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.
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Monday, Oct 19, 3:16 pm
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