Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Greenways: Lies, Damn Lies & Plain Levy Language

I must say that I got incensed all over again last Saturday when a friend confirmed a recent public admission made by Gene Knutson that he had -after 3 years of denial - actually agreed to collude with 3 other Council members to spend $8 million of Greenways funds on that pricy and dicy piece of real estate known as Chuckanut Ridge.

Are you kidding me Gene?
Please say it isn't so!
But then, who'd believe you now?

It is going to take much more than a gratuitous admission of lying, or an apology to the public to put this wrong right!

For starters, how about a public statement that you will henceforth recuse yourself from voting on any Greenways measure or proposal that directly impacts the south side of Bellingham.

Then, follow that up by announcing you will not be seeking re-election.

That ought to do it, at least as far as the public is concerned, but maybe not your own credibility.
I'm sorry to sound so harsh in condemning the lie you have kept silent for so long, but how else can it be truly corrected?

Like a lot of things, the roots to my concern go back a ways.
I always liked Gene despite some differences, because he is a likable person.
I know Gene got really frustrated at me sometimes, either because of my penchant for examining the pros and cons of issues too thoroughly for his liking, or by simple differences in opinion or style.
That's OK, because legislative debate is healthy.

I got exasperated with Gene at times because of his habit of always seeming to test the political winds before casting a hard vote.
And, I don't remember many -maybe any- occasions in which Gene supported tax or rate increases without the need for a public vote.
Yet, once funds were made available, he was glad to spend them, even from rainy day funds or reserves.

But, these types of differences are as normal as treating complicated things as simple and making hasty, uninformed decisions.
Hey, no one ever said that being a good elected representative ought to be easy!
And, if they did, I didn't buy it.

One moment in time that I remember so well happened back when the Council was trying to name an Interim Mayor to replace the suddenly departed Mayor Mark Asmundson.
Gene wanted that job badly and campaigned for it vigorously.
But, much to his embarrassment, he was unable to garner the 4 votes -including his own- to win that appointment, which instead went to former Mayor Tim Douglas.

Right after that vote, Gene, who was Council President, called a short recess.
He came up to me and said that he wanted me to know that I was the only Council member who had not lied to him that week.
What a remarkable observation!
I think that whatever lies Gene had heard that week, did hurt him deeply.
But, being a grown-up who loves serving in public office in his home town, Gene endured.
And I'm glad he did, at least until the moment he decided to lie himself about Chuckanut Ridge.

The second defining moment in time came as the Council was desperately trying to reach agreement on a third Greenways ballot measure, in time for the ballot.
Because of the considerable heated differences between the two competing Greenways proposals, attempts at any sort of unanimously supported measure seemed slim to none.
Such stalemates leave little room for maneuver, often leading to a take it or leave it vote, or worse, nothing at all.
Fortunately, a compromise ballot proposal was reached, thanks largely to the efforts of Joan Beardsley, who facilitated a meeting between Barbara Ryan and me that produced a measure that Council immediately approved unanimously.
This measure went to the voters, who in turn approved it by 59%, thereby voluntarily taxing themselves for what they believed was a good cause to benefit our entire community.
What a relief!
A true 'win-win-win' solution, or so I and many others believed!

Now fast forward a bit;
The late Councillor Joan Beardsley made a remarkable admission during a public meeting of the Greenways Advisory Committee.
Beardsley stated that she and 3 other Council members HAD ALREADY COMMITTED to vote $8 million for Chuckanut Ridge, before the ballot was passed!
Although she later retracted her statement, the damage was done.
Barbara Ryan openly admitted there had been an agreement reached with south side supporters to that effect.
The two other Council members implicated -Messrs Bornemann and Knutson - denied they had done any such thing!
Who was lying?
There is no proof, of course, at least at the time, so what to do?
Wait and see.

Now comes Mr Knutson with his confession. [Note Bornemann remains strangely silent, but watch what he does]
This year, Both Ryan and Bornemann volunteered for the Parks & Recreation Committee, where they hope to mount a last-ditch stand to rescue their pet Greenways acquisition, Chuckanut Ridge.
Already, they have delayed adoption of the South Side portion of the Greenways Strategic Plan, in hopes that somehow, someway, they can finagle more money for Chuckanut Ridge!
Now, that is truly remarkable!
And sad.

Barbara & Terry will likely fail in these efforts, as they richly deserve to do.
But, hope springs eternal with Gene Knutson's new memory.
Gene, wants to please every one, but he risks pleasing no one if he continues to support his previous collusion with Barbara & Terry.
And, Gene does love Greenways, Bellingham and being in office as long as possible!
There is no denying any of those things.
I would not be surprised if Gene thought he could still become a hero on acquiring Chuckanut Ridge
After all, Barbara's attempt at promoting the so-called 'Knutson Kompromise' was a brazen, if clumsy, attempt to involve his ego in this nefarious collusion.
And, it nearly worked!
That is why Gene Knutson needs to step away from this sorry business and re-establish his own credibility!

As the title promises,
"lies' were the fictions pre-sold to wild-eyed southside Chuckanut Ridge advocates, who will not be mollified if these are not delivered.
'damn lies' refer to those foisted upon the voting public in a deception of truly troubling proportions.
'plain levy language' means just that; what the public was told, what they believe and what they voted for.
You tell me which of these three concepts deserve to be sustained, and which need to be severely dealt with!

Do the right thing, Gene, and recuse yourself from these stupid shenanigans!
If you'll do that, I might even vote for you again.
Of course, there may be no choice, unless you voluntarily take a break from local politics.
Such is the power of incumbency in little ole Bellingham.
Hey, you 2nd Ward folks; isn't there someone out there who is willing to run for this important office, and treat it as such?