Kleptocracy: Government by those who seek personal gain (for themselves or others) at the expense of the governed.
Is Clallam County a Kleptocracy?
With the continued low wages and high unemployment visited upon the local economy one must ask the question: Is our government becoming, or has it already become, a government where the ruling elite siphon off the community assets and redirect them into the hands of a few? This is how a Kleptocracy works.
Let us start with one of the defining moments in the county’s history. Many already know of the devastation on the local economy when Thomas Aldwell built the first hydroelectric dam on the Elwha River without fish ladders. Even then the laws of the day required fish ladders on the dam so Salmon could continue their historic journey to spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the Elwha River.
During the building of the dam Aldwell made a trip to Olympia in the early years of the last century and somehow gained a special dispensation from the then powers-that-be allowing him to leave off the fish ladders required by statute. What would have been a minimal expense in the beginning cost taxpayers millions in the end.
Removal of the dams was the preferred solution a hundred years later to the tune of nearly $400,000,000.00. One simple act of political cronyism with the costs dumped on the taxpayers–after the culprit moved on.
With this backroom deal the decline of the Salmon runs were immediate and the damages lasting until the present day. Gone were the lucrative fishing businesses providing hundreds of jobs in local canneries as well as commercial and sport fishing. Even now sport fishing seasons are unpredictable and often truncated due to the decline in Salmon populations.
The history of the county is punctuated by these type of insider deals all the way up until the recent “Foothills Land Swap” where a local timber company approached the county commissioners with a plan to swap a worthless cut-over stump-fields for tracts of valuable marketable timber taken from the public trust.
The cumulative effect was to take this timber out of the land trust and put it into private hands. This denied the local schools, parks and hospitals their portion of the trust lands timber revenue and also contributed to the closing of mills–starved of the timber going overseas.
This land swap was not done in open county commission meetings, working from a published agenda. It was accomplished when two county commissioners wrote letters–on county letterhead–promoting the land swap. They gave the impression this was an act of the county commission acting as a legislative body. In reality it was the act of two county commissioners–using county letterhead–to lobby the Department of Natural Resources for the benefit of Randy Johnson’s Green Crow Timber Company–beneficiary of the land swap.
The commissioners wrote letters on county stationery and, without any vote, approved a deal which allegedly netted the timber company a sweet six million dollar profit, leaving the county residents with a stump-field. This action was done without the knowledge or approval of then Commissioner Mike Doherty who was absent from the work session when the deal was struck.
Newly elected County Commissioner, Randy Johnson admits to serial meetings with commissioners prior to their letter writing campaign.
The major beneficiary of this land swap is the new County Commissioner, Randy Johnson, president of Green Crow timber company.
Another raid on county assets occurred recently when the county prosecutor’s office finally came clean on a public records request which cost the county taxpayers a cool half million dollars to cover-up a similar backroom land-use deal out at Clallam Bay.
In this deal a good-ole-boy purchased a piece of land which for the entire history of the county was deemed unsuitable for development. There was not enough space, between the historic high-tide mark and the road’s right-of-way, to provide the required set-backs to build a structure thereon.
Not a problem for the well connected. The developer had a sister working in the courthouse. With the stroke of a pen, by a county employee, the high-tide mark was magically moved seaward, allowing just enough room to “justify” issuance of a building permit.
This started the county’s burn through millions of taxpayer money, fighting to defend an obviously non-conforming building permit.
The Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office spent millions of taxpayer dollars having its lawyers, sometimes bringing in outside lawyers, to fight a Clallam County taxpayer’s claim which, after two decades, proved the taxpayer correct. Thus the taxpayers were out the $500,000 on the Lange Settlement agreement plus the millions already spent on two decades of unnecessary litigation–all to protect the kleptocracy.
Scott Lange cried “FOUL” as soon as he saw the first shovel of sand being moved in preparation for building a home on the suddenly build- able lot. Thus began a 20 year legal battle costing county taxpayers millions of dollars in legal expense, costing a county taxpayer a quarter million in his own legal expense, culminating in last year’s Lange Settlement Agreement where the county taxpayers had to hand over one half million dollars to Mr. Lange for damages he incurred 20 years ago from crony deal at the county.
All this to provide cover for an illegal maneuver by one of the county’s employees.
(This county official is still employed with the county and now in charge of the unnecessary ten million dollar Carlsborg Sewer project)
County Prosecutor, Mark Nichols promised repeatedly to issue a report on the entire Lange Settlement saga but, to this date has not issued such a report. Perhaps he is waiting for the high-ranking county official to retire with full benefits so that the county can take no action against him. This is how it works in a Kleptocracy. Or, perhaps Scott Lange is not finished with him. There are rumblings suggesting Lange intends to re-open his case, charging fraud and unprofessional legal conduct, in the run-up to the settlement agreement.
Some may recall the “Business Incubation Project.” This was a multi-million dollar boondoggle foisted upon the community by the city and county governments working through Randy Johnson‘s Economic Development Council and then Port Angeles Mayor, Karen Rogers. You may remember Rogers as the city mayor who, while writing checks to an engineering company doing work for the city was also receiving checks from this same company. Allegedly she was acting as a “consultant” to a business doing business with the city.
Back to the Business Incubator Project. Ostensibly it was set up to nurture fledgling businesses by counseling entrepreneurs and matching them up with capital to start and run businesses in hopes of providing jobs for the struggling community.
After blowing through $8 to$10 million they shut out the lights, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag for their leftover debt totaling $750,000. Bear in mind this Business Incubation Project was operating simultaneous to the Economic Development Council–duplicating their supposed efforts. Both spearheaded by Randy Johnson’s EDC.
No permanent jobs were created with the Business Incubation Project. Neither have any permanent jobs been created by the Economic Development Council, yet they continue to receive more than half a million dollars a year of taxpayer money–for who knows what.
The International Gateway Project in downtown Port Angeles. Here we have a glorified brick-barn costing the taxpayers $15 million. When one figures the cost of the land and the replacement value of the building one comes up with a figure of approximately $9 million. One must ask: “what happened to the other six million plowed into this project?”
Simultaneous to the land-buying spree undertaken to provide land for the Gateway Project the city purchased, for one million dollars, a toxic waste site known as the Niichtel Property. It was known to be a toxic waste site before the purchase. The purchase was structured to where the city would pay interest for several years, was not allowed to pay off the debt early, and soon this million dollar boondoggle will be on the backs of city residents for principal and interest. The land is of absolutely no value to the city, cannot be sold, and no one can verbalize the rationale for purchasing it in the first place.
You may have heard of “HarborWorks.” This is another million dollar drag on the public treasury. It was intended to market the Rayonier property in town. After blowing through more than a million dollars they discovered no one wanted the property. Why didn’t they have a regional Realtor market the property–for free?
More recently you may remember the county commissioners giving away one million dollars to the Port of Port Angeles with no strings attached. This was intended for the composites recycling project undertaken by the Port. This almost caused a constitutional crisis because the county treasurer, Selinda Barkhuis insisted on doing this legally, with contracts and memorandums of understanding as to how taxpayer money is to be spent. Then county commissioner, Jim McEntire did not want to burden the Port with too much paperwork attendant to a million dollar gift. He dug in his heels and refused to require a contract for the million he was gifting the Port.
(This likely sowed the seeds for a later showdown culminating with the county commissioners ordering an agreeable county prosecutor, Mark Nichols to sue the county treasurer in a trumped up public records ordeal.)
This million dollar gift to the Port is now being repaid. The Port of Port Angeles recently hired former commissioner McEntire as a “consultant” to convince the junior taxing districts they are not getting screwed by deals like the aforementioned “Foothills Land Swap” where public timber lands are swapped for cut-over stump fields. Then the marketable timber cut from formerly public lands is sold overseas thus denying the schools, parks, and hospitals the timber revenue they depend on for improving the lives of residents.
McEntire’s presentation to the representatives of the junior taxing districts was laughable. Several in the audience pointed out errors in McEntire’s calculations which he had projected onto a screen. His excuse, “I just put this together late last night” he said.
Speaking of the Port and handouts to good ole boys. The Port of Port Angeles was given all of its land holdings back in 1917. For this gift from the citizens of the county they agreed to provide jobs and be good shepherds of the land given them. After all, this is the most valuable land in the county including hundreds of acres of waterfront property on a prized deep-water port, the marinas, the airports, all the most valuable and seemingly the most profitable holdings in the county.
Yet, still, the Port of Port Angeles cannot turn a profit. Maybe one of the reasons is they supply all the tools of the trade to the two timber men who monopolize the waterfront log-yard property. The log-moving machinery down on the docks is all paid for by the taxpayers via the Port of Port Angeles.
Recently the Port floated the idea of spending three-quarters of a million dollars to dredge the bottom of the harbor so these two timber men can load even more logs on the ships bound for China with our natural resources.
Bear in mind, when you drive down Marine Drive and see those mountains of logs stacked on the waterfront, none of the logs shipped from the Port of Port Angeles provide any revenue to the junior taxing districts including the schools, parks and the hospitals in the county.
This is pure profit for two men. The Port of Port Angeles has become a “hand-maiden” for two timber men.
There is even talk of building a $5 million dollar waste water infrastructure for the water-front log yard for the sole benefit of these two timber men. If they were not there there would be no need for the project. Their leases do not amortize the added expenditures.
A report presented at an EDC meeting in 2014 stated timber exports are up 300% while timber related jobs are DOWN 75%. In competitive markets this would be unsustainable but in a Kleptocracy-driven economy it thrives. Bear in mind exported logs provide no revenue to the schools, parks or hospitals. Only profits to the timber men.
Even more recently the new and improved county commission voted to provide nearly one million dollars to the Peninsula Housing Authority. This deal had a particularly foul smell to it as it coursed its way through the county bureaucracy.
From its genesis the money was intended to crush 33 perfectly good homes owned by the housing authority. As the application for funds wended its way through the courthouse, on every official paper associated with this deal, there was mention made that the money was going “for the construction of a Boys and Girls Club.” The official “Legal Notice” sent to the lapdog daily paper noticed it as a budget emergency for the “construction of a Boys and Girls Club.”
When it came before the county commission everyone in the room knew the money was not intended to build a Boys and Girls Club but was to destroy 33 perfectly good homes. Still, the commissioners, even after being informed the run-up to the vote was improperly noticed in the newspaper, they voted unanimously to provide nearly one million taxpayer dollars to destroy 33 good homes to build back newer homes.
Even though the housing authority is publicly funded and even though the county commissioners appoint its board of directors there are still private investors who will profit from this arrangement. Neither the housing authority nor the county will divulge the name(s) of the private investors. There is no guarantee our $900,000 will not wind up in private hands as did the million dollars that went to the Port’s composites project under McEntire.
So, the county taxpayers are supplying the money for private investors to make money while everyone is hiding the deed behind the supposed building of a Boys and Girls Club.
Norma Turner, titular head of the local Democratic Party, is a member of the boards of both the Boys and Girls Club and the Peninsula Housing Authority. She applauded this deal all the way through its tortured path until the county commission sealed the deal this past Tuesday approving $901,000 for the housing authority to destroy 33 homes so cronies can make money on the project.
These are not isolated incidents. This is a way of life for the county. These questionable deals are in addition to the normal annual gift of nearly one-half million dollars to the Economic Development Council.
The EDC mission is to be the job creating engine for the county. In their 35 years of existence, the last several years under the “leadership” of newly minted county commissioner, Randy Johnson, they have failed miserably.
If their mission is to keep out competition and keep wages stagnant they have been extraordinarily successful. The per capita income for Clallam County is, and has been for many years, at minimum wage–$19,000 per person per year.
This is not surprising since the members of the EDC are the major employers in the county. Why would they be keen on raising wages or bringing in a business that will compete for their workers. They might have to pay more in wages if the EDC was actually successful at its purported mission.
Readers may remember a couple years ago when then newly appointed Executive Director of the EDC, Bill Greenwood announced at an EDC meeting he wanted to go through his Rolodex and call up friends with whom he’d worked over the years, to entice them to move all or a part of their business to Clallam County.
Then County Commissioner and EDC board member, Jim McEntire said, “ be careful what kind of companies you bring in. If they pay more than our existing businesses they will come after our employees.”
Meaning of course we need to keep wages at this miserable minimum wage for as long as possible.
Sequim area voters thought they were getting a relief from the old McEntire way of doing county business when they elected Mark Ozias in his place.
Thus far Ozias has not distinguished himself from McEntire in any appreciable manner. He voted, in his first month in office, to have the county prosecutor sue the county Treasurer on a trumped up public records case. He has votes with the majority on most of the spending decisions coming before the board of commissioners. Ozias is the first county commissioner in at least four years to cut off public comment at a county commission meeting. He thinks allowing taxpayers 3 minutes of testimony on million dollar decisions is fair and sufficient. This was not a normal “public comment” session but was a legally required “Hearing” for a budget emergency.
Even McEntire never shut down input from the public.
This causes this writer to believe there is little difference in the two political parties in the county. They are two wings of the same party–the moneyed party.
If you have money, and want to make more money, just cozy up to your favorite politician, propose any wing-ding deal imaginable, you will find someone who will go for it–in a big way.
It’s in the local DNA.