The Public Locked out of Jail Selection ProcessPermalink +
Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 10:53 am // Riley Sweeney
On Wednesday, I was politely kicked out of a Whatcom County Council meeting while they discussed the property they planned to buy for the new jail. Because they were discussing the bargaining process for purchasing a piece of property, they went into executive session and the public was removed.
But wait, you say, they already decided on a location? When did that happen? I, too, was surprised that this major decision had flown under the radar, so I started to piece together the series of events that led to the sheriff and county executive selecting a property (and apparently a jail planner) without any public input.
Last year, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws, Sheriff Bill Elfo, and the County Council faced pressure from the public over the $150 million dollar price tag and 844 bed size of the jail the sheriff was proposing. Over 300 people showed up at a public meeting to express their outrage over this monstrosity that would require doubling, and then tripling the rate of incarceration in our county to fill it. In response to the public outpouring, the county council formed the Jail Planning Task Force, that contained both big jail proponents (Wendy Jones, Chief Corrections Deputy; Ray Baribeau; Bill Elfo, campaign donor and volunteer;) and members of the “Right Size Jail” coalition (Lisa McShane, Barbara Sternberger).
This task force met for almost a year and compiled a list of recommendations. You can find their meeting minutes and final recommendations here. In April of this year, they presented their recommendations to the county council. Out of their research and discussion came some key points:
- They urged the county to hire a jail planner who would reexamine some of the initial flawed assessments that led to the proposed garish 844 bed facility.
- They recommended a much smaller 500-700 beds for the new jail. “Based on information gathered to date, the JPTF has determined that it is reasonable to estimate that the number of beds required for initial construction should be in the range of 500-700.” This fits more in line with other communities of similar size (see my chart here).
- As for the location, they recommended the jail be a “reasonable” drive to the courthouse, positioned centrally in the county, and close to I-5.
Throughout this process, Louws pushed for a quick selection of the jail property, but many on the JPTF urged the county to secure a jail planner first. You can read the back and forth here. In the end, it was agreed the county would search for both concurrently.
About a month after the Jail Planning Task Force shut down, a new group launched called Public Safety Now – Build a Safe Jail. As I outlined in an earlier post, this group was formed almost entirely of Bill Elfo’s former campaign committee and seemed to be funded from the $12,000 leftover in his campaign account. They were able to hire a local videographer to produce some professional videos, put them on YouTube, and design a sleek website.
Just one problem, they completely missed the point of the earlier outrage. The concern wasn’t over any of the “objections” they mention on their website, it was that the proposed facility was too big and too expensive for our community. It was essential to scale it back to something more reasonable before moving ahead. But this Elfo-funded group was unconcerned with such details, and began cranking up the demand for immediate construction of a jail.
In July, Louws put out a public call for property submissions. He received piles and piles of applications from property owners looking to sell their empty lot to the county. Currently, I have a public records request out on the process used to winnow down the sites, but here is a pdf of some of the top contenders. Pay special note to page 6, because that was their final choice.
On Oct 24th this year, a riot broke out in our current jail and the sheriff was quick to capitalize on it. Sending out a press release, which was echoed by the Public Safety Now group, Elfo hit the familar notes of needing a new jail immediately. “A major contributing factor to this incident is the deteriorated and insufficient jail facility.”
At some point during this time, Louws and Elfo reassembled the often-dormant Law and Justice Council for Whatcom County, who then met and decided where they believed the jail should be, and who should be the official jail planner. Since that group’s membership, minutes, and almost all information about them are not available online, I have no idea what process they went through or even who “they” are, much less how they came to these selections. Again, I have submitted a public records request and hope to have that information soon.
On November 7th, Louws and Elfo met with the council to inform them they had selected a planner and a property, and to discuss their bargaining strategy. This is the meeting where I showed up. While there, council member Ken Mann asked if it was necessary to go into executive session. Louws argued it was, since the council was discussing purchase prices. Mann, thankfully, raised the issue of public involvement and asked if the public had been brought into the process. Louws responded that at the county council meeting scheduled for December 4th, Louws would bring forth the list of properties and explain why their choice was the superior one, then get the public (and the council’s) blessing. Former county executive and current council member, Pete Kremen, offered, “You can’t involve people unless you have something for them to consider.” Louws followed with, “Our committee has been meeting and discussing this. If people want to know about it, they can do a public records request and find out.” At that, Mann relented and I was politely escorted out to the hallway.
The next morning, Elfo returned to work at the sheriff’s office and informed all the deputies where the new jail was going to be located (see picture on right). I decided to see what this location looked like, so on my lunch break, Bryna and I drove out there to examine the property ourselves.
I’m not a professional assessor, but here are my impressions. It is relatively accessible from I-5. Google Maps informs me it is a fourteen minute drive from the county courthouse. It is nestled between a junkyard and a slaughterhouse (see pictures below) so no worries of nearby hospitals or schools. Finally, the ground itself seems pretty level and ready to be developed. In short, not a bad choice from my unprofessional view.
However, the issue isn’t really whether or not this is a good location for the jail. It is that Elfo and Louws have picked out a location and selected a jail planner without any significant input from the public. That is the same sort of bull-headed thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Who is this mysterious jail planner? Do they recognize that jail populations are trending down each year, even before we legalized marijuana a couple days ago? Will this property be used to build a giant, sprawling 844 bed facility or a more modest 600 bed facility? These are essential questions that need answering and so far the public has been locked out of the process.
It seems Elfo and Louws have already made up their minds about what they want and now are just looking for us, the public, to sign off on their decisions. That is not involving the public, and I hope both of them will take a step back and reassess how they can bring more citizens to the table for this process.
I will update this story as I get access to more public records and, of course, after the Dec. 4th meeting.
Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 10:47 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mike Rostrom explains how Bellingham city planners played loose and illegal with planning processes.
Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 7:22 pm // John ServaisSunnlyland residents win one - after a seven year effort. Planning Department failed them and all of us.
2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2014
Paper Dreams in Fairhaven
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 5:30 am // Guest writerLandlords are so caught up opposing a licensing and inspection ordinance, they cannot see the upside for them in ridding the city of bad rentals.
11 comments; last on Jul 24, 2014
Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 1:24 pm // Guest writerJudith Green explains how the Bellingham Planning Department is trying to cram their plan onto a neighborhood.
5 comments; last on Jul 21, 2014
Sun, Jul 13, 2014, 2:26 pm // Terry WechslerYears after BP completed its north dock, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft EIS and it's really really stupid.
Tue, Jul 08, 2014, 8:20 am // Dick ConoboyThe city council "persuades" the city administration to withdraw a request for an intrusive police threat warning system
2 comments; last on Jul 08, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 6:54 am // Terry WechslerIt is time we stop allowing corporations to externalize the costs associated with their risky business practices, and demand more from our regulators who hold the keys to…
3 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 5:04 am // Guest writerGuest writer Sandy Robson breaks the story of officials from Washington treated to a coal-promoting junket to Wyoming.
2 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 5:00 am // Guest writerFerndale's most famous landmark is frequently commented on and is often in the news. Here is their side of the story.
4 comments; last on Jul 07, 2014
Wed, Jul 02, 2014, 5:14 pm // Terry WechslerOn the anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster, communities throughout North America rally in solidarity to remember and protest wholly inadequate government response to crude-by-rail's risks.
4 comments; last on Jul 12, 2014
Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 9:01 pm // Guest writerIn the Weekly, Tim Johnson left out three words in quoting Craig Cole - and his story misleads readers. Guest article by Sandy Robson.
11 comments; last on Jul 01, 2014
Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 10:24 am // Dick ConoboyThe Bellingham Police Department wants to purchase "threat assessment" software with federal monies. Citizen comments were vehement and negative. City Council confused.
5 comments; last on Jul 03, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 10:18 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the failings of a bad policy framework are revealed
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 7:53 am // Dick ConoboyThe possession and use of consumer fireworks are no longer permitted within the city limits.
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 11:39 am // John ServaisWyoming Senators and coal honchos were in Whatcom County June 10 - to hold a news conference with select reporters.
7 comments; last on Jun 20, 2014
Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 11:20 am // John ServaisBellingham Hearing Examiner, Dawn Sturwold, retires in three weeks. Successor selection is hidden from all of us.
3 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Fri, Jun 06, 2014, 2:07 pm // Terry WechslerPart 2: Following Ken Oplinger to California, and Home Again
4 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Sun, Jun 01, 2014, 12:39 am // Guest writerA Venn diagram where coal, the Endangered Species Act, Republicans, and Wyoming’s Board of Education collide.
2 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, May 28, 2014, 3:15 pm // Guest writerA perspective by guest writer Ellen Murphy reflects on the Whatcom Watch and the threatened law suit by Craig Cole.
22 comments; last on Jun 01, 2014
Tue, May 27, 2014, 1:23 am // Wendy HarrisWhy was so little consideration given to the concept of developing the waterfront for eco-tourism?
5 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Mon, May 26, 2014, 7:51 pm // Wendy HarrisCity park improvements have implications on the local and global scale.
2 comments; last on May 29, 2014
Thu, May 22, 2014, 12:10 am // Guest writerWyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal
4 comments; last on Jun 17, 2014
Sun, May 18, 2014, 11:57 pm // Wendy HarrisReckless rezones and far-fetched explanations result in more slaughterhouses and meat packing plants
3 comments; last on May 20, 2014
Sat, May 17, 2014, 2:34 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley takes a closer look at the Charter Review Commission candidates
2 comments; last on May 21, 2014
Tue, May 13, 2014, 5:04 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham's annual water quality report indicates that city hall's propoganda machine is going strong
1 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Sun, May 11, 2014, 2:20 pm // Terry WechslerPart 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking
3 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 10:02 am // John ServaisThe Political Junkie for Whatcom County - that would be Riley Sweeney - has Overstreet not running for reelection in the 42nd.
1 comments; last on May 13, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 6:10 am // Terry WechslerWhy Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.
6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014
Tue, May 06, 2014, 5:52 pm // Riley SweeneyThe value of a Precinct Committee Officer . . .
1 comments; last on May 07, 2014
Mon, May 05, 2014, 3:34 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the gyrations of the bid for widespread county slaughter are exposed.
2 comments; last on May 07, 2014
Thu, May 01, 2014, 10:21 pm // Guest writerMove to Amend is a national movement to amend the U.S. Constitution and define persons as people and speech as not money.
7 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 8:20 am // John ServaisRiley posted this morning that Seth Fleetwood has decided to challenge Doug Ericksen for state senate in the 42nd District.
1 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014
Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 6:28 am // Dick ConoboyEvery Bellingham Planning Commission member has ties to development or development-related businesses.
4 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 1:59 pm // Terry WechslerA closer look at Whatcom County's industrial "stewards of the environment."
3 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am // Wendy HarrisThe public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.
Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 2:57 pm // Terry Wechsleror How Not to Plan for Future Generations' Water Needs
12 comments; last on Jun 30, 2014
Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 10:40 am // Riley SweeneyA simple explanation of the Charter Review and analysis of District only voting
Wed, Apr 09, 2014, 9:07 am // Riley SweeneyCity pushes for Alabama Street improvements, residents speak out
3 comments; last on Apr 14, 2014
Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 4:29 pm // Guest writerBy Christopher Grannis: Wherein despite every effort and expense, citizens cannot make the City follow the law or work for neighborhoods
2 comments; last on Apr 07, 2014
Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 12:52 pm // Terry WechslerWhy commenting on the EIS for Comp Plan revisions for Cherry Point means demanding an EIS in the first place.
5 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014
Wed, Apr 02, 2014, 6:00 am // Dick ConoboyAmbling University Development Group pulls out. University Ridge will not be built.
12 comments; last on Apr 06, 2014
Tue, Apr 01, 2014, 1:27 pm // Wendy HarrisPlease help us protect county wildlife by ensuring that the scope of the EIS review is adequate. A sample scoping letter is included.
Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 2:23 am // Wendy HarrisThe public has a week to comment on the scope of issues reviewed under the EIS.
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 1:32 am // Wendy HarrisOn March 26, 2014 the city and county provided their update and assessment on the status of Lake Whatcom. This is mine.
2 comments; last on Apr 01, 2014
Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 10:32 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into the county's plan to buy the county morgue
3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014
Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 12:52 am // Wendy HarrisThe public is not provided with a proposed plan or adequate information prior to the annual "state of the lake" meeting
4 comments; last on Mar 18, 2014
Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 1:11 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein there's a crackdown on growing plants, and plans to let slaughter run free
2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2014
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 10:47 am // John ServaisFukushima radiation has been found 20 miles from Whatcom County farmland along the Fraser River in British Columbia.
1 comments; last on Mar 17, 2014
Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 8:28 am // Dick ConoboyThe infamous American Legislative Exchange Council plans to send its spawn to cities and counties throughout the U.S.
1 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014
Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 11:24 am // Riley SweeneyRiley catches State Rep. Vincent Buys for soliciting funds during session
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 10:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Sun, Mar 02, 2014, 3:22 pm // John ServaisThe editor of the Whatcom Watch, Richard Jehn, has resigned effective today. Chalk up a victory for Craig Cole and Pacific International Terminals.
8 comments; last on Mar 05, 2014
Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 9:29 pm // John ServaisThe full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.
16 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 4:33 pm // Wendy HarrisWe were led to believe the city would review waterfront wildlife and habitat connectivity. It turns out that the city intends to focus only on nearshore fish.
Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 1:16 am // Wendy HarrisAccepting the Paul deArmond award of citizen journalism on Feb 7, Wendh Harris gave this speech. We think it deserves its own post.
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 5:48 pm // John ServaisCraig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.
6 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 8:26 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs through court data and discovers the real impact of privatization and legalization
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 10:35 pm // Wendy HarrisThe mayor wants to amend a city law to increase flexibility for a GMA provision that should be used rarely, if ever at all.
3 comments; last on Feb 11, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 3:36 pm // Wendy HarrisCostco imposes indirect costs on our community that are as real and tangible as road construction expenses.
1 comments; last on Feb 13, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 10:13 am // John ServaisThe old empty Reid Boiler Works industrial building in Fairhaven burned to the ground Saturday night.
Election InfoCandidate Filings
Coal, Oil & TrainsCommunity Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Port of Bellingham
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph