Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero is leaving behind an impressive legacy of incompetence, waste, and politically motivated destruction. She has inflicted this damage on hundreds of thousands of people and retarded the potential prosperity of her constituents. While it might be impossible to put a price on the destruction of people’s dreams caused by arrogant politicians and their Central Planning schemes, we can put a price on the $200 million of direct destruction Commissioner Romero has caused in her eight years as commissioner.
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In the late 1970s, there was a popular show on TV called the $6 million dollar man. With inflation over time, today, this show would be the $30 million dollar man today. A lot of money for most of us to consider, which probably helped give the original show some support. However, if Sandra Romero had only stolen that much money directly from the county coffers and fled to Mexico where she likes to vacation – local residents would be in far better shape than they are today.
This is not a comprehensive list. More financial harm can be documented by those who wish to dive deeper in the archives of Thurston County’s abusive history, however, for simplicity’s sake, I have limited this calculation to a handful of subjects which were direct damage Sandra Romero inflicted while she served as Thurston County Commissioner from 2008 to the present time. She was a former legislator in the Washington State House of Representatives from 1993 to 2004, and the harm she dumped on the people of Washington State during that venture is not included in this list. Nor am I including the approximately $1.5 million in direct legal bills she cost the citizens of Thurston County when she organized a Futurewise lawsuit against Thurston County while she was on the board of that destructive organization.
- Sandra Romero led the charge to build the legendary $61 million
jail (called the Accountability and Restitution Center, or ARC for short because “Jail” was not a nice sounding word to prospective criminals) located in the Mottman industrial Park. After taxpayers rejected this idea twice, Thurston County built it anyway, and then it stood vacant and unused almost five years. Money was squandered each year of vacancy on maintenance, interest payments, consultants, and various other ideas as the taxpayers paid for this mistake. This story made statewide headlines over the years and is currently being used as a case study example for local governments on how NOT to build a jail, or “ARC.” Money wasted and lost: $3 million.
- Sandra Romero also strongly supported the 3400 Building fiasco which is located near the formerly empty jail. This facility had originally been purchased before her time in local office, but on her watch, she was directly responsible for destroying the asset value of this empty and unused capital asset facility by giving away a large chunk of the property as a permanent homeless encampment, and spending at least $2.6 million additional dollars on this empty building. Total money wasted at Romero’s direction: $4.6 million down the drain.
- Sandra Romero, along with Commissioners Kathy Wolfe and Karen Valenzuela set a new Washington State record by losing the largest land-use jury verdict in the 2014 Maytown lawsuit decision. The Lewis County jury (after a month of testimony) awarded the plaintiffs, the Maytown Sand and Gravel Company and the Port of Tacoma, $12 million and specifically said the actions of the Thurston County Commissioners “shocked the conscience.” The legal fees paid by taxpayers on this case alone total $1.3 million. Additionally, there appears to be an option for both plaintiffs, if they can prove “intent to cause malice” (and there appears to be some evidence to support this claim) then the
plaintiffs can double the penalties on appeal. The true cost of this lawsuit, a creation entirely of the Thurston County Commissioners and led by Sandra Romero, is still unknown, but money down the drain for sure: $13.3 million.
- A strong and successful effort by Thurston County staff and cheered by Sandra Romero to chase Ritchie Brothers out of Thurston County succeeded in 2013. You know local government is abusive, when a major business is willing to lose $15 million just to move seven exits south to a different jurisdiction. To Ritchie Brothers, this was a small price to pay to escape Romero’s rapacious efforts to destroy their business. Lewis County now receives the roughly $1 – $1.2 million in annual sales tax which Thurston County lost forever. Unlike property tax, which shifts tax burdens to other property owners, sales tax is just a total loss to the county budget. Thurston County has been very effective at chasing away businesses, but this one stands out just by the size of the tax loss: minimum $29 million loss through 2040 (an arbitrary year – picked by Thurston Regional Planning Council for everything else).
- The crowning glory for Sandra Romero will be the massive property value destruction she inflicted on the citizens of Thurston County through the pocket gopher tax. A pet project for Sandra Romero, she invited the US Fish & Wildlife Service into the Thurston County Central Planning Department (euphemistically called “Resource Stewardship”) in an effort to squander a $600,000 grant. The final result, as currently estimated by Thurston County staff and their cheerleaders at USFWS, will cost the taxpayers of Thurston County approximately $151 million over the next 30 years (Their estimate, not mine; I suspect it will be worse) to acquire and
maintain 7,000 acres of gopher land. This project is unique in the nation, and even the USFWS couldn’t believe they had found a collection of county officials including Sandra Romero willing to allow this scienceless silliness. Total money lost by Thurston County to become a national laughing stock for the gopher tax scheme: $152 million.
There are countless smaller examples of frivolous county waste, abusive regulation and Central Planning schemes which chase the fortunate businesses out of Thurston while destroying the less fortunate who can’t escape in time. The personal dreams destroyed by Sandra Romero and her staff infection are legion, and while I have documented some of them linked at the end of this article, they only scratch the surface. The millions detailed above is very conservative, but it is a number easily attached to the legacy of Sandra Romero, the $200 million Commissioner.
Those who wish to carry on Sandra Romero’s Legacy
A new election is upon the residents of Thurston County. In 2016, we will choose two new commissioners to replace the incompetent and destructive ones retiring. Democrat candidate Jim Cooper is running in the other open seat and has promised to follow in Sandra’s footsteps, perhaps even kick up the pain and suffering another notch or two. Any other choice will be better than the financial doom and human suffering he promises to inflict. Jim Cooper may be the only politician in the county striving to break Sandra Romero’s record.
In Sandra Romero’s seat, there are currently two options. One is the former sheriff, Gary Edwards, who is running largely to save Thurston County from the ravages of such an incompetent legacy as detailed above. The other is Kelsey Helse, who has been recruited by Sandra to continue her legacy. Kelsey is connected to Congressman Denny Heck (a friend of his daughter-in-law) and related to Tumwater City Councilman Eileen Swarthout. If more destruction and harm to Thurston County is desired, she will be the candidate to support in this race.
In balance, some positive aspects of Romero’s tenure
In the interest of balance and fairness, I think it is important to point out the positive aspects as well as the negatives. There were some positive elements of Commissioner Sandra Romero’s legacy which will be left behind. Here they are:
- A five acre dog park in Lacey complete with decorative fire hydrants on the site of the old landfill.
- A six-year project called Bountiful Byway which put up attractive signs along the rural roads of Thurston County. Of course, the area is becoming less bountiful as the Thurston County regulations kick-in hard, but six years to put up attractive signs is government at its best.
- Some bicycle paths and roundabouts.
- A plastic bag ban.
- An Agritourism Ordinance which at least implicitly recognizes the regulations are abusive to rural residents and it sort-of exempts selected areas (originally copied from Mariposa County, California). Funny thing was the original boundary of this area didn’t include some of Sandra Romero’s friends, so she had to go through the process to change the boundary lines.
It wasn’t worth having a $200 million commissioner like Sandra Romero. Neither us, nor our children will be able to afford many more like her in the future. Unfortunately, for the people of Thurston County, Sandra Romero has chosen to leave county government worse than she left it, but at least this plague will finally pass.
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…
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