Clear as mud
Government transparency appears to be one of the “watchwords” of this election season in Okanogan County. Until recently, I had little to add to that conversation. However, in mid-September I submitted a request for public records to Okanogan County, covering electronic written communications over the past year by and among the commissioners and assorted county employees and contractors (legal), and concerning, among other things, the Comprehensive Plan and Draft Zoning Code, both currently subjects of rather expensive litigation
Last Thursday, I received the last, apparently, of approximately 100 pages of documentation, excluding acknowledgments and affidavits, the latter largely incomplete, attesting that some of the persons in question did not use their personal mobile telephones for county business. Of these documents, a few are emails, but the bulk consists of reprints of correspondence and articles from outside entities, mostly already in the public domain and, with minor exceptions, pretty much irrelevant to my request. All of this was from the Planning Department; the commissioners and the prosecutor’s office claim to have no responsive documents whatsoever.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of all this, but I think I can be reasonably confident that my chain is being yanked, albeit with limited enthusiasm. I had expected to be buried in day-to-day email correspondence, creating a haystack, as it were, in which I would have to locate needles, if any. Instead, it appears that the county has no intention of taking either me or state law seriously. I can understand the former — I am, after all, a mere voter, and we all know what the commissioners think of them — but choosing to flout the Washington Public Records Act theoretically comes with consequences. The only alternative explanation seems to be that our county government communicates entirely by some means other than email — perhaps semaphore or smoke signals, possibly telepathy — in which case I suppose I will have to submit a new request.
It would be interesting to hear Sheilah Kennedy’s position on this situation. Or not.
Oh, and vote, please. Now.
Alan Fahnestock, Winthrop
Managing federal lands
The Oct. 19 issue of the Methow Valley News reported in its story, “Civility at candidates’ forum,” that Okanogan County Commissioner Sheila Kennedy “would like to see a study that explains why the federal government loses money on the lands it manages, while the state makes money.”
Commissioner Kennedy should understand that the Washington State Forest and Trust lands are managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) exclusively to generate income for the trusts’ beneficiaries. The U.S. Forest Service lands, however, have a different purpose. According to the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, “it is the policy of the Congress that the national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.”
The law goes on to say “multiple use” means: The management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; that some land will be used for less than all of the resources; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.
So, unlike the DNR, the Forest Service isn’t charged simply with generating the greatest dollar return on the land it manages. It’s charged with managing timber and range resources while also providing outdoor recreation, watershed protection and protection for fish and wildlife all without impairment of the productivity of the land.
I hope the commissioner finds this information helpful.
Emily Sisson, Winthrop
I stumbled on Ms. Bastian’s piece on Hyas Pretty this evening, and felt compelled to write to you. Tom and Jim Robinson were reputedly the first settlers in the upper Methow, and I am familiar with the Hyas Pretty and the bear story from family history. Jim Robinson was my grandfather, and there are numerous stories about him and his brother Tom. In fact, I still have Jim Robinson’s hand-written “diary,” which he started in that fall of 1886.
In the 1930s, the Wenatchee Daily World ran a series of stories about the Robinson brothers, and I have most of that series stashed away somewhere. It does include, of course, the Hyas Pretty poem. I’ll have to check in there, but if I recall correctly the poet Alfred Smith was a Canadian, and was highly regarded by the Robinsons. There is a story about a wolverine which had been caught in Smith’s trap but broke it free and retired to a den underneath a big tree, dragging the trap with it. Traps were hard to come by at that time (in the early years the Robinsons got their mail regularly, that is, once in the spring and once in the fall, at Waterville), and Smith went into the wolverine den with a gun, and came out with his trap and the wolverine!
In any event, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed being reminded of this little bit of family history.
Stephen Drummond, La Conner
About those donations
Much noise has been made about where the funding for county commissioner candidates is coming from. Some of this is clear, some not so much. Chris Branch, as an independent, has in fact taken large donations from out of the county. No one is trying to hide this. As an independent he has no party cash machine for support. He has had to cast a very wide net to offset a couple of huge donations Ms. Kennedy had access to. So he started miles behind on funding, etc. She even had her old signs from her last campaign. These are very costly.
Chris Branch has also taken in a large basket of small donations from inside the county. Maybe you haven’t heard about this extensive support from within the county.
Ms. Kennedy received her largest donation of $8,500 from the Washington Republicans. Add a local party donation and that’s close to half her reported cash. One paper incorrectly reported she took “no out of county funding.” So then, who are the Washington Republicans anyway? Not west side donors, I hope. Let’s be honest. You can’t whitewash this one. The colors are already bleeding through. I donate to the Washington Republican Party, so I guess that I’m helping her too. Throw in the anonymous donor “bake sale.” Those $100 a slice pies must be tasty! A little out of most people’s price range, I suspect. It does cast a different light on the old protection of apple pie and motherhood slogan.
But what is most baffling to me is why so much energy is expended on attacking Chris Branch’s donors, rather than his positions and extensive public service record. Maybe it tells us that Chris is more connected to the people in this county, our culture and way of life, than she wants us to believe. It’s called politics of distraction. It makes for a rough poker game when one candidate plays with his cards face up, and his opponent prefers hers dealt face down. Which one do you trust?
Please vote for Chris Branch, county commissioner.
Jim Soriano, Riverside
We have our general election ballots. For those of you who have not yet filled out yours and are concerned about the Okanogan County commissioner’s race between Chris Branch and Sheilah Kennedy, here are some facts and opinions.
Chris Branch has 43 years of experience in government planning and development; Sheilah Kennedy has almost four years as a first-time commissioner.
Chris has served on over 10 various community and advisory organizations in eastern Washington; Sheilah served on two invasive plant organizations.
Chris has a B.A. in business and economic development and environmental studies; Sheilah has a cosmetologist license.
Chris has 12 years of work experience in the timber industry; Sheilah has none.
At the time of this letter, Chris has 125 contributors and has raised $27,290; Sheilah has 38 contributors and has raised $33,011. Sheilah’s fewer supporters gave larger amounts .
The commissioners have not been transparent, responsive nor accountable. Citizens became alarmed about this and sat in on commissioner meetings. Commissioners would not defend their decisions. They took public comment at hearings, but did not answer the audience’s questions. Not transparent or responsive? Their minutes are currently three weeks late on their website. Not accountable? Three of five recent lawsuits have resulted from the county ignoring the same state mandated requirement. Not responsive or something even worse?
Chris Branch is the experienced and qualified candidate for District 1.
Please join me in voting for Chris Branch.
Kurt Snover, Winthrop
Facts about Thrasher
A recent letter from Steve and Ann Peck to the editor failed to accurately discuss the accomplishments and strength of Ashley Thrasher and went on to inaccurately state her position on business development. While everyone has the right to advocate for one specific candidate over another, the facts should be correct.
Fact: Thrasher suggests building upon the stability of existing economic assets as a priority, adding innovative businesses which would then succeed due to the successfully existing economic base. She does not advocate for established business instead of new business, as claimed.
Fact: Thrasher’s degree in science should not be lightly dismissed. It’s about time we had a commissioner whose background in basic scientific principles, the scientific method, and scientific collaboration would help keep our county out of litigation. Land use and resource planning require a critical eye and the ability to collaborate with agency scientists. Such training and experience are important assets rather than being irrelevant.
Fact: Rather than offering merely “physical strength and courage” as stated in the letter, Ashley is trained in the five management principles of High Reliability Organizations. There are lessons to be learned from these principles that the Commissioners should consider adding to their own management approach. Ashley proposes that the county use some of these principles.
Fact: Ashley was born and raised in rural Vermont, in a small community very similar to those in Okanogan County. Her rural roots in agriculture and her existing involvement with the family’s small dairy are positive elements of her candidacy that shouldn’t be simply brushed aside.
Fact: Ashley has excellent organizational skills as demonstrated in running her campaign. She has managed her campaign like a smooth running machine.
Finally, as past director of plans and budgets for a multimillion-dollar operation and as a small business owner, I can testify to the fact that Ashley has the organizational, management and budgeting skills to improve the prioritization of the various elements of a budget. Ashley Thrasher’s intelligent spirit and work ethic is more than equal to the job.
Al Hymer, Methow
For Kennedy and Hover
A few years ago, I didn’t know anything about Sheilah Kennedy except that she was a county commissioner. Since then, I have researched many issues that have arisen in local governance and have come to greatly respect her. In case after case, she carefully examines the questions and consistently makes decisions with the intent to benefit the citizens of the whole county. She has the courage to tackle difficult questions which need to be resolved. Despite lots of negative publicity, those who approach her about an issue find that she communicates willingly and in detail.
Politics can be an aggressive and even toxic environment. During an election, it is reasonable to point out concerns about candidates, but in the years between elections it is important that we all make a good-faith effort to work with our elected officials to find solutions to public issues. I am deeply concerned that small but vocal factions in our county, often with heavy support from outside environmental groups, have been working for the past few years to exaggerate problems in order to influence this election, rather than putting their energy into working toward collaborative solutions. Such a partisan strategy is wasteful and polarizing. It violates the Golden Rule, which is at the core of any well-functioning society. I hope that Okanogan County does not reward that type of political strategy by electing candidates who claim to be non-partisan but who actually believe that more government is the solution. Please join me in voting for Sheilah Kennedy and Andy Hover.
Kit Arbuckle, Okanogan
Choose on merits
No vote we cast in this election will have more impact on our lives than our vote for the office of county commissioner.
Each candidate should be judged on their merits and the life experiences that have prepared them for this important role as the head of our county government.
Almost anyone seeking public office needs the support of others to fund their campaigns. Candidates should be elected based on their ideas and the issues on which they run, not the mailing address of supporters from outside the county.
Chris Branch has served Oroville for 18 years as community development director. He has been an indispensable advisor to the City of Oroville. His community development work has also benefited Conconully, Brewster, Bridgeport, Pateros, Twisp, Tonasket, Winthrop and Omak. He has helped develop the Highway 97 Scenic Corridor bringing travelers to our communities. He understands tourism and local economic development, serving on numerous regional economic boards and the board of the Okanogan Economic Alliance. His work has brought much-needed grants and funding for the improvement of Oroville. He is an experienced problem solver, respectful and a good listener. He has the qualifications and experience we need. Chris Branch, commissioner District 1
Ashley Thrasher is an inspiring, energetic candidate dedicated to public service. Watching her campaign unfold I have seen the courage and confidence that she would bring to this office. She has pledged to visit each district for a meeting with local residents every month, demonstrating her sincere commitment to serve us all. Ashley has pledged to strengthen our Public Health Board with experienced health care professionals. She will minimize the outsourcing of county jobs and put emphasis on the creation of sustainable, good paying jobs in Okanogan County. Ashley will work cooperatively with the Forest Service and DNR to improve forest health and will use her experience as a smoke jumper and firefighter to help us prepare our lands and homes to survive wildfires. Ashley will work to improve public access to our amazing public lands and promote outdoor recreation. Ashley Thrasher, commissioner District 2.
Joseph Enzensperger, Oroville