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Part Five: The Illusion of Inclusion

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The County and HDR present a Draft Environmental Impact Statement with no consideration of already-owned County property in downtown Bellingham or of renovation/expansion of the County Jail

On February 3, 2011, the County Council hosted a “Jail Siting Public Meeting” at which Dewey Desler (County Administrator) presented for public comment a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) (dated October 18, 2010) prepared by the County and HDR. Desler explained that HDR (using County site criteria) originally reviewed “about 8 different sites,” but narrowed the choices down to two final candidate sites: (1) a 71-acre site near the Slater Road exit; and (2) a 154-acre site near the airport. He further stated that “We’ve had the support from voters (since approval of the 2004 Jail Tax) to go ahead and build a new jail through a plan, which included a plan to build an interim facility (Division Street facility, holding 148 people) and then over time to site, plan, design, construct and operate a new main jail in this community.” [Jail Siting Public Meeting Minutes, February 3, 2011].

Desler’s statement implies that as of 2011, citizens have turned over to the County all planning of “a new main jail in this community.” That notion was entirely rejected by the public comments in this “Jail Siting Public Meeting,” which was questionably labeled as compliance by the County with the requirement for a “Public Hearing” on the DEIS. The DEIS endorsed jail expansion to 2,450 beds and a construction cost of $150 million. When citizens expressed outrage at the proposed cost and scale, Wendy Jones (Chief of the Jail) explained that “[t]he $150-million figure was arrived at because the consultants had to consider the worst-case scenario. When we come back to the public with a plan, then we’ll have a budget figure to consider.” Citizens expressed astonishment that the County would put out a draft EIS and host a public meeting, when the County still didn’t have a realistic budget or “plan” based on a projected “needs based” jail size.

In the wake of this 2011 meeting and the nearly universal public outrage expressed then over the DEIS, the County re-deployed its strategy of the “Illusion of Inclusion,” with yet another jail-related Task Force.

The County Council never held an “official” public hearing on the Draft EIS, and some officials and administrators appeared frustrated over complaints that the County seemed to merely tolerate public discussion of the issues but would inevitably exclude the public from key decisions.

The Whatcom County Jail Planning Task Force: Another bone thrown to citizens to perpetuate the illusion of inclusion.

On April 26, 2011, the County Council approved a resolution to establish a Jail Planning Task Force (Resolution No. 2011-014 ) of citizens and officials to provide the County Council and County Executive “advice on the appropriate size and location of new jail facilities,” among other jail-related issues. The Task Force was labeled an “ad-hoc subcommittee” of the Law and Justice Council (which had already been dissolved), and included the following members appointed by the County Executive:

1. Peter Dworkin, Chair (former Deputy Prosecutor 2000-2003; current Member Belcher Swanson Law Firm (2008-present)
2. Lisa McShane, Vice-Chair
3. Ray Baribeau, Associate Chaplain at the Jail
4. Doralee Booth, Birch Bay (member of Sheriff’s Advisory Group)
5. David Christensen, Architect
6. Peter Dawson, President Dawson Construction
7. Barbara Sternberger, Artist
8. John Wilson
9. Erik Ramstead, Everson Police Chief (representing the Police Chief’s Association)
10. Wendy Jones, Jail Chief, representing the Sheriff’s office
11. Caleb Erickson, Corrections Deupty, representing Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Deputies
12. Marianne Caldwell, County Senior Budget Analyst, representing the County Executive
13. Anne Deacon, Department of Health (Mental Health Services)

The Jail Planning Task Force (JPTF) met 16 times during its 10-month existence. Within 6 months, the JPTF retained (with County approval and minimal funding) jail planning consultant Jay Farbstein & Associates, Inc. (“Farbstein”), to “advise Whatcom County on how to conduct its jail planning process and provide initial facility design assistance.” Farbstein’s $7,000.00 contract was paid for by the Jail Sales Tax (Whatcom County Contract No. 201110005). The Farbstein Report on Jail Planning Assistance can be read in its entirety on the Whatcom County website. Farbstein presented the following Summary of Recommendations:

1. The County should take immediate steps toward obtaining the services of a corrections planner.
2. The first main task for the corrections planner should be to update and expand the 2008 needs assessment, revising projections to account for the implementation of jail population management initiatives.
3. The County should create a Criminal Justice Planning (or Coordinating) Committee, in part to provide a forum for consideration and implementation of jail population management initiatives.
4. Expand the jail facility planning options under consideration – and the sophistication of their evaluation.
5. Consider establishing a construction budget for the project.
6. Assign or hire a project manager or a program management company to support and guide the jail project.
7. Get the key design and construction players on board early.

Farbstein Report, p. 1

The Task Force reported that:

Several of the tasks the JPTF was charged to do in 6 months were beyond our expertise and should be accomplished in conjunction with the jail planner and real estate professional. Those include:

· Funding options for the new jail
· Operational costs for the new jail, how operation will be funded and efficiencies in the new jail to reduce the overall operating costs
· Specific location options for a new jail
· The impact of design on capital and operational costs.

Jail Planning Task Force Final Report to the Whatcom County Council, March 29, 2012.

The Task Force recommended immediate retention of a professional jail planner, to further advise the County because “jails are highly complex buildings and their planning, design and construction are critical to their mission and long-term operations and maintenance.” [Final Report, p. 3].

This recommendation echoes the 2000 Law & Justice Council recommendation that the County hire a full-time professional Justice Planner/Coordinator (a recommendation that they followed for one year before eliminating the position). In fact, though the Law and Justice Council, the Jail Planning Task Force, and Jail Planning expert Jay Farbstein all recommended hiring a professional jail/corrections planner, the County didn’t acted on that recommendation (although they hired, and then quickly fired a Justice Planner). One likely reason: Because (as demonstrated above), HDR, the County Executive, the Sheriff and other County administrators (at great cost to the taxpayers) were already performing the services that should have been performed by an objective and qualified professional/jail planner.

The Task Force further recommended the re-establishment of the Law & Justice Council, which had been—and still is—on ice. The state law that requires the County to establish a Law & Justice Council (see part one) is mandatory. The County has not been in compliance with this state law since 2008, when the LJC released its report that was rejected by the County Council.

Importantly, the Task Force recommended further analysis of funding options and specific locations for any proposed jail.

The County Executive and Sheriff Elfo select another hand-picked consultant as the Jail Planner

At the Regular County Council meeting on December 4, 2012, County Executive Jack Louws and Sheriff Bill Elfo took charge of the Jail Planner selection process, by putting forth another hand-picked jail industry consultant: The DLR Group. At that time, they discussed writing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a Jail Planner, their selection criteria (which was not specified in the minutes), and their reasons for selecting the DLR Group. Elfo said that principals of the DLR Group “attended many Jail Planning Task Force meetings to get perspective on and knowledge of what Whatcom County wants.” He added that there would be a “liaison to ensure the DLR Group is in tune and in touch with what’s going on,” and “he expects DLR to do a great job.” There’s no discussion of whether any other candidates had responded to the RFQ. It seems that Sheriff Elfo had pre-selected DLR by including “principals” of the firm in “many” Jail Planning Task Force meetings, and the Jail Planner RFQ timeline supports that contention. The Jail Planner RFQ (12-50) was allegedly released June 27, 2012, and closed August 7, 2012 (6 weeks after first posted). It is no longer available for review online and there is no indication that any firm other than DLR responded. Four months after closing the selection “process,” the Sheriff and County Executive presented DLR as their “pick” for the job, and in the following month, the County Council approved the first Contract between the County and DLR for Jail Planning and other services.

This report on the “Illusion of Inclusion” will continue by bringing the historical narrative to the present, focusing on:

(1) The County’s secretive purchase in 2013 of property in Ferndale for a large-scale jail and sheriff’s headquarters;
(2) the County Executive’s continued domination of the jail debate in 2016 to the present with the Jail Stakeholder’s Workgroup;
(3) the need to hit the “reset” button and reconsider renovation of the current jail and/or the viability of downtown jail sites; and
(4) a request to the County Council to withdraw the Resolution supporting another Jail Tax ballot initiative (identical to Proposition 2015-1).

About Juliette Daniels

Writer • Member since May 11, 2017

Juliette is a licensed attorney in both Washington State and Texas. After spending 15 years working in litigation for two large Houston law firms, she moved to Bellingham in 2004 and eventually [...]

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