Opinion by Dale Wilson
Lies, damn lies, and the daily paper
The Peninsula Daily News is in a habit of publishing fake news stories, bullying the county treasurer, colluding with the county prosecutor to mislead taxpayers as to how and where their tax money is spent.
Our daily paper is one of dozens of daily and weekly papers around the Puget Sound owned by Black Press, LLC, out of Victoria, Canada published under the U. S. corporate name “Sound Publishing.”
I do not know how they behave in the other locations where they publish but here in Port Angeles they are publishing lies and the lies are always in support of the ruling governmental entities.
This would be understandable if they were in competition with other news outlets and needed to compete for the legal notices that make up the bulk of their classified advertising and the bulk of their revenues. Since there is not another daily or weekly paper in the county they get all the legal notices without competing.
This makes it even more unreasonable for them to be publishing lies told by the ruling elite and against the interests of their readers and advertisers.
Of course there has been no blow-back from the community probably because they will not print letters to the editor unless they are approved by the offending editorial staff.
A few cases in point. When the composites recycling proposal was first mentioned and the civic roll-out was underway there was a great rush to grab grants for this undertaking. The composites recycling program was started first by the Port of Port Angeles and, when it came under scrutiny, suddenly morphed into a “non-profit” to be out of the reach of public records requests.
Even then the PDN reported on a front page Sunday edition, “Port Receives $2 million grant.” This was a bold face lie. The port had applied for a grant and received a letter saying their grant request was under consideration. No matter, the PDN reported falsely the grant was already approved.
This served to provide “cover” and the necessary nudge to the county commissioners, led by then commissioner, Jim McEntire, to provide a cool million dollars to the port from the county’s Opportunity Fund with no contract, no memorandum of understanding, no strings attached whatsoever. What makes this even more unusual is the Port of Port Angeles has its own taxing authority and could have called for its own levy.
The county commissioners relied upon the false reporting of the PDN to provide cover for their award of one million dollars. When asked why they printed such a bold faced lie then publisher John Brewer replied, “well, we said in the story there was more paperwork to be filed.”
Recently the PDN ran a story showing where the local Economic Development Council was lauded by the state Department of Commerce for meeting all their goals. Bear in mind the PDN is a member of the EDC.
This fake news story originated in an email from then EDC Executive Director, Bill Greenwood who sent an email to his handler at Commerce and in the email congratulates himself on all the fine accomplishments of the EDC. Greenwood asked Commerce to repackage his email and put it out as if it originated with the state’s Department of Commerce. Greenwood even suggested Commerce say that his was “the best EDC in the state.”
Commerce did repackage the self-congratulatory email and sent it back to Greenwood–now on a state letterhead. Greenwood trotted it over to the PDN (an EDC member) where they ran the story as if the Department of Commerce was all aglow over “accomplishments” at the EDC.
What were their accomplishments? They visited all their members that year.
In return for a half million in taxpayer dollars they visited all their members.
This seems to be sufficient as County Commissioners are poised to present the EDC with another infusion of taxpayer money. Not surprising since our newest county commissioner, Randy Johnson was president of the EDC for several years and will likely vote to fund it again even though this would, in most places, be viewed as a conflict of interest.
More recently the PDN ran a fake news story about the most recent Opportunity Fund grant awarded to the Peninsula Housing Authority. The PHA requested $900,000 for “site development.” Site development, according to the county administrator, included the crushing and removal of 33 perfectly good homes. Realizing the poor optics of using taxpayer funds to destroy 33 perfectly good homes the daily paper did a slight of hand and reported the grant was intended for, “construction of a boys and girls club.”
County Administrator said, in an email, that the $900,000 grant included the removal of the homes and waste water infrastructure. Yet still, Jones entered onto the official agenda the grant was for the construction of a Boys and Girls Club. To date there has been no correction requested or published.
How did the Boys and Girls Club even enter the story? PHA plans to provide a lot for the Boys and Girls Club to build a new club–at their own expense.
Even more recently there was a story about a possible toxic spill at the Merrill & Ring debarking site at the Fairchild Airport. A resident living near the airport took photographs of an iridescent oil slick in a drainage ditch exiting the site of the debarking equipment and flowing into Dry Creek. Appearing on social media, along with the photos, was the rumor the debarking equipment was leaking massive amounts of hydraulic fluid.
The landlord for the airport property, the Port of Port Angeles, quickly collected samples of the soil in the suspect drainage ditch and sent them off to be tested. No water was sent for testing only soil collected from a newly dug trench.
Soon came the predictable headline: “No Hydraulic Oil Found.” That article did go on to report there was substantial diesel fuel found within the soil sample sent for testing. Now, here’s the kicker, there was no testing done for the presence of hydraulic oil. Maybe that is why none was found.
Of course that makes the headline correct but the thrust of the story deceptive. Did the reporter ask for a copy of the report? If so he would have realized there was no tests done to detect the presence of hydraulic oil. If he had inquired of the testing lab he would have discovered they are not even equipped to test for hydraulic oil. Why would the port select this testing lab if they could not detect what was suspected? Oh, I see.
So far these sad tales could be marked up to simply sloppy reporting. However, PDN representatives have inserted themselves into the story on numerous occasions.
During the conflict between the county Treasurer, Selinda Barkhuis and the county commission, when she refused to release the million dollar grant to the Port of Port Angeles without some type of lawful authorization and an interlocal agreement–as required by state law–a reporter from the PDN sent threatening emails to the treasurer suggesting she was likely to be charged criminally for not releasing the money.
Barkhuis repeatedly explained that she could be personally liable for repayment of the million dollars if she released the funds without following state law. State law requires a contract or memorandum of understanding when dispensing taxpayer funds.
Since when do reporters determine criminal culpability? This can only be described as bullying the treasurer into compliance with the release of the million dollar grant from county taxpayers.
By bullying the money out of the treasury, while refusing to produce the requisite “lawful authorization’ (RCW 36.40.140) signed by the “proper county legislative authority” (RCW 36.16.050), they managed to withhold from the treasurer the very permission slip that she needed to defend from any claim against her personally for irretrievably paying out of the treasury a million dollars that the “proper county legislative authority” had ini fact previously specifically budgeted to stay in the treasury as ‘ending fund balance” reserve funds. This also served to deprive the county taxpayers to be “heard for or against the expenditure of money for the alleged emergency” and to have “the superior court of the county review it.”
There’s more. As the county commissioners and the county prosecutor’s office steadily turned up the heat on the county treasurer, PDN reporter, Paul Gotlieb filed a public records request seeking all emails sent or received between the treasurer’s office and the publisher of Port O Call news.
Barkhuis is a contributing writer for Port O Call and naturally exchanged emails with the publisher as columns were sent back and forth. This correspondence occurred on Barkhuis personal email and had nothing to do with the original public records request. Moreover, if Barkhuis had used her governmental email for non-government business she could have been accused of improperly using the government’s server for unofficial business.
Barkhuis responded to the request for public records yet Gotlieb was not satisfied. At least he pretended to be dissatisfied. Not content with Barkhuis’ official emails Gottlieb demanded, or at least County Prosecutor, Mark Nichols said he demanded Barkhuis personal emails to and from the Port O Call. Barkhuis assured Nichols she had fully and faithfully responded to the request for public records.
Allegedly, Nichols told county commissioners the PDN had lawyers lined up to pursue the case if Barkhuis did not release her personal emails to Gotlieb and the PDN. A public records request showed that no attorneys for the PDN were in contact with the prosecutor’s office–only Paul Gotlieb.
Here is where this particular story takes a weird twist. Prosecutor Nichols allegedly reported to the county commissioners that PDN had a slate of attorneys lined up to sue the county if Barkhuis did not release her PERSONAL emails. On the strength of this report the county commissioners allegedly went into executive session and ordered Nichols to file a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking a Writ of Mandamus which would have the effect of forcing Barkhuis to turn over her personal emails. Funny thing is, the county can find no record of such a meeting having occurred. They affirm the actions but cannot find the record of the meeting.
Nichols, as the county’s attorney is supposed to be the legal adviser for county elected officials. His office is also responsible for defending the county elected officials if they get sued in the line of duty or in the manner in which they conduct the business of their offices. Not in this case.
Early on Nichols informed Barkhuis she would be on her own and would have to self-fund her legal representation if she was hauled into court by her legal adviser–Nichols. Thus the county unleashed the entire weight and power of the county government in attempt to bully the county treasurer to play along with what she considered an illegal activity–release of one million taxpayer dollars–sponsored by the then county commissioners.
Within this tawdry process Nichols did arrange for David Alvarez, then a deputy county prosecutor from Jefferson County, to represent Barkhuis. According to Barkhuis, Alvarez told Barkhuis he was representing her “as a favor to Nichols” the one who was suing her. Within a very short time Barkhuis decided this representation was not a good fit and dismissed Alvarez. Alvarez is now a deputy prosecutor for Clallam County and working under Nichols.
When county commissioners began to reflect on the optics of such a case they ordered Nichols to back off and vacate the lawsuit already filed against Barkhuis.
Barkhuis has an interesting theory explaining this convoluted story. Little did anyone know, at the time the county prosecutor’s office was leaning on Barkhuis to respond to a public records request, Nichols was dealing with his own public records request problems.
Of course PDN was not reporting these problems.
Readers may recall the county’s half million dollar payout to Scott Lange last year. This was the culmination of a 20 year conflict which began with the county’s issuance of a non-conforming building permit which damaged Lange’s enjoyment of his own property in Clallam Bay.
As Lange was battling the county he requested various records in the possession of the county. For years these records were known to exist but their location was supposedly unknown to Nichols. Barkhuis has copies of emails sent to Nichols and his deputies over the years offering assistance in locating the requested records. Some of the requested records were promulgated by Barkhuis when she worked in the Department of Community Development.
When suddenly these requested records were found the county could have been on the hook for upwards of $4 million, depending on how much the court awarded Lange for the county’s failure to produce requested records.
Lange was magnanimous. He asked only what he had been asking for 20 years. He wanted the offending structure moved from his sight so he could enjoy the view he paid for 20 years ago.
The Lange settlement agreement was coming to a head at about the same time Nichols was suing Barkhuis for a Gotlieb-inspired, made-up public records offense.
Barkhuis believes there was a plan within the county prosecutor’s office and perhaps with the assistance of the PDN to produce news coverage of the Lange Settlement Agreement, predicated on a bungled public records request, making it look, to the uninitiated reader, as if Barkhuis was responsible for the half million dollar Lange Settlement Agreement.
It would be easy for a skilled writer to conflate the Lange settlement agreement and Barkhuis’ being sued by the county prosecutor, making it look as if they are the same story.
A likely headline: “Barkhuis refuses public records request” or “county to pay half a million dollars in bungled public records request of Barkhuis records.”
In fact is was a set of records related to the Lange land use lawsuit, promulgated by Barkhuis during the time she worked in the Department of Community Development, that Nichols’ office later “found” and turned over.
If this kind of misdirection was skillfully reported in the daily paper it would absolve the county prosecutor’s office and throw even more pressure onto the county treasurer.
Currently it is impossible to rely upon the daily paper for the unvarnished truth about what is going on in the community. It is impossible to rely upon them in forming meaningful opinions about how our elected leaders are performing in their offices, how tax money is spent, and for whom to vote in upcoming elections.
Better keep book on these players.