non-profit organizations. Where are the citizens and business representation that were identified in the PSP community effort? Where are the local experts from the water, farming and timber industries? Where are the other private business interests? Where are the property owners whose fates are being determined by this unofficial and non-binding non-government organizational “Team”?
Finally, the meeting provided the cover for an outcome that could surely have been determined by even the very minimally informed progressive thinker. The first meeting identified the ecosystem the members wanted to include, the services or things that the ecosystem may provide for, the pressures or threats that society places on these ecosystem services, and the community values and attributes that are part of the ecosystems. Wow, is that a mouthful! As an example, forests are an ecosystem. Biodiversity is a service for this ecosystem. One of the pressures or threats to this service is recreational activities while recreation is also an example of a community value or attribute. The meeting facilitator had organized all of this information into 10 separate ecosystems, 12 services, 16 pressures and 20 values. These items were divided into two separate tables that each shared the ecosystems on the horizontal axis and the ecosystem services on the vertical axis. One table identifies the community attributes for each ecosystem or ecosystem service and the second table identifies the pressures on each of the ecosystem or ecosystem service (refer to the WIT Tables) (pdf). After the first hour of the meeting the members had pretty much agreed on the tables with a few additions to both the community values and to the pressures. The facilitator pointed out that the local community “visioning” results were reviewed to assure that nothing had been overlooked. (Let’s make sure we cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s.)
During the second hour of the meeting, the members were given two sets of four each individual sticky notes. The members were instructed to use these pads to help determine the priorities of the community attributes listed on one whiteboard, and the separate attributes for the pressures as listed on a second whiteboard. Those values and pressures that received the most sticky notes would have the highest priorities. Well, who could have guessed the outcome from such a Delphi experience? Lo and behold, the top three community values were sustainability, green infrastructure, and quality of life respectively. The top three pressures were climate change, residential and commercial development; and, agriculture and livestock grazing respectively. These are personal impressions, not science. Are these not the primary focus of the all too familiar effort for the increasing pressure that seems to grow in leaps and bounds on the ecosystem called property rights? All too many meetings just like this one are just a small part of the increasing threat to our rights as citizens in the name of the environment and the collective.
This is just one example of these non-binding non-government organizations that seem to inundate our culture and government activity. Does it seem ironic that these non-binding findings are generated by professional, full time paid employees who are doing their “day” jobs? Where is the community effort? Where are the citizens and business members? Unsurprisingly, they are working at their day jobs to pay the individuals sitting at these tables scheming to usurp our constitutionally protected natural rights, under the cover of environmentalism.
One of the scariest things is that this example is also going on without the full knowledge and approval of our own County Council. Funding for many of these groups does not pass through the council agenda, as they can be approved by County Department Heads or the County Executive. We all need to pay more attention to where the money is coming from and what it is being spent on.
The County Council should put the Whatcom Integration Team out of business by taking away their funding. This should be the WIT’s end.