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Count ‘em: 29 people seek vacancy on Whatcom County Council

By On

I feel I need to walk back the statement in my last article about the importance of participating in democracy by stepping up to take public office.

The Whatcom County Council intends to fill a vacancy on its seven-member body on Jan. 9 and accepted applications through noon today, Wednesday, Dec. 20. All told, 29 individuals put in their names—and some of them their resumes, letters of recommendation, and “selected interviews, articles, speeches, and symposia.” (I reported a few days ago on the applications that had come in as of noon Friday, Dec. 15—11 names at the time.)

OK all you leading lights of the county: You realize you will be only one council member out of seven, and your chances of making a measurable impact on the council in the first year is negligible. And this is only a one-year appointment. The seat being vacated by Todd Donovan, who chose to run for a different seat on council this year and won, will be up for an election in about 10 and a half months. You don’t want to bother with all that campaign business, do you? It involves a lot of walking and ringing strangers’ doorbells, asking other strangers for money, and supplicating yourselves to one political party or the other. Then, if you’re still interested in the job after all the rigors and public exposure that comes with a campaign, and after what by then will be two years of mostly fruitless efforts to assert your agenda, you’ll need to run for election again in 2019. Who needs it?

Seriously, this is kind of crazy. The last time I recall when the council had to appoint someone to a vacant seat was after Sam Crawford resigned in March 2015 to focus on his job. That time, three people applied for the seat. Satpal Sidhu was picked over ex-council member Kathy Kershner and Jim Cozad. Sidhu went on to defeat Kershner in the 2015 election and remains on council.

Political heavyweights who have joined the race include Carolyn Anderson, a top official in the Whatcom County Republican Party; Tim Ballew II, who was chairman of Lummi Nation when the tribe almost single-handedly defeated the hugely unpopular coal port proposal known as Gateway Pacific Terminal; Seth Fleetwood, former County Council and Bellingham City Council member who lost in 2014 to Republican/Trumpian Doug Ericksen in a bid for Ericksen’s state Senate seat; Kathy Kershner, County Council member 2010-2013 who was conservative but earned a reputation for voting her conscience and not the party line; Natalie McClendon, who has been in leadership with in the Whatcom Democrats and who served four years on the county Planning Commission; Stan Snapp, Bellingham City Council member 2007-13; and Alicia Rule, recently elected to the Blaine City Council.

At the risk of overkill—after all, only six people in the entire county get to pick from this list, not the voting public—here are the rest of the applications received after noon on Dec. 15:

Michael Ashby: He’s the Nooksack Indian Tribe police chief.

Ellen Barnes: A senior at Western Washington University who’s looking for a challenging internship.

Richard Berglund: The retired auctioneer “would enjoy spending time helping to make important decisions for our community.”

Eileen Coughlin: Recently retired Western Washington University administrator who would like to bring her experience in shaping budgets and making policy.

Patricia Dunn: A CPA and former director of finance at Whatcom Transportation Authority who said she wouldn’t be burdened by political affiliations.

Jasmine Fast: Moved to Whatcom in 2010 and cut her teeth on local affairs on the Greenways Advisory Committee. Would represent the needs of north Bellingham, especially regarding environmental protections and affordable housing.

Carol Frazey: Owns the Bellingham business Fit School, Inc., and teaches health and fitness.

Victor Gotelaere: Magazine advertising sales rep and event promoter who has organized fundraisers for the Bellingham Food Bank, Opportunity Council and others.

Mason Luvera: Communications director for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership whose community roles have him working on economic development and solutions to homelessness.

Robert Lynch: Retired president of Premier, the Bellingham school agenda company (those calendars students bring home from school that tell parents what their kids are supposed to be doing).

Nick Moss: Executive chef and manager at Restaurant 9 at North Bellingham Golf Course who said he would balance competing interests, from oil refineries to small businesses and the environment.

* * *

Here are the 11 who had applied by noon on Friday, Dec. 15. This is a repeat of my first article:

Rhayma Blake: Researched all the “best places” books then decided to move to Lummi Island, 10 years ago. Got active on ferry issues. Believes in a “right-sized” jail with funding for alternatives to incarceration, and believes in incorporating environmental goals into economic development.

Eric Bostrom: Provocateur who preaches hate in the guise of Christianity on Bellingham street corners. Ran a spectacularly unsuccessful campaign for Bellingham City Council this year, losing to incumbent Roxanne Murphy with less than 20 percent of the vote. If there is a God, and He is just, then Bostrom is going to hell, not to a place on the County Council.

Bob Burr: Ran unsuccessfully for Bellingham Council (2013) and Whatcom Public Utility District (2014)—the latter as an assault from the flank on Gateway Pacific Terminal. The PUD had issued water rights for the proposed coal port. Burr was arrested in December 2011 for blocking railroad tracks in Bellingham, in an attempt to stop coal trains from reaching Canadian ports. He was sentenced in 2014 to a noise infraction. Burr said on his application that the County Council seat he seeks is likely his last opportunity to serve his community. He would not seek re-election if appointed, he said.

George Edwards: Retired chef who worked at Ferndale and Point Roberts senior centers. Whatcom County has been good to him and his family, he said, so it’s time for him to give back.

Jared Jones-Valentine: Barber shop owner recently featured on The Bellingham Herald’s business page. His work, whether in the barber shop or with local nonprofits, is about improving the outlooks of people in need.

Keegan Kenfield: Youth-sports coach with a background in banking who is also active in local nonprofits. He would counteract the “hostile political climate” in Whatcom County, he said, and work to protect the most at-risk members of the community.

John Kolz: Retired auto repair shop owner who has run for local office in the past. Said he would bring a business owner’s perspective to council deliberations.

Cliff Langley: Conservative who didn’t get past the August primaries in a race for a rural seat on the County Council. Retired after 27 years as a Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy. Was elected and served on the 2015 county Charter Review Commission. The biggest splash he made in that group, in this reporter’s mind, was his failed proposal to open every commission meeting with a prayer.

Jim Moren: An M.D. who has lived and worked in Bellingham since 1979. Says he wants to preserve quality of life for the next 50 to 100 years.

Aaron Thomas: Works at Ferndale School District supporting Native American students at Horizon Middle School. Says he would bring diversity and an ability to serve all county residents to the job.

Emily Weaver: A County Council member 1988-92. Has a resume as long as my arm with relevant experience on public boards and committees. Said she would not seek election if appointed.

About Ralph Schwartz

Columnist • Member since May 23, 2014

After 13 years in mainstream journalism, Ralph Schwartz left The Bellingham Herald in November 2015 to get more involved in the community. He's now a freelance editor and writer, and works in [...]

Comments by Readers

Stan Snapp

Dec 22, 2017

In the “for what it’s worth department. Outgoing Carl Weimer just sent out a self developed questionnaire to all 29 candidates asking us to respond to a set of issues that he sees the county dealing with. As is usual for Carl, the questions are well thought out, very pertinent to current county issues and will help current voting council members as they decide on who they want to work with them for 2018.  (Carl does not get a vote on this selection)

Lastly, I’m amazed that so many have applied although I do recall applying long ago to the Bellingham City Council to be appointed to a vacant Ward Four seat and I didn’t get selected. I then ran and had to get through the Primary in order to run in the General election and I’m better for the process. I hope that 2018 establishes a level playing field for the electorite to speak on who should represent the county in the At-Large seat for the future. If elected in 2018 for 2019, they get to run immediately for the 2020 to 2024 full term seat. 

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