July 1. 2017 Dena Jensen
On June 27, 2017 the Whatcom County Council’s Special Committee of the Whole (made up of all seven council members) met for an afternoon session to discuss the letter they had been sent by the Bellingham City Council regarding the currently proposed Jail Facility Finance and Use Agreement. I listened to the audio of the meeting and wrote up fairly detailed summaries of the comments and discussions during the meeting that I had posted in the comment section to a Facebook post. I thought I would share that material here to give more people access to the information, since it might come in handy over the next few weeks while the JFFUA is under consideration and the potential looms of a .2% tax to finance a new Whatcom County Jail going on the November 2017 ballot. Here is the link to the audio for that meeting: Special Committee of the Whole PM June 27 2017.mp3
Heads up: the recording style I used jumps around some. I did this over the course of a few days and just wanted to get the material put down in print.
Three of the small city mayors showed up to the County Council’s afternoon session of the Special Committee of the Whole yesterday, one of whom, Mayor Korthuis of Lynden spoke first on behalf of the small city mayors.
Mayor Korthuis was upbeat and complimentary of the council and seemed to touch on many points that he felt would resonate toward reaching an agreement. He felt that the jail agreement is at a good place, remarked on all the compromise everyone has done, including himself, and said he was very happy for the 36 mental and behavioral health beds. He felt that for this reason alone the community should be in support of the new jail.
He is glad that a significant amount of the new tax will go to the communities which he feels are necessary to address public safety concerns. He specifically remarked on how he recognizes Bellingham has a significant need for these funds. He likes, for economic reasons, that the Division street facility will be shut down.
Here’s a quote near the end: “I will say though that no agreement is perfect, no agreement can cover all the contingencies. And when I hear both sides argue that this agreement does not cover all of their concerns and at the same time recognize that these concerns are at odds with each other then I think that likely the best agreement for our situation is before us today.”
He feels any more work that needs to be done can be done outside of the agreement. He wanted to assure Bellingham that the county would likely work with them to accomplish their goals for alternative programs and that Bellingham will have funds from the tax to use for that. He closed with asking that the tax for the jail be put before the public one more time and asking the council to “work with Bellingham” and encourage Bellingham to join the small cities in support of a “desperately needed new jail for Whatcom County.”
Also Mayor Korthuis referenced a letter that was sent to the county council by the small city mayors.
Bellingham City Council Member Michael Lilliquist spoke next and said he did not disagree with much of what Mayor Korthuis has said before him, but wanted to speak on what did not get mentioned. He said we want a safe community and lower crime rates, wanting criminals to not be criminals in the first place, and if individuals do end up committing a criminal offense, to not repeat that crime, or be shackled, and not be able to reenter and be rehabilitated. This is where the county and cities should have started the conversation.
He feels conversations should have also started from a place where they were seeking to understand the drivers of proposed spending first. He used the example of a sewage plant and how substantial money could be saved and a new treatment plant avoided by identifying problems that were causing unneeded spending. So for the jail, what is the larger issue? “We want a working criminal justice system.” Start with asking why are crime rates going down and jail population going up. What is driving the jail population? Who is in the jail? Why are they there? What charges are they being held on? Pretrial? Post trial? How do we address all these things? And then move on to the issue of capital spending.
He says that the City Council is not being late to the game when they bring up ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism, but that this should have been how the whole conversation about the jail should have started. He says this is not something that Bellingham and the public are late in saying, they said is years ago the last time the jail was being considered. There was a letter sent by Bellingham back then, and he brought a letter with him today to express the current majority opinion of the Bellingham City Council.
There are many concerns they have about the criminal justice system and the jail and less about the smaller part within it, which is the JFFUA. He says the agreement is a much improved document. He is happy about the new money made available to the city that they can commit to programs which prevent incarceration, the root causes why people get in trouble with the law. He felt it was important that they write the letter to raise some of these concerns, even if he felt the county may not budge on it, based on things being said by some of the council members and the administration, that there are some things on which they would not move. He said Bellingham City Council felt honor bound to tell the county what their concerns were.
They also have concerns about the booking and holding facility (having to do with flow and design issues). He feels the booking function could be key to this facility even though it is not currently acknowledged. He said size of the jail is a make or break issue for some people and yet size has not been determined. He wishes it was clearer that size has not been decided yet. Jail size can either flex up or down based on what is required. 5 bullet points were not prioritized. Back to the bigger picture, he says there should be a focus on financial commitment to the alternatives. There’s a problem with sequencing. It’s not known which alternatives are going to work best. That decision has not been made.
Can we ask for a financial commitment to those alternatives, and to look through the new revenues will would be having [from the tax] and commit to using it for the drivers of the need for a jail of a certain size? The letter from the city council asks that the recommendations be considered that will be made by the Vera Institute and Incarceration Reduction and Prevention Task Force, select your best recommendations and then start funding them. He asks if we can make a commitment that the public safety tax will be used for alternatives directly related to why we need a jail. Can the JFFUA be modified in a way that doesn’t change the things already hard-negotiated by the cities but does address what he considers and imbalance in the approach.
County Council Member Donovan then discussed some of the concerns City Council Member Lilliquist had shared. He expressed that it would seem hard to him to get the specific language in the agreement/ballot language about the alternative programs when they would not have the report till maybe the end of the year saying what those programs would be.
Council Member Lilliquist offered that the county doesn’t know the specific size of the jail, and yet they have designated amounts of money that are going towards it, with specific allocations that would be coming from the cities. They could state the amounts that are committed to a project without the complete details of the project being known.
When Council Member Donovan had begun speaking earlier he had mentioned that the Bellingham City Council did not want to see the tax go on the ballot, and Council Member Lilliquist took exception to this. He said the council did not come to an opinion on that question. He said he felt it might be technically possible to meet the timeline to get the tax on the ballot, but he also felt there should be something the county could do to meet the spirit of the request [contained in the letter to the county council from Bellingham City Council]. He felt the ballot language could be adjusted and the JFFUA could be adjusted. He felt this could happen where the majority of the city council would be won over and at the same time it would not effect the agreement in a way that the other signatories would not be satisfied as well. He wanted a financial floor set for future councils to know what was committed to these programs.
Council Member Brenner said she was under the impression that at some point there had been a commitment made to an alternative center for those with mental health and substance abuse issues as well as a commitment made to using a mental health tax to it. She felt the commitment was huge.
County Executive Louws said the commitment was made to spend the money within the RCWs as allowed for the RCWs under the behavioral health to not only use for capital construction but for the ongoing programming. He said we haven’t done any major capital construction other that the original 16 bed facilities, so 100% of that is for programs at this particular time.
He said the jail agreement is why they have the formula so tight for the finances of it because we’re selling this document out to the bond market and they have an expectation and we have an obligation to give them a very definite plan of how we’re going to service the debt we’re going to be taking on. He said Whatcom County doesn’t have any new money, and Bellingham does have some new money coming through and we don’t know right now what the definition of incarceration prevention is. We somewhat know what money we’re anticipating. We don’t know what programs are going to be effective moving down the road He felt the JFFUA has the language in it committed to working on all these things. We have the task force working on it and the goals and aspirations. He doesn’t sense that there is not a desire from the elected community to do everything we can.
He said there’s been discussions out there right now that if Bellingham would contribute 25% of their money that their getting in excess of what the payment is and Whatcom County would contribute up to $300,000 a year, with the small cities in there, we have the ability to work together to have a document to make all of that happen. He said that the JFFUA is a little different than the behavioral health tax in the respect that the contract is serving the purpose of selling a bond for a relatively large project.
Council Member Brenner feels that from what Council Member Lilliquist said that people don’t feel the county has made commitments to addressing mental health needs and she feels the county has made incredible commitments [see Executive Louws comment above for what those commitments are]. She thinks people are concerned the county just wants to throw people in jail. She doesn’t think that’s how the county is approaching things or that it makes sense or is cost effective. She feels that for new people just learning about this, it is understandable they have concerns. But she feels Council Member Lilliquist should know better with his exposure to what the county has been doing. She thinks the county should get quite a bit of credit for their commitment and what they have been doing.
She thinks if everyone works on this, she hopes that Bellingham will get behind it. She reminds people that she recalls that Bellingham campaigned against the ballot measure last time, she thought, due to some policing issue. But she thinks from what she reads in the paper the police or some people who are members of the police force want things to be moving ahead with getting something done finally. “Not at the last minute, but finally.”
Council Member Mann thanked Council Member Lilliquist for his letter. He felt it raised some of the concerns that he has. He feels the county isn’t doing near enough with alternatives and diversions. He feels we have only been doing what we have been doing as a result of a shortage of beds or crisis situations. He thinks Bellingham has been doing a great job. He respectfully disagrees with Council Member Brenner.
He wants to ask Council Member Lilliquist about the location issue. How big a deal breaker is that for Bellingham. It is a big issue for Council Member Mann. He doesn’t think we have ever done an effective analysis of what it’s going to mean to have the jail in a different city away from where most of the criminal justice infrastructure is located.
Council Member Lilliquist hesitates to say how big an issue the location is. Bellingham did not rank this. For some it rankles and for some it’s a deal-breaker. Some are indifferent. He feels its hard for him to negotiate for his seven members.
Council Member Mann says this answer is helpful as it is. He now knows a sampling of the feelings of the city council on this.
Council Member Browne says he has spent a fair amount of time listening to these concerns and feels he has a draft that addresses many of the concerns that Council Member Lilliquist has expressed. He feels it prominently addresses, in the amount of $25 million, the concern about the commitment of funds toward programs designed to address alternatives to incarceration.
Council Member Browne hands out two versions of the draft. He wants to convey the seriousness with which Council Members Weimer, Sidhu and himself have taken the comments made and hopefully have been able to reflect the principal thing that has been indicated, which was what is being spent on alternatives to incarceration.
The proposal is that if this draft were to be accepted by the county council and Bellingham City Council, then Council Member Browne is prepared to introduce this as an alternative ordinance for discussion in two weeks. If it was acceptable then there would need to be Memorandum of Agreement that would accompany the JFFUA and the understandings that memorandum would seek to solicit the cooperation of the small cities for us all to collectively sign a new version of the JFFUA that treats everybody the same, but with the amendment for this additional expenditure towards incarceration prevention.
Council Member Weimer expresses that the County Council started working on prevention programs years ago, refers to the Mental Health tax that Council Member Brenner and Executive Louws mentioned earlier, and the Triage Center. He says Bellingham has been working on some of the same things. When the earlier versions of the jail agreement came through, even the one two weeks ago, it was all based on building a new jail. He says he thinks the community has come to realize over the last two years is that what we need is a new criminal justice system. He feels we do need the jail, but that that they wanted to commit in this document [the Memorandum of Agreement] that excess money that both the cities and county get [from the sales tax] after a few years [these bracketed sections are me/Dena talking: I thought this was an important distinction for us to be aware of, the “after a few years’ part] could be devoted to even *more* incarceration prevention programs than what we’re both already doing. He says that’s what the memorandum is an attempt to do.
Council Member Sidhu talks about cause and effect. He felt that since his getting familiar with the jail situation during the last couple years addressing mental health, behavioral health, and homelessness has been brought in because, he said, out in society no solutions existed for that, so they have fallen onto the jail. He feels they should not be connected to the jail and the reason they are connected to it is because we don’t have an adequate health care system. He understands that we need to address medical and mental health issues that are present inside the jail.
He believes some people have been expressing concerns to the council that are not in the domain of the county or the city. He believes many things are under the state, federal, or supreme court domains. The county and cities are wishing to still try to address these things, but he feels there is only a limited capacity to do this, limited capacity by law and by money.
He has listed a few things we want in a jail, regardless of whether it’s a new jail or old jail. It should be a humane place. We must have some attendance to mental, medical, behavioral health issues when people are incarcerated because of these issues. But we cannot save people. They first come in the jail and then we take care of them. That part is separate from what happens outside the jail. Next need for a jail is adequate space. We started at 1000 beds to 700 beds. We have come down to now around 400 beds. He doesn’t feel a disparity of 50 beds qualifies something as a mega-jail and something else as just fine.
When the Vera Institute comes they are going to tell you that this size of jail is possible if you have 30 other programs outside the jail in place. It is cause and effect. If you don’t have the money in place to do those programs, then your jail population is going to go up. He doesn’t think we will ever know the exact figure for size.
He feels everyone is ignoring the biggest factor that he feels will affect jail size, which is future technology. We can’t predict what new technologies will be available 10 years from now and he feels that not knowing what the Vera Institute is going to tell us is insignificant by comparison. He likens the situation in some respects to buying a computer that we are going to go ahead and buy today because we need it, even though there could be a much better one in the future.
Council Member Sidhu believes we must make much bigger investments outside of the jail. He feels that the monetary commitment that is made by the county and each city to these programs that are alternatives to incarceration, whatever percentage of the new monies from the taxes that each party commits, should be pooled to provide a network of services available to anyone in the county who needs them. He feels this will be a more efficient way to use those monies.
Council Member Brenner wants to disagree with Council Member Mann that an evaluation had not been done on where to locate the jail. Council Member Mann responds that he did not say that and some one else did. Council Member Brenner says, whoever it was that said it, that there was an analysis done and it made sense because half the population is outside the city and half is inside and that the Slater Road site was picked, per her recollection, because it was less far from policing in the small cities to get to and not a whole lot further from Bellingham. She doesn’t remember anyone bringing this up. She does remember it from something somebody sent the council. It might have been from the small cities. She says recently there was no talk about this, just that it had to be downtown.
Whatever site is decided on, she just wants there to be ample land for people to be able to grow crops and animal training for therapy animals and others things she can think of to give people coming out of the jail a positive effect and potential vocation. It wasn’t important to her before, but it is now.
Council Member Lilliiquist is asked to respond and says he appreciates an attempt in the agreement Council Member Browne presented to balance two things which are not equally expensive, but which are equally important: the need to safely and humanely incarcerate people, and the need to prevent and reduce the need to incarcerate people by reducing the drivers to criminal behaviors.
He asks that the Bellingham City Council be able to have a finished copy of the the JFFUA and/or the Memorandum document for the council to be able to consider at their next city council meeting.
Council Member Browne says the quickest they can work is to introduce the document at council’s meeting that night so they could vote on it at the meeting on July 11. Council Members Browne and Lilliquist exchange comments on how to make the information to Bellingham City Council in a timely manner. Council Member Lilliquist feels the deadline for the JFFUA is the most pressing.
Deputy Executive Tyler Schroeder says that by the end of June 27th or 28th there will be a draft Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County, if the County Council moves forward with the introduction of the ballot measure ordinance as Council Member Browne, Weimer, and Sidhu are proposing.
Executive Louws speaks to add that the administration is doing the draft by request of the council, so it’s the council members’ document. It’s a document where the administration will do the best they can to articulate what they have heard from the council and put it into the document. He says our commitment to get there is there, but at this time the small city mayors, the executive, and the mayor of Bellingham have given the council a JFFUA to consider along with all of the others and right now the administration is working council’s, trying to figure out what it’s going to take for the different bodies to come together on that.
Council Member Browne clarifies that what the document the executive is referring to is from three of the council members and not even a majority of the council members has agreed to the Memorandum of Agreement.
Council Member Sidhu raises the point that if extra meetings are required to process all the information needed to make a decision on the agreements, then more meetings than the regularly schedule ones can be scheduled.
Ferndale Mayor Jon Mutchler speaks. He points out the council takes a lot of questioning of motives, same as directed to the county executive and sheriff’s office and states they all have integrity and good will. He says Ferndale has a stake in this. He says it’s not popular to have a jail in your city. Whether or not the jail is in Ferndale, he is for the JFFUA and is ready to have the jail in Ferndale. He points out that Ferndale is paying the largest amount for the jail per capita, but says they are larger that the average jail user, and repeats numerous times that this is not a complaint of his. He wants to feature two people he knows regarding the jail. Ben is in the jail and says he needs to be in the jail because he is dangerous. He hurt someone with a knife and needs to be in the jail. He points to another incident that he came across online that was sighted near the Home Depot in Ferndale. Someone saw someone in a glittery track suit in handcuffs. The mayor sent a picture of the account to the Ferndale Police Chief and asked about it. The answer was that it was a domestic violence situation and the person in handcuffs had outstanding warrants so she was taken to the county jail and was turned away because there was no room there for her. He said we need places for people like that when they are in the state of mind that they are, and there wasn’t.
Mayor Mutchler is impressed that all the mayors have come to an agreement about the jail. He says seven mayors are supportive of this and he hopes Bellingham Council will come on board. He will support sending the tax proposal to the voters even if the Bellingham City Council is not supportive. He said they will have to figure out something else. He brings up that it is getting more expensive as people are waiting to do this thing. He says we need a jail, a safe compassionate place for people who are dangerous and he thinks this is the time to do it.
Council Member Brenner says she appreciates the support of the small cities and says for her it has been very frustrating. She says there are so many caring people in the county and some have been through terrible times in the way they were treated or the way a loved one was treated. She says bad things can happen, but she says this also makes people susceptible to receiving mis-information that were doing this horrible mega-prison. She does not consider it mega and she definitely does not consider it a prison, at least her vision of it. She spent a lot of time talking to the sheriff and Wendy [Jones, I believe] about what it’s going to be like. She believes the separate pods will provide the safe and compassionate space. She used to believe they should build up, not out, but now she doesn’t agree with that. She now believes it’s better to have a lot of property for a number of reasons.
Mayor Mutchler says he cares about the reasons people end up in jail. He cares the reasons Ben got there. At the end of the day, he says, there are people that do bad things regardless of how they got there. And he says we want to bring recovery and repentance, in his world, to their lives. It needs to be local. It can’t be in Yakima. He again urges the council to send the tax proposal to the voters with their support.
Council Member Brenner brings up a point Council Member Weimer made at the last meeting and states that the county is getting dumped on by the state, and they are changing the laws about whether a crime will send someone to a jail or a prison. She assumes that’s a very huge amount/percentage – that we’re getting more and more of a percentage. Until that gets changed, without getting more funding, it puts more of a burden on the local level.
Mayor Mutchler wants to talk about Barbara Brenner’s change of heart and says people get locked into thinking: why are we here this morning; are we really going to change anybody’s mind? But we have seven mayors that are close to the people and what their needs are and we have this need that’s going to influence the council to come back with a 7-0 vote. He knows they have already voted on it [it was a 4-3 vote btw], but to continue to support it. He wants everyone to move forward because he says it’s getting more expensive, we’re putting our citizens at risk not having a safe place for them to go and for our workers to work.
Council Member Browne says he really appreciates how we are spending time on how we are dealing with inmates and how we are preventing incarceration, but he doesn’t want it to be lost in the conversation that in the case of Ben, to whom Mayor Mutchler referred, the person who was attacked could have been stabbed in the neck and he very easily could have been sentenced to life if he had severed the victim’s spinal cord. So he says it is necessary. We do need to incarcerate people, certainly for a period of time. And he says the necessity is driven by the right of everyone else to have a safe and successful existence, as well. He hopes we can move forward with an ordinance that protects the victim but ideally tries to get at causes of why he did what he did.
Mayor Mutchler points out that he is a pastor and he tries to help people and families and they need to be there. He says we try to help them in the home, help them in the community, and in the schools, but sometimes we just fail, or they fail, or we all fail. But they need to be someplace that’s safe where we can give them a time out for a while. It needs to be a safe place. He says we can do more.
Council Member Weimer says he hopes that the council can talk about the agreement that the council members brought forward because Bellingham City Council wanted an indication of where the county council is at.
Mayor Korthuis says he has comments since others have spoken. He says people have brought up sequencing, and part of the sequencing he now hears is, “we’re going to kick this can down the road maybe a week or two or three,” and it gets closer and closer to the deadline. He feels he has to remind everyone the six cities have committed to the agreement [JFFUA] before you. He says they have run it before all of their councils. Every city council member in the county voted for it but two. So he says there’s vast support for this agreement in the county. He says they have said in the agreement they want to be part of the Incarceration Prevention recommendations. They have given their word. He says if the county council and Bellingham City Council want to do something on a sidebar, please do and maybe the small cities will want to join them in that. But he says let’s not mess up the agreement we’ve got going for the hopes of something incrementally better. He repeats they are committed to it. He says if anything is changed in the JFFUA then everyone will have to sign on again. He says let’s not change it at all, but if we can do sidebar things let’s do that on separate agreements.
Council Member Brenner says she has read the document before her just now. She says she thinks the document is just clarifying what everyone has already committed to in a way that people understand that it’s not some mean old facility and that’s all they’re doing. She doesn’t see anything in the amended version that changes anything that everyone’s already committed to. She asks if she is wrong.
Executive Louws asks if she is talking about the ordinance.
After an exchange, Executive Louws says by passing this ordinance it doesn’t make any changes to the JFFUA. He says he thinks Mayor Korthuis is saying that the JFFUA is signed by six of the seven cities and the Executive’s signature is authorized on it by four of the council members. He says that Whatcom County is under contract with six cities now. Any changes to the JFFUA, which Mayor Korthuis is talking about, is going to have to get run back out through the small cities.
He says you could pass this ordinance to put it on the ballot because the way the reading is in here is, it puts dollar amounts in there, but Whatcom County Council requests that Bellingham commit at least 25 percent annually, so it doesn’t have the force of law, but it does have a commitment with a dollar amount attached.
He says he thinks what Mayor Korthuis is saying is that you can put a Memorandum of Agreement as a sidebar to the JFFUA to be able to further refine these documents. That way the small cities wouldn’t get involved in it. He says, leave it as it is; ask Bellingham to sign that document; you guys work with Bellingham and the small cities to put that language into a sidebar document.
Council Member Donovan now wants to respond to Council Member Weimer’s request for a reaction. He says he thinks this is moving in the right direction. He says what jumps out to him is that they are asking the city to commit to what would be an increasing amount of money because 25 percent of something that would potentially grow over time, whereas we are maxing out at three hundred, which in 30 years, what’s $300 thousand going to be? He says not much is what he’s thinking. He says this is from his first look at it.
Council Member Sidhu says his understanding is 25 percent applies to the county also. $300 thousand was the first year or current year because first couple or three years we do not get any access money because of the other expenses we are doing. He says the commitment is that whether extra money over and about the capital bond money, county commits 25 percent for their part and City of Bellingham commits 25 percent of their part till this jail is paid up. He says we want to make an agreement that it’s not in 10 years from now a new council comes in and they say, “just throw it away.” He says he is making it very clear that they want it to be, as long as we are having this tax revenue, which is called the Public Safety Facility Tax, that program exists and that funding exists. Otherwise, he says, it’s not really worth anything. He says if we’re saying we’ll commit X dollars for 5-10 years, then there’s new council, he doesn’t think this is fair. He really wants to make it clear that that is the commitment.
Council Member Sidhu says the second part he wants to say is that this document is the ordinance but in addition to that, the document will be a Memorandum of Agreement, which the county council and City of Bellingham will sign and that will become part and parcel of the Jail Use Agreement. The small cities can sign onto that Memorandum of Agreement and that’s where we actually define the minimum money we contribute to this [which I believe are programs that are alternatives to incarceration]. He asks the Executive if this is correct.
Executive Louws says he was not around for the the meeting of the council members of Bellingham and Whatcom County. He says Deputy Schroeder wrote down what he thought he heard from the meeting yesterday [June 26] and it was the Bellingham councillors that were there. He says two of them that were there wanted to commit the 25 percent and that the county had gone through and committed up to $300 thousand. He says the county has no sales tax revenue after payment and that all of their sales tax is being put into it. He says the county is making their payment and he says he’s made it clear to the council when they open the new facility they are going to be spending considerably more money than they are today. He says if they don’t build a new jail then they are still going to be spending more money because they have a $42 million dollar project ahead of us that’s going to cost between $3.5 and $4.7 million a year and if they start going, they don’t have that money either.
Executive Louws says this is a council document, the administration transcribed what they thought they heard and moved it on to the council this morning. He says if the language is not what the council members believe they heard then they should work with their team that they have to do this.
Council Member Sidhu says the understanding he had is that the percentages from the tax agreed on would be commited to the programs and that includes the triage operating expenses also. He says, how the money is used, it will be this council or future councils that will direct how much will go to mental health, etc. and that this is not an onerous commitment. He says in this way we cannot make a commitment and then five years from now there is no commitment because we cannot take the tax off we are asking people to keep paying for 30 years.
Council Member Browne does not think there is any word-smithing necessary in the Memorandum of Agreement because he thinks Mr. Schroeder in editing, captured accurately that 25% of the unallocated money is going to be commited towards incarceration prevention and other programs that are designed to reduce the jail population in the first place, but it’s the greater of 25% or $300,000. He says the reason for the $300,000 is you can’t have give them 25% of nothing and call that a contribution for the first few years.
Okay, here was something fun. The Executive had already told Council Members if they needed to change language then they could work with their team to do so. Subsequently Council Members were still discussing the language and figures in the Memorandum of Agreement amongst themselves. Then Executive Louws has this little outburst. FYI, no one seemed to be asking him to do anything at all.
County Executive Louws: “Please just make the change, alright?! That’s what it boils down to. We’re sitting here trying to take care of documents for you and you’re very unclear about what you want so if you guys can’t articulate it, we can’t write it down. So make the changes that you want to do! Handle it as a piece of business and solve it.”
After this the council members continue their conversation for a couple minutes and Council Member Browne says he will work on massaging the language. He says he hopes the agreement does move forward because it will put $25 million into incarcerations prevention programs, assuming it passes at the ballot. He says everyone who has been participating in the discussion about the jail shares a common concern for reducing incarceration and this would ensure that that commitment would survive future budget pressure and changes in the economy.
Executive Louws says that with the change the council is proposing, it will go from $9 million to about $12.5 million over the life of the bond and it’s obvious with everything we have going on right now we’re spending over $10 million a year right now on what we’re doing, so it’s not the largest increase that we would have with it. He says we’d still be better off building the new jail than trying to find about $4 million a year out of our existing revenues to fix our existing jail.
He says over the last two years we’ve absorbed about $10 million in construction cost increase, with interest on that, that’s $20 million and after we add another $12.5 million here we’re committing to about $32.5 million dollars more than what we would. He says on the incarceration prevention, to add to the long list of things we already do, that kind of dollars in the future is still the right thing to do. He says we’re going to be getting something out of it we never have before, and that’s about $16 million worth of guaranteed Bellingham’s money into the program and over the last couple weeks that’s the first time at least a couple of the council members have ever offered up a portion of their revenue to do that. For the county to match that over the next 30 years in economies this scale, we can get a lot of value to the community. He says he is not going to stand in the way of it.
Here’s a quote of his statement that followed: “I am going to be a bit challenged and it’s going to be interesting on the document that you craft to make that thing happen is, you get into this supplanting issue: are we now going to, you know, where’s all this money going to come from, and where is it going to go. In government we have a goal to spend every dollar we have to provide as much service as we can out in the community, and we shuffle a lot of money around in a lot of different pots to make that happen. And this, at the end of the day, we’re only going to have as much money as what’s provided through the legislative process and through our taxing authority and we’ll make decisions surrounding it. What we’re saying is, we’re going to take a certain amount of this money and we’re going to put it into a pot and we’re going to use it for this and, you know, does that come at the expense of something down the road? I don’t know that. I don’t think any, there isn’t anybody in the community. But if this is what it takes to get there, then let’s go for it.”
Executive Louws then apologizes that he got frustrated awhile ago, but he has to admit that getting clear direction at this particular time is what we need to pull this off because the council has to make these decisions according to the administration’s take on how long it takes ordinances. He says, we’ve got July 11 to get it on the ballot and he needs the council to not only think we know what we want but it would be nice if they would get on their word processors and put those notes together. He tells the council to make motions here so we know what they’re actually in favor of, what they’re asking us to do so the administration can go with confidence and put it together that work.
Council Member Browne makes a motion, does the council approve making the amendments they discussed earlier in terms of the 25 percent, working with the Executive, and then putting it up for introduction that night and Council Member Sidhu seconds it.
Council Member Sidhu wants to reassure the administration that the council is in this with them. He says it’s not that they are passing something on to the administration, it’s as much the council’s responsibility. He says the bigger issue in his mind is, it’s not the seven council members, it’s the other 80,000 who are actually going to say yes or no. They are the real bosses. Council can put things on, but they have to respect the wishes of the people and in the short time he has been abel to talk them, he thinks this makes a lot of sense to a lot of people that we actually are making real investments into the issues which were raised two years ago. He says we are making concrete promises for the next thirty years and this promise is also for the next thirty years provided that we build the humane jail we need and limit our risk of exposure in the current facilities. He says that exposure could lead to millions of dollars. He says he learned a long time ago that perfect is the enemy of good; we should go with good and perfect we will hope for.
Council Member Mann says that they have given a lot of air time to elected officials and he would like to hear from the few members of the public who have sat through the meeting.
Council Member Browne says he will hold his motion so they can do this.
Joy Gilfilen speaks. She wants to know what they will do if the voters say no; what is their emergency back up plan? She feels the voters will say no. She says they have said no before and the county forced a tax on the taxpayers in 1999 and the voters willingly passed two taxes in 2004 and 2008 for darn good reasons. She says this is a bad business deal. She talks about a financial needs assessment and referes to Mayor Mutchler’s comment about the young man who needed to be in jail and that an 18 year old who fails into the system costs between $55,000 and $75,000 a year for life. She says 40 years at that amount is $2.2 million per person that we lose into the system.
She says the Restorative Community Coaltion took people that have been in the system and for less that $1500 they have taken them out of the system. She says there is evidence all over the place that this can be done and if we were to implement the alternatives this year right now that Vera Institute and the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force put forward along with those the non-profits of this community want to implement using 50% of the client cash flow – each person is a revenue generator to the private sharing industry and to the government – to see if you really need to pass a tax next year. She says most of the council and the people assume we said no to tax 2 years ago, but it was that we said no to a huge detention facility out in the county on 40 acres that could become a 2400 bed facility that could eventually become sold to the private prison industry: that’s what we said no to.
She says if the county tries to pass this tax they are still selling us out to a potentially 2400 bed facility and that’s what that facility was planned for. She says we need a needs assessment and the Vera Institute and analysis of downtown and that moving the jail out of downtown is moving the county seat as a defacto move which will be incredibly expensive. She opposes it.
Council Member Buchanan, seeing no one else wanting to speak, closes public session and the council continues with the motion. The motion passes 5-2.
Legislative Analyst for Whatcom County Council, Forrest Longman comes up to tell the council what to expect on July 11 from the Vera Institute. They were hired by the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force to do technical support and data analysis, and not to provide a jail build size number. They will offer their initial analysis on July 11; they will not have fully reviewed the data they have. They will broadly identify the mail drivers of jail use plus some early review of basic policy actions that could be undertaken to have some potential impact on the jail. There won’t be a list of policy actions with exact numbers of jail use reduction that those correspond with.
Council Member Brenner says she hopes people will dive into information and talk to a lot of diverse individuals instead of making assumptions. She says things don’t work out when people make assumptions based on people promoting something one way or another.
Council Member Buchanan adjourns.