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Louws Regrets Jail Mailer

Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws has written an email to perhaps a dozen public officials throughout the county expressing his regret over the controversial bias of the jail mailer. In a reply to a citizen, Abe Jacobson, Louws CCed small town mayors, county department heads, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and Louws own staff with a very apologetic email. Below, we reprint Louw's apology and then Abe's email criticizing the mailer.

Abe took pains to inform me of his limited opposition to the jail. He wrote me this morning, “To be clear, I am not an anti-jail person. I do not share the sentiments of Joy Gilfillen, for example. I am just concerned that the next 100-million dollars be wisely and competently spent. The recent events with the jail, however, are cause for concern on that matter.” Abe also wrote that, “The only anti-jail persuasion that has worked on me has been provided by the Executive and the Prosecutor offices, during the last few days.”

I have also heard this morning that several people are filing formal complaints with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Having a lot of experience with such complaints (one of mine years ago resulted in the largest fine ever in Washington state), the complaints usually have no impact on the election. This is because the verdicts are always reached after the election. Also, according to Washington state court judgements, it is legal to lie on campaign flyers. Thus, it is incumbent on citizens to judge for themselves whether the jail flier is truthful information or is distorted in favor of the sales tax proposition.

First the reply from Jack Louws and below the email from Abe Jacobson. Both these emails are now part of the public sphere after Louws sent them both out to many persons.

- - -

Monday, Oct 19, 3:16 pm

Mr. Jacobsen,

Thank you for your comments. I take full responsibility for the publication of the mailer. After working with DLR, county legal, and my direct team in my office, I authorized the printing and distribution of it.

It has always been my desire to provide the citizens good information to base decisions on. Obviously this is not my best work, because an informational document authorized by the PDC should be non-controversial, focusing on the decision to be made. I am truly sorry for the controversy, and will stand in judgement of my decision from the citizens, and as County Executive will be responsible for any potential consequences.

Again, thank you for your direct and clearly defined articulations of the challenges surrounding the mailer.

Best regards, Jack Louws, Whatcom County Executive

——

Monday, Oct 19, 1 pm

Mr. Louws; members of County Council:

I am writing as a concerned citizen and taxpayer of Whatcom County.

I happen to be a jail supporter, but first and foremost, I'm a hawk on government efficiency, accountability, and compliance with applicable law.

We all hate to see taxes poorly used. It is only worse when taxes are poorly, unethically, and possibly illegally used. And that is the case with the recent mail piece from the County entitled “Whatcom County Community Report”. The mailer is the trifecta of what we don't want to see in use of taxpayer money.

Here is what is wrong with the mailer:

(a) Poor quality and workmanship. The taxpayers paid top dollar for the outfit that produced this (over $170 per billable hour!). You are now asking for north of $100-million to execute the jail project. To get that, you should demonstrate competence. Yet what we received is embarrassing. For example:

(a1) The artists' renditions show Sheriff quarters' new space almost equal in footprint to the jail itself. Is that really the public-outreach intent of an Administration seeking a much-needed new jail for housing prisoners?

(a2) The photo of the Sheriff is blurry and out of focus, as if taken by a distant low-resolution cell phone.

(b) Violation of ethical standards:

(b1) Within a day of ballots sent out by the Auditor, this brochure puts into voters' homes glossy photographs of two members of the Administration who are currently running for office. OK if done with those candidates' own funds, but not OK if done with taxpayer monies.

(b2) Within a day of ballots sent out by the Auditor, this brochure puts into voters' homes glossy promotional coverage of an issue being voted upon by the voters- Whatcom County 2015-1. Simple ethics and common sense requires that the County not act as an advocate for one side or the other of a ballot question, during the window of the calendar when ballots have been mailed.

(c) Possibly illegal actions by the County:

(c1) The January 12, 2015 guidance from the Public Disclosure Commission to “local government agency officials” (i.e., you Mr. Louws, and all other officers of the County Government) states:
“In PDC Interpretation 04-02, Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns, the Commission held that “it is not only the right, but the responsibility of local government to inform the general public of the operational and maintenance issues facing local agencies.” Accordingly, the Interpretation states that “[t]he PDC will presume that every agency may distribute throughout its jurisdiction an objective and fair presentation of the facts for each ballot measure,” typically a jurisdiction-wide “fact sheet” mailing. Such a presentation must accurately portray the cost and other anticipated impacts of a ballot proposition, and must not promote or oppose the proposition in the tenor or tone of the language used.”

In the Executive's memo to Council on 16 October, the memo appealed to the middle of the paragraph, which sanctions an “objective and fair presentation…”

I believe that the “fair and objective presentation” allowed by the PDC is also known as the Voters' Pamphlet and is distributed by the County Auditor to all County voters. Is that not correct?

However, the memo from the Executive did not acknowledge, or attempt to demonstrate the jail mailer's consistency with, the last sentence of the PDC guidance. Note carefully the last sentence, in which it is stated, of the mailer for example, that:

“Such a presentation ... must not promote or oppose the proposition in the tenor or tone of the language used.”

I have not found any objective reader of the jail mailer who would argue that the mailer complies with that binding guidance from the PDC. The mailer is replete with advocacy on a matter now open to the public vote as Proposition 2015-1. The mailer thus appears to be an illegal violation of State regulations.

(c2) The jail mailer is a promotional piece promoting what is actually Proposition No. 2015-1. But the mailer's authors and reviewers were apparently unaware of the name of the measure they were promoting. The mailer mentions the word “proposition” six times. Two of those times, the proposition is identified. In those identifications, the identity is given as either “PROPOSITION NUMBER 1” or “Proposition #1”. The incorrect ballot proposition is identified! So the editor, and the contractor, and the County Attorney reviewing the content of the mailer, signed-off on an egregious error.

But wait, it gets worse. There actually is a Proposition Number 1 on the ballot, for something entirely non-jail-related. By its advocacy for Proposition Number 1, the taxpayer-financed mailer is likely to taint the ballot measure election for the non-jail-related matter, the real Proposition Number 1.

To repeat: The Executive and all others responsible for this mailer have tainted the election regarding the true Proposition Number 1.

Sincerely, Abe Jacobson

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Walter Haugen

Oct 20, 2015

“Also, according to Washington state court judgements, it is legal to lie on campaign flyers.”

Why am I not surprised by this?

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Tip Johnson

Oct 20, 2015

Louws doesn’t sound too sorry to me. He seems to be suggesting that the voters will decide if it was an appropriate mailer.  Wrong.  That will be the PDC.

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Doug Starcher

Oct 20, 2015

Sadly, after the election….............Tip.

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Barbara Perry

Oct 21, 2015

I love the irony of Louws comment:’” ... I’m a hawk on government efficiency, accountability, and compliance with applicable law.”  Then Louws, why as the land purchased for the jail property originally assessed at $30,212 an acre, then $44,329 an acre and finally, 6 acres bought for $149,488 an acre?

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 21, 2015

What a crock of shit.  Louws is apologizing for the controversy. Nothing short of weasel-worded crap.

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Dena Jensen

Oct 21, 2015

Notice that County Executive Louws chose to respond to someone who expressed that they were a jail supporter, in otherwords a constituent that seemed like they might be potentially won back by an apology.  “Not my best work” and “sorry for the controversy” are not the responses we need from our elected officials when they do something this unethical, especially in such a flagrant way.  Saying you will be taking responsibility and doing nothing now means: nothing.

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Wynne Lee

Oct 21, 2015

thanks for posting here. B’ham Herald online had an article with the letters this AM (~8:30) but it’s been disappeared… gee, wonder why?

A key person who’s doubtless at the heart of this mess (and, like the heart, out of sight unlike Elfo & Louws) is Chief Prosecuting Attorney D McEachran .... 40? years and counting in that leadership position. All county officials rely on county legal advice. Yes, lower-downs like Dan Gibson is the name give for approving the flyer, but McEachran is the guy at the top and he’s the one determining The Line over which his underlings must not step.

So why has NOTHING I’ve read even mentioned McEachran? Maybe not surprising given his rep re: “disagreers”, whether potential opponents in elections (none for years ... wonder why…) or in Council ethics (e.g., when Ward Nelson was allowed to vote to reject all candidates to replace Bob Kelly years, leaving the position open for Nelson; McE was sent ethics violation info but he decided it was no big deal and didn’t forward it to state AG; end of ‘problem.’)

The weakest link in Whatcom County governance right now is county legal leadership. Until that changes, we’ll stay messed up whether re water rights, GMA compliance, political process, illegal jail flyers, etc.

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Joy Gilfilen

Oct 23, 2015

This whole thing is a calculated risk by the jail industry lobby spin doctors.  I am sorry to be a sales analyst, but this is what I see: 

They calculate the risk, the drop, the repercussions, the timing, the gain and the entire thing is done as a slight of hand trick; and maybe no-one is smart enough to call it out and it will just blow over. 

- Their risk was a hand slap from the PDC and maybe a fine???  Maybe it will throw the vote, maybe it will cause both propositions to win…either way, not a big loss since the jail initiative might be losing anyway; and maybe they gain the Proposition 1 district only voting.  So no real loss, maybe a gain…and the taxpayers pay anyway.

- The gain was the following: 

1) They got high press value and talk/buzz about both Propositions - which they wanted.  This is always a win for publicity, and it hits the target audience immediate to drive them to vote.  Since they calculated which target, they got good reach. You can guess that because a lot of people are saying they didn’t get it…and are now waiting for it.

2) They calculated and got the high value of having a high gloss mailer sent out that edifies Jack as a hero doing all kinds of good things with the mental health. That is worth a bunch on the uptick side of the equation. Well worth it they say.

3) Then they add in the high calculated value on Sheriff Elfo, who needs the credibility of stature in his uniform…and he authenticates with deep emotional drama the importance of protection.  So he draws votes and gets results.

4)  Then they add in the high calculated value of further authenticating the mailer with the Prosecutor…and he gets press, edification and value, and that too is a win, for he looks good.

5)  The pictures, are calculated on purpose to shame, blame and game people into an emotional response which is exactly what the designers want…and instant and reactionary response. So they get the urgency issue in the mix…and people want to feel better so they will vote.

6)  The discussion of the tax itself leaves out that half of the tax is a forever tax.  And it doesn’t explain that the tax doesn’t cover alternatives, nor mental health…although it infers it.  It doesn’t include that there is any resistance, that the City didn’t sign off.  It doesn’t include that prior taxes were intended to solve the problem and have been mis-directed.

7)  Lastly, if the vote against the jail dooms it…as long as Jack Louws wins, they still can pass the jail tax later…so the total risk is essentially nothing.

The planners got paid to write it, and it doesn’t cost them anything…only cost is to the taxpayers…so there is no net loss to mailing it.

All in all…based on their analysis, this is a homerun for them at this date. 

UNLESS our taxpayers are wise.  UNLESS our County Council is wiser and decides to call it out and take action to stop this.

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