Trump’s rally in Lynden: Will we get what we paid for? / Noisy Waters Northwest, Sandy Robson

ericksen for trump banner

Senator Doug Ericksen’s Facebook cover photo showing him on the stage, shaking hands with Donald Trump at a May 7, 2016, Trump rally, held at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds, in Lynden, WA.

May 15, 2016  Sandy Robson

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and his campaign, chose Lynden, a small city in Northwest Washington, about 5 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border, for his May 7, 2016 rally. The selection of the venue location at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Whatcom County, was supposedly decided at the last minute, about 48 hours prior to the Saturday event.

doug ericksen

Photo of Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale, WA) displayed on the Washington State Republican Caucus webpage

Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale, WA), is the Deputy Director of Donald Trump’s campaign in Washington, and was the apparent connector that brought the Trump campaign to Whatcom County.

Attempting to delve into Trump’s campaign having chosen the little-known border town for a political rally, I asked Senator Ericksen in a phone call last week if my understanding that he was instrumental in bringing Trump to Lynden was correct, and Senator Ericksen answered, “No.”

I followed up with, “So, you had no involvement at all then,” to which the state senator replied, “Not instrumental.”

However, Ericksen certainly seems to have been very involved in helping to arrange Trump’s rally in Lynden because the senator was talking with various media outlets, providing information and quotes about how Trump ended up with Lynden as his May 7 rally location.

A May 5, 2016, Mynorthwest.com article reported that Ericksen had told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that, “…he and other Trump supporters wanted to host the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in Seattle, closer to the masses. But they had to move it to Lynden at the last minute to host 4,500 people.

“‘The long and short of it is that we had it lined up for Boeing Field but King County refused to give us permits to do the event. That happened on Wednesday afternoon and we had to scramble for a different venue and we came up with this one,’ Ericksen said.”

While Ericksen alleged that King County officials decided not to approve the permits, the Mynorthwest.com article provided information to contradict the senator’s account:

“According to officials with the King Country Department of Transportation, tenants at Boeing Field can have any aviation-related events at the airport. But unrelated events, such as political rallies, must go through a process. In this case, a tenant inquired about having the Trump event and they were instructed that a formal plan needed to be submitted with accommodations for security, media, and for traffic. Officials said that they never denied any permits for the Trump event, rather, the tenant opted out.”

That same article reported Ericksen later told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that “his statements about Trump’s failed Seattle visit were his opinion.”

A May 7, 2016, Northwest Cable News article reported, “‘We’re going to work with our local law enforcement to create a secure environment that will allow people who want to protest peacefully to have their say, but also make sure that we’re taking care of the security of people who want to hear Donald Trump speak,’ Ericksen said.”

For supposedly not having been instrumental in bringing Trump to Lynden, Senator Ericksen certainly uses the word “we” often when referring to the planning and arranging of the rally to media.

While many Whatcom residents thought the idea of Trump having a rally in Whatcom County only came about at the last minute, and happened simply because the Trump campaign was reportedly not able to hold its rally in Seattle, the reality is that it appears the idea was on the table back in April.

kgmi kiro post

Donald Trump onstage, speaking to the audience at a May 7, 2016, Trump rally, held at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds, in Lynden, WA.

On the April 25, 2016, “KGMI Morning Show” program, Senator Ericksen told conservative talk radio host Dillon Honcoop, that Whatcom County was one of the possible locations for a Trump rally in Washington state.

Being host to a presidential candidate’s rally can be a pretty big ordeal even for large cities, but for a town of only about 13,000 like Lynden, it has sizable financial implications in terms of the cost to its police department—and those financial implications are also felt by law enforcement departments from Whatcom County, Bellingham, Ferndale, Skagit County, Seattle,  Bothell, Mukilteo, Everett, Edmonds, Lynnwood, and other agencies.

A May 7, 2016 post on the Whatcomready.org website, reported that Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center, a multi-jurisdictional response and preparation partnership, announced that over 300 emergency responders came together for the May 7, Trump event, many of those coming in on overtime. There were approximately 30 agencies which were involved in the operation.

After learning of the large number of emergency responders called upon to work, relating to Trump’s visit to Whatcom County, I wanted to get an understanding of the expenses related to this response. I also wanted to know who, or what entity, would be responsible for those costs.

I contacted John Gargett, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Director of Emergency Management, via email on May 10, asking him two questions:

1) What entity/entities are responsible for the expenses related to the response necessitated by Trump’s visit to Whatcom County?

2) Have the total expenses related to the response necessitated by Trump’s visit to Whatcom County been tallied yet, and if so, what is that figure?

(a) If not yet tallied, when is that final tally expected to be completed so that I may have access to that figure?

Mr. Gargett replied promptly later that same day and said:

“Thank you for reaching out. The Donald Trump May 7 visit to Whatcom County was indeed a significant event for our community.  With respect to your questions, at this point all agencies who supported the effort did so within their own financial resources under mutual aid requests, however the feasibility of reimbursement and/or request for compensation is being evaluated by the County.  Total costs are being tabulated and we do not as of yet have a final timeline for gathering, tabulating and publishing that data as I am sure you can understand that it takes quite a lot of time to gather all that data.  We have, however, reached out to all agencies and requested their information.”

Seeking clarification, I sent another email to Mr. Gargett with additional questions pertaining to his response. When asked about the phrase he used, “under mutual aid requests,” he explained it means: “Law Enforcement and the Fire Communities have established formal agreements to support one another as needed during events.  For example, last summer the fires that were burning state wide required fire fighters from all over the northwest. They were activated under mutual aid agreements. The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office used Law Enforcement mutual aid for the Trump rally.”

When asked about feasibility of reimbursement, he wrote: “This has two pieces.  First, “feasibility of reimbursement” – traditionally no candidate, office holder or other high profile VIP expects to pay for local security, hence the question being asked is it even feasible for us to expect reimbursement? Second, if we as a County believe it is feasible, then who do we request the compensation from? – The Lynden Fair contracted with the Trump Campaign, but it was the Secret Service that requested LE support.  So simplistically, is it feasible to even bother with trying to get reimbursement, and if it is feasible who do we send the bill to?”

Mr. Gargett also answered my question regarding costs for responder personnel expenses relating to Trump’s Lynden rally.

“All personnel are being paid from existing budgets, they will receive overtime and regular pay as normal.”

So, let’s get this straight. Senator Doug Ericksen helped to arrange Trump’s rally in Lynden, and Whatcom County will incur what is likely to be a large sum in terms of the total cost for that visit by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, back on April 5, in his State of the County address, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws had called on Whatcom County Council to postpone the EMS levy that was expected to go before voters in the November general election, until the new county jail funding is resolved. Louws asked the council for that postponement of the EMS levy, knowing that reserves in that EMS fund could be close to depletion by the end of this year.

By Ericksen helping to bring his favored presidential candidate, Donald Trump, considered by many to have bigoted and racist views, to Whatcom County, the senator has cost our County what is likely to be a very large sum of money, thus pushing the County even further away from having the funding necessary in the near future for vital emergency services.

Who in Whatcom County government allowed such a poor decision at a time when we are told the County cannot afford to provide the funding needed for EMS past the year’s end?

Due to the fact that a large security presence would be needed, did the Northwest Washington Fair Association, where the Trump rally was held in Lynden, receive the go-ahead from any Whatcom County government official such as County Executive Louws, before signing a rental agreement with the Trump campaign organization?

How much money did the Northwest Washington Fair receive for renting out part of its facilities to the Trump campaign?

Because the May 7 rally was a high profile event, and because crowds at some Trump rallies have reportedly been volatile, sometimes resulting in numerous incidents involving violence, there was a need for a sizable presence in security and protection.

It appears that there was no agreement in place with either the Northwest Washington Fair Association that received some untold amount of money from the Trump campaign for the rental of the Grandstand facility, or with the Trump campaign itself, which would have provided for reimbursement to the county, city, and state agencies for the costs incurred.

Not ensuring that those expenses would be covered by either the Trump campaign, or by the Northwest Washington Fair Association, seems not only short-sighted on the part of our County government officials, but it also could have significant adverse financial implications for Whatcom County.

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