February 5, 2017
I sent an email letter today to the Whatcom County Planning Commission and the County Council, regarding Tony Larson’s Whatcom Business Alliance’s (WBA) claim that “school districts” are members of the WBA Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group. I looked into this matter and sent my findings to the Commission and Council. My letter is below:
Dear Whatcom County Planning Commissioners and Whatcom County Council members:
Please consider this an official public comment to be added to the administrative records for both the Planning Commission’s, and the County Council’s, review of the 2016 docket Cherry Point Amendments.
Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA) President Tony Larson has been heavily involved in advocating for Gateway Pacific Terminal proponents, and other businesses with interests at Cherry Point, in terms of the Cherry Point Amendments proposed by Council member Carl Weimer, to the Land Use chapter pertaining to the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area section in the County Comprehensive Plan.
Those advocacy efforts by Mr. Larson included the WBA Cherry Point Coalition submitting, to the Planning Commission (on November 8, 2016), what the WBA named as, “Collaborative Amendment # 3.”
I feel it is important to point out that in Mr. Larson’ zealous efforts on behalf of those Cherry Point business interests, it appears he may have misrepresented information in some of his letters (on behalf of his organization), to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, during the commission’s review of the Cherry Point Amendments.
Mr. Larson sent an October 24, 2016 letter to Planning Commission Chair Nicole Oliver, asking for an opportunity for what he described as a “coalition” of Cherry Point stakeholders, to meet with the planning commissioners during the commission’s review of the amendments. He stated the following in the first paragraph:
“The Whatcom Business Alliance is facilitating work on the comprehensive plan process for a group of Cherry Point stakeholders. The coalition consists of Cherry Point industry, contractors, land owners, elected officials, chambers of commerce, school districts, fire districts and churches.” (I have attached a screenshot photo of Mr. Larson’s October 24, 2016 letter).
It struck me as odd that there would be school districts, fire districts and churches as part of the coalition, so I was curious about that. I contacted the local school districts’ superintendents, via email, asking them if, in fact, their school districts were involved with the Cherry Point coalition as Mr. Larson’s October 24, 2016 letter had stated was the case. (I have attached a screenshot photo of the January 14, 2017 email letter I sent to Lynden School District Superintendent Jim Frey). I sent essentially the same letter to Blaine School District Superintendent Ron Spanjer, Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn, and Bellingham School District Superintendent Greg Baker.
Lynden School District Superintendent Jim Frey responded back to me in a January 18 email, and said:
“The Lynden School District is not a member of the coalition nor am I aware of any involvement with the coalition.”
Each email response I received from the rest of the school districts’ superintendents I had contacted all had similar responses to Mr. Frey’s response to me. According to the email responses I received from all of them, none of the school districts I contacted were members of the “coalition” that WBA President Larson had referenced in his October 24, 2016 letter to the Planning Commission. (I have attached screenshot photos of each of the four email responses from the four superintendents I received).
Mr. Larson repeated his claim that school districts were members of the Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group in his December 7, 2016 comment letter to Planning Commission Chair Nicole Oliver. In his letter, he voiced concerns that he said the Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group had with the November 10, 2016 “Planning Commission Draft Cherry Point Amendments.” He described the Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group in the second paragraph of that letter:
“The formation of our Cherry Point stakeholder group resulted from a concern our members share about the potential negative consequences stemming from language in the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan Update regarding Cherry Point. The stakeholder group is made up of Cherry Point industry, contractors, support businesses, school districts, fire districts and Chambers of Commerce.”
(I have attached a screenshot photo of Mr. Larson’s December 7, 2016 letter).
In addition to contacting the local school district superintendents, I also contacted the WBA about this matter. I sent a January 14, 2017 email to Laura McKinney, Director of Communications for the WBA, regarding the October 24, 2016 letter I’d seen from WBA President Tony Larson, he sent to Planning Commission Chair Nicole Oliver, referencing the “coalition” of Cherry Point stakeholders. I explained in my email, how Mr. Larson had described the coalition as being comprised of “Cherry Point industry, contractors, land owners, elected officials, Chambers of Commerce, school districts, fire districts and churches.”
In my January 14th email to Ms. McKinney, I asked her one question which was:
“Could you please specify exactly which school districts, and which fire districts, are members of the WBA’s coalition referenced by Mr. Larson in his October 24, 2016 email letter to Commission Chair Oliver?”
I did not receive a response from Ms. McKinney, so I sent a follow up email to her on January 18, 2017. I did not receive a response to that follow up January 18th email either.
As of yet, I have not contacted the local fire districts to see if any of them are, in fact, involved with the Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group, as Mr. Larson’s October 24, 2016, and his December 7, 2016, letters had stated was the case.
If my findings are correct in that no actual school districts are members of the WBA’s Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group, I find it extremely distasteful, as well as unethical, for WBA President Larson to use the supposed participation of “school districts” in his WBA Cherry Point coalition, as a means to rally support for the positions, for which, he advocated during the Planning Commission’s review of the Cherry Point Amendments — and he chose to do this in more than one letter to the commission.
I wanted to bring this matter to the Planning Commission’s and the County Council’s attention, so that you all have this context, and to get my comment here placed on the administrative records for both the Planning Commission’s, and the County Council’s, review of the 2016 docket Cherry Point Amendments. Especially, in case during Council’s review of the Cherry Point Amendments, council members may read those email comments submitted to the Planning Commission by the WBA in which their two letters stated that the WBA Cherry Point coalition/stakeholder group includes “school districts,” and, in terms of any comments that may be submitted by the WBA to the County Council in which this same seemingly inaccurate description may be included.