A Plague of Consequences

The Thurston County Commissioners have unleashed a plague of consequences on the community… (From L-R – Commissioners Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero, Karen Valenzuela)

(This article was originally published on the Freedom Foundation blog on October 13, 2014, written by Glen Morgan, while he was the Property Rights Director at the Freedom Foundation.  The original article posting was deleted by the Freedom Foundation in 2017.  It has been reposted here exactly as it was originally written. Some links no longer work and have been removed and some original images are no longer included in the article)

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Glen Morgan, Property Rights Director, Freedom Foundation

“Thurston County residents will suffer the plague of consequences these elected officials have unleashed on them for many years to come. All they can do is vote, pray, learn how to protect themselves from criminals and try to survive these commissioners.”

Thurston County is an endless source of lessons for people who don’t actually live here. Unfortunately for those of us who do, those lessons are almost always a demonstration of how to do things wrong.

One painful consequence of electing politicians like Commissioners Cathy WolfeSandra Romero, and Karen Valenzuela in Thurston County is that their poor management, bad decisions and impressive incompetence are destructive to public safety. Monday night’s budget hearing was illustrative of the damage these three commissioners are inflicting with their policies.

First, incompetence was on display at the hearing from the beginning. Thurston County is required to have a public hearing before its commissioners can vote on the proposed budget. Before the public hearing, Thurston County was required to make the budget available to the public.

An easy way to satisfy the requirements of making this available is to put the budget documents on line. Thurston County did this, but apparently none of the staffers bothered to notice that the math presented in the budget didn’t add up.

To clarify, for those who do budgets in the private sector, the published government budgets don’t follow standard accounting procedures that for-profit businesses use. This is why, to most people, government budgets don’t make sense. However, even in the world of government accounting and budget gimmicks, the Thurston County 2015 budget document should have spreadsheets that add up.

Only in Thurston County could this math add up

Only in Thurston County could this math add up

Even Common Core math would add $2 million to $2 million and get $4 million tax dollars squandered. Fortunately, these math screw-ups on most of the spreadsheets were identified to Thurston County by county resident Jon Petit. See above image for just one example. However, the multi-million dollar mistakes were blamed on a “technology glitch” by Robin Campbell, Thurston County Budget and Fiscal Manager.

If you have ever seen the movie classic “Office Space,” you know that “fixing the glitch” means people lose their jobs, and Thurston County’s budget produces similar results.

However, the legal significance of this “technology glitch” is that no actual budget had been seen by either the elected officials or the public who attended the budget hearing to comment and witness the public hearing.  This also means the Thurston County commissioners had not seen a real budget draft yet, either.

Thus, if they vote on this “final” budget, it’s highly likely it would be illegal. This fact was pointed out to Thurston County by Petit during his public comment at this hearing. Something from this hearing must have been heard by at least the attorneys for the Thurston County Commissioners, and on October 9th, the county, in a rare decision – actually delayed the budget vote until the end of the month while they try to figure out what their budget actually is.

The Monday night hearing itself was unusually well-attended by residents and Thurston County deputies as well as others who wanted to witness the event. The room itself was filled beyond capacity, with attendees spilling out into the hallway.

The testimony given by Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza received the most attention in The Olympian, whose subscriber base continues to erode perhaps because its political bias is calculated to offend a significant percentage of potential readers.

Snaza testified that the legendary empty jail the Thurston County commissioners built by virtue of a $45-million bond (true cost $61 million when it is paid off in a few decades), will not be opened under this new budget. He primarily took this stand because the commissioners are reducing the public safety budget so that even more deputies will need to be cut from the workforce. The Commissioners also don’t provide enough funds to actually operate the jail into the future.

Snaza also pointed out very strongly that all three commissioners live in urban environments where they do not have to personally suffer the consequences they will make county residents endure with these cuts in public safety. These are strong words, but they had the ring of truth as both Commissioner Romero and Valenzuela couldn’t even make eye contact with the sheriff.

During last year’s budget cut public hearing, Prosecutor Jon Thunheim also asked the commissioners which rapists, sex offenders, and other criminals he shouldn’t prosecute since this part of public safety was also being cut. He never received an answer – they just cut the public safety budget.

While Thunheim didn’t show up at Monday night’s hearing, Assessor Steven Drew did show up to also criticize the commissioners for cutting the budget of the Board of Equalization by about $50,000, which results in a backlog of residents who have appeals of their property assessments and makes the Assessor’s numbers look bad.

Drew had a good point here because the Board of Equalization in Thurston Countyhas been doing good work helping residents correct their property tax valuations, and these budget cuts only make this process more painful.

Thurston County detective and Rochester School Board Director Ben Elkins also made some excellent points during his testimony about the increasing challenges to the Sheriff’s Department, and he pointed out how the land-use policies championed by the Thurston County commissioners have driven businesses from Thurston County into neighboring counties.

He noted how this reduced the tax base and is one reason these budget cuts are even being discussed.

Petit reminded the commissioners that if they want to keep more deputies on the road, they could cut their personal public relations staff position and save $100,000 – good for at least one deputy.

He also testified during the Capital Facilities Budget part of the public hearing that the Thurston County commissioners had indicated that no general fund dollars were being allocated to any of these projects, but when you actually look inside the budget details there are multiple projects that siphon over $10 million from the general fund (including public safety).

Unfortunately for the long-suffering residents of Thurston County, this collapsing budget is just one of many consequences they are suffering under the feckless political “leadership” of their elected commissioners. Let’s review a few of the other afflictions they have dumped on the residents:

Everyone can see that the Thurston County Commissioners have made a mess

Everyone can see that the Thurston County Commissioners have made a mess

  • The legendary empty Jail of Thurston County – sitting vacant since 2010. Built after the voters turned down the idea, the structure currently accounts for about 50 percent of the total bonded debt in Thurston County. Called the politically correct “Accountability and Restitution Center,” or ARC for short, this boondoggle has been the subject of statewide ridicule for years. Every election cycle the commissioners claim it will open “in six months,” and the paper dutifully reports this claim – only to discover once again it’s all a lie.
  • The recent $12 million jury verdict against the Thurston County commissioners in the Maytown lawsuit was a significant disaster for Thurston County residents. The $100,000 PR machine is working overtime trying to pretend there are no consequences to the taxpayers for losing this lawsuit, which has resulted in the largest land-use jury verdict in Washington state history. However, while the jury stated that the actions of the Thurston County commissioners “shocked the conscience,” there is still great denial that their prolific violation of civil rights is a problem. See the complete story on this here.
  • The hapless Mazama pocket gopher helped put the Thurston County commissioners on the map and has drawn national attention for the silliness of pretending that a rodent that thrives on the artillery impact range at nearby Fort Lewis needs to be protected from fences, kids, dogs, tractors, agriculture and humans throughout Thurston County. The commissioners enthusiastically imposed severe property restrictions on farmers, homeowners and businesses throughout Thurston County, and finally were able to lobby the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the pocket gopher as “endangered.”  Former Director of Resource Stewardship and current County Manager Cliff Moore has often bragged that “living in Thurston County is a gamble,” and his unbridled support for the resulting silly Critical Area Ordinance has made Thurston County a bad bet for many residents.
  • Tax-paying businesses have experienced this first hand, and the Thurston County commissioners have greatly enhanced the economy of nearby counties like Lewis County by convincing large businesses like Ritchie Brothers to move just a few miles away and take their millions of local tax dollars with them as well as their jobs. The commissioners success at chasing away tax-paying businesses and harassing the hardy few who remain is impressive.

While many more examples of incompetence and abusive behavior by the Thurston County commissioners could be added to this list, it’s important to reflect on some successes that the Thurston County commissioners have had in the past few years.

These impressive successes include building a doggie park, banning plastic bags (and forcing stores to charge for paper bags), raising stormwater fees, raising property taxes, passing a weird agri-tourism ordinance that picks winners and losers, helping local cult leader JZ Knight (who claims to channel a 35,000 year old Lumarian warrior named Ramtha) avoid the same land-use restrictions this commission imposes on other property owners (after receiving $65,000 in campaign donations to the local Democrat Party), suing citizens like Jon Petit for daring to let Boy Scouts camp on his property for free, and laying off the lowest-paid workers in county government. Thurston County has also been very successful in harassing citizens like Bert Wasch, Donna BakerMisti Chastain, the Howell family, the Weaver family, and others with no apparent budget limitations on these efforts.

These successes were impressive enough to get the weakest and strangest political endorsement for Commissioner Karen Valenzuela by The Olympian.  However, despite that endorsement and attempt to whitewash the terrible policies and incompetence of the Thurston County commissioners, many local residents are still clamoring for regime change.

Unfortunately, they will continue to suffer the plague of consequences these elected officials have unleashed on them for many years to come. All local residents can do is vote, pray, learn how to protect themselves from criminals and just try to survive the plague unleashed on them by these commissioners.