Is Clallam County a Kleptocracy?

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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.

There’s more.  

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.

There’s more:
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?”

There’s more:

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.

There’s more
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.

11 Comments

  1. anonymous

    Of course, when these projects are pitched, all we hear about is how they are going to benefit local residents. How good the project will be for “economic development”.

    But, as we see, the population of Port Angeles has only increased by a thousand over the last 30 years. In fact, it has decreased over the last year, by recent accounting.

    After decades of millions being spent every year, the County is still deemed “distressed”, because of chronically high unemployment figures and a chronically poor economy.

    All that seems to support the observation that Clallam County is a Kleptocracy.

    Reply
  2. Mike Libera

    Your comments are well-taken and most likely accurate. As the “capital city” of Clallam County, Port Angeles has its own problems, many of which you have previously documented as well. You and I were present at this week’s City Council meeting (7/18/17) but I think you came in late, just after the comment was made. I was struck by how relevant and accurate it was, just as yours are in this article. Since Edna was filming it, and you took over at that point, I assume you recorded it – if so, you should consider using it to educate people considering Port Angeles in their future for whatever purpose they may have in mind. The Mayor had been praising a lady who had been instrumental in the area of rape and sexual exploitation and she had taken the microphone and was making a statement and thanking her volunteers. One of her comments really hit home – she said she was not from PA but had lived here for the last 15 years. She went on to say she had lived all over the US and even Europe, I believe . . she also said PA was the most toxic community she has ever lived in . . .Bingo!

    Reply
  3. Vicky Larson

    I KNEW there was something fishy about where all those logs were coming from! I asked over a year ago in the PDN comments on an article and was snapped at by a man saying it was all legitimate from private lands!

    Editor’s Note: This is true. Only timber from private lands can be exported. That is the value of the “foothills land swap.” By trading private stump fields for public marketable timber, public becomes private and profits are gleaned ergo Kleptocracy.

    Reply
  4. Mike

    Very good sum up of the last decade, Dale. I’m glad the Port O Call has taken up this, since our daily snooze obviously is in on the deal. This county has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Coming soon to a kleptocracy near you: more regressive sales taxes from the pool district and new transportation district.

    The pool will be issuing bonds and raising sales taxes without a vote. Part of that money will essentially be gifted to Peninsula Behavioral health for a costly remodel of their warehouse space, in exchange for the loss of the building they’ve been leasing from the county for decades. And, of course, the pool plans to flatten a perfectly good build to make a parking lot.

    The transportation district is yet another example of the city’s methods: get grants and build infrastructure, then because you can’t afford to maintain it, let it deteriorate until it becomes an emergency and convince the public to go into more debt for a replacement. New projects bring glory, maintenance is boring and expensive. The city manager has already stated that the tax from the transportation district won’t be enough to cover the needs. Is this leadership? What is the plan for the rest?

    The transportation district is also a good reminder of how out-of-touch our council is with reality. They got the idea from Sequim. How are Sequim and PA different? Hmm, lots of big box stores that generate sales tax! Ironically the higher sales tax will drive even more people to do their shopping in Sequim, causing more wear and tear on the PA roads and decreasing sales taxes here.

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth Stallings

    Well on Monday at 11 am the Port, the county commissioners and the EDC are having a joint meeting to discuss the EDC quarterly report and introduce the new guy in charge of the EDC. Apparently the screaming ,crying and begging so many of us have done to try and squash the unneeded tax sucking EDC has fallen on deaf ears. I guess they need that particular avenue to help shuffle opportunity fund money into the targeted hands. Earlier on Monday and again on Tuesday they will be meeting and discuss budget emergencies!!! I am certain between the Ports two meetings and the Clallam County Commissioners 3 meetings there will be plenty of new money grubbing, opportunity fund raping proposals to consider.
    Editor’s Note: It sure is strange how much spending gets done under budget emergency circumstances. Just think what it will be like when there is a real-life emergency. Sadly there will be no “emergency” money to spend since they will have already frittered it away.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      With Nippon Mill shut down, that loss of “income” is significant. Even without that, the City was whining about not having enough money.

      Reply
  7. Scott.

    I don’t have a horse in the race but….. The primary idea of this article is false, that stump fields were traded for mature forests. This land swap took nearly 15 years to complete primarily because of the difficulty of matching “inventory” aka timber. One of the main goals of the swap was to consolidate land as it had turned into a literal checkerboard over the years leading to inefficiencies in management, harvest and road maintenance. Look no further than the hill behind the log scales that flipped to all DNR. Since the swap, they have logged pieces every year, and the logs mostly go right across the street to Interfor. I am not poo pooing this entire article, but the stump swap claim is not accurate.

    Reply
    1. anonymous

      Your understanding is not correct. “Blocking up lands” was their “cover” story.

      The land swap between Green Crow and the DNR was primarily swapping mature trees for logged-over land. The DNR gave Green Crow more than $13 million worth of mature timber in the Foothills exchange. In return, Green Crow gave the DNR just $3.5 million of mature timber. Green Crow gave mostly logged over land to the DNR, and the DNR gave mostly mature timber to Green Crow. (Editor’s Note: A $9 million imbalance in favor of Green Crow if correct.)

      Once under Green Crow’s ownership, public timber became private timber and could be exported to Asia for prices much higher than local mills pay. Congress gives timber companies a subsidy that allows private corporations to export raw logs. Timber harvests that goes to supporting schools, libraries, parks, hospitals and other public institutions cannot be exported. In other words, Congress made private timber lands supporting corporations more valuable than public timber lands supporting schools.
      (Editor’s Note: All those logs stacked down on the waterfront are for export and do not provide revenue for the aforementioned schools, parks, hospitals, etc.)

      The Foothills exchange created “arrearage,” which cut funding for schools and cut log supplies for local mills. It also raised profits for the owners of Green Crow, while sending local jobs to China.

      There is a reason why Green Crow has its officers and directors embedded in local government and local institutions: The company makes huge profits by bending public policy to its will.
      (Editor’s Note: This may also be why the Port of Port Angeles is now playing “hand-maiden” to the timber industry. The Port provides, free of charge, an office for NOTAC, a timber lobbying firm. NOTAC is run by the wife of Clallam County Commissioner and President of Green Crow Timber Company, Randy Johnson.

      Reply
  8. Anony Mouse

    I always want to see all sides of an argument, but I really don’t understand the EDC wage statement/argument. Some of the highest paying salaries in the county are from organizations with EDC board members (think Olympic MC, FirstFed, Black Ball Ferry, PUD, Peninsula College, etc.- heck, even Kokopelli Grill wait staff make a lot of cash…) Without those entities, I guess we could all go work for City or County or maybe McDonald’s, but I don’t see a lot of better paid work than that. I”m not sure where the basis of the argument is. I don’t think Jim McEntire employs anyone.

    As for the overall kleptocracy – keep up the good work uncovering questionable behavior. Public officials deserve to be asked about their actions and should be able to justify them. Deals made in the full light of day are usually better than those made behind closed doors. To me, it actually feels like Port Angeles is moving forward by getting into tourism, boat building/maintenace and other businesses despite its years of dependence on timber. Maybe that will be the shift that changes things for good. Not that timber is bad, but economic diversity makes sense.

    Editor’s Note: You are making my point. All these long time employers prefer they not have to compete with other high-paying companies so they keep them out. Ask around, find out what happened to the laminated timber company on the verge of moving here. EDC personnel were told to quit taking calls and quit scheduling meetings. Naturally they went somewhere else. Find out what happened to Foss Tugs, they were all set to move here and poof they were gone. The EDC has not relocated a company here in decades, if ever. They have not increased the average wage above minimum wage in the 35 years of their existence. What are we paying half a million a year for?

    Reply
  9. Mike

    Regarding the timber issue: there are other things going on. The DNR timber that went to Green Crow was largely low elevation and had conversion value too. As in high value, easily reachable real estate. It also had a minimum of Spotted Owl/ ESA encumbrances, which the higher elevation DNR had plenty of. The land DNR got was planted, AND SO can be used to extend the agency’s sustained yield calculation so that DNR can say it has sustainable timber out to some far future date, while heavily cutting right now. Its all a spreadsheet game. Nobody is actually a crook, any more than a Wall street banker is. Or maybe we’re just used to that kind of behavior.

    Reply

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