October 17, 2017 Sandy Robson
Today, I called the Director of Communications for the City of Bellingham (COB), Vanessa Blackburn, to inquire about the item regarding the Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax proposition (2017-6) that was in the COB’s Fall 2017 & Winter 2018, “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter. The “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter is mailed out (inserted into the utility bills) twice yearly, to households which are COB utility customers.
First, I mentioned to Ms. Blackburn that the placement of the Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax ballot proposition item on the newsletter page seems problematic because it’s placed right next to the information about the G.R.A.C.E project, which according to the newsletter, “aims to create a coordinated system between multiple agencies, including the Bellingham Fire Department, Police Department, PeaceHealth and others to help reduce duplication of efforts and services.” Placing the Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax issue item next to the G.R.A.C.E project information could cause readers to think the G.R.A.C.E project is related in some way to the Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax ballot proposition.
I told Ms. Blackburn that my biggest concern though, was about the header or title of the item about the Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax ballot proposition in the newsletter because it’s misleading to readers. The wording of the header or title item in the “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter reads:
“Sales and Use Tax for Public Safety Purposes.”
She told me that the COB had to use the exact wording of the ballot title (or sub-header) that will appear on Whatcom County’s November general election ballots.
I pointed out to her that, as a matter of fact, the title/sub-header that the COB used for the item in its newsletter is NOT the full and exact ballot title/sub-header that will go on the November ballot.
I explained to her that I contacted the Whatcom County Auditor’s office today, and I looked on the WA Secretary of State website, and the full and correct ballot title/sub-header reads: “Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax.”
Ms. Blackburn seemed surprised and then checked it. Then, she told me I was correct. She said “it was an oversight.”
I asked her two questions.
1) Who has final approval of the “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter?
Her response was “The mayor.”
2) Who created that specific item for the newsletter in terms of the wording of it?
Her response was to say that it’s all generated internally. I asked her what that means specifically. She said the mayor’s office generated it — that about 4 people on the mayor’s staff worked on that particular item.
I told Ms. Blackburn that I am certain that Mayor Linville knows exactly what the official ballot title/sub-header for the proposition is, as the mayor has been extremely involved throughout the entire proposed new County jail issue and the sales and use tax proposition that is proposed for funding. I added that because of that, I do not accept that the mistake was an oversight.
I then asked Ms. Blackburn what the city of Bellingham is going to do about its mistake in the newsletter, which when read by voters, is misleading. I also reminded her that the timing on any further action that might be taken by the COB should be immediate because it’s my understanding that ballots will be mailed out this week. She said she will talk with the mayor’s office and get back to me.
Also, it’s important to note that in the “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter item about proposition 2017-6, there are 14 lines of text under the ballot title/sub-header which describe what the proposition is supposed to be about, and the word “jail” only appears once, and that does not occur until line number 11.
Yet, not only does the word “Jail” appear in the official ballot title/sub header for the “Public Safety and Jail Facilities Sales and Use Tax” proposition 2017-6, but additionally, in the text used by the Whatcom County Auditor’s office for that proposition that’s included in the Whatcom County general election Voters’ Pamphlet, the word “Jail” appears three times, first occurring in line number 4.
Link to the Fall 2017 & Winter 2018 “INSIDE Bellingham” newsletter: