I am pleased to see the recent article regarding public disclosure requests. It brings some much-needed daylight to the machinations of county government. It is both healthy and productive to increase public knowledge of the organizations of our creation. Unfortunately, the service-ownership relationship is all too often corrupted.

In the spirit of fairness, I think we should address not only the painful and tedious nature of oversight but also the fruit of such inquiry. I wish to address some of the more salacious-sounding disclosure claims and provide some insight as to why they are necessary to protect the good of not some strange esoteric concept of the people, but of you and I. Why should you continue to read? I will give you one very solid reason — if you are reading this, I may very well have read documents about you, your friends and/or your family that the county considered private, until recently.

Why would someone ask for records from the birth of Christ? Or, containing the term nutcase? For that matter, who cares about the county and discussions with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)?

Firstly, I believe the county attempts to manipulate, confuse and interfere with legitimate public disclosure requests that contain sensitive information to avoid scrutiny or to prevent the public from examining the “law”-making process in the county. They use the clarification process to do so. If an appointed official makes a decision and uses the logical fallacy of tradition and attempts to use historical precedence to permit greenhouse construction, all the while assuring the community that no changes are going to occur, I have every right to hear when and where that precedence was set, by what legislative body was it created, when it was enforced and what court ruled in favor the official requiring greenhouse permitting. When a member of the public asks for all, they should not have to define all, over and over again to receive this information.

Expensive permit

I was told the county had attempted to charge a fellow community member $946 for a greenhouse permit… for plastic. If you ask me for a timeframe for all, when you use terms like jurisdiction discretion and “historically” in meetings, expect that I will define it to the best and most accurate descriptions possible. I also sent them Webster’s definition of all as a clarification, just to ensure we were all on the same page. I believe that gardeners and greenhouses improve the quality of life for everyone on the Peninsula, care for their land, provide safe and secure food as well as they could solve a great deal of the problems of poverty. They create jobs, health, employment and security with little to no risk to adjacent properties.

I believe the director of the Department of Community Development (DCD) has not been forthcoming, honest or truthful in her conversations with the public, attempts at enforcement or her superiors. Even Monte Givens, our county health inspector and former building inspector, stated his fear that the inspection and permitting process may effectively outlaw greenhouses in the county. It is important that these issues see the light of day. It is important that we examine whether a law exists or was just created in an administrator’s office, with no regard for the public welfare, in reaction to a single case. Does anyone else think it is a tremendous waste of public funds for an administrator to assign personnel to the inspection and enforcement of woodsheds and greenhouses? Don’t we have more important things to do than to harass our gardening elders, some organic commercial producers and people who wish to rise above poverty and debt by providing for themselves?

WSDOT and the county generally have very professional conversations about road maintenance and weed control, so why the interest in the past few years documentation? I received an anonymous tip originating from an employee of an outside agency that county staff were involved in an accident, in a county vehicle, that resulted in the destruction of a section of guardrail. It was further stated that WSDOT only discovered the damage to the guardrail and responsible party when the tax-exempt license plate was found. If county employees are not properly reporting accidents and trying to cover up mistakes, I want to know how and why these things are occurring. How else can I learn the truth without asking for information?

I still cannot verify the accuracy of this story, yet I am criticized for asking? What would be the ramifications if you or I were found in the same position? Furthermore, who is making the decision to spray herbicides on blooming plants that could cause bee die offs? These are questions that require research to answer.

Who’s a ‘nutcase’?

As nutcases go, I consider myself fairly sane but I do not think my sanity is relevant to county decisions, nor is my similarity in appearance to a former employee. I also carry the belief that employees should not be degraded and sworn about. Our past director refers to his current employee as a “crazy (expletive)” and myself as a “total nutcase.” All of this was gleaned from a disturbing email chain between the current and past DCD directors. At the time I had a building issue in discussion and the department staff had already made a decision, prior to a hearing or the involvement of the administrators, about a situation that outside building regulators had thought was ridiculous to enforce. It is not a broad term but it is important to see whether or not I am the only “total nutcase” that is working towards greener building and sustainable construction or is “total nutcase” is a general term used for all members of the public.

Three to five times a week I am asked by members of our community for help in dealing with either our PUD or our county government. The story is almost always the same, “You will not believe what they did to me!” followed by, “I thought if I followed their advice I would be fine” or the perennial favorite, “They asked me to do something that another county would not even consider demanding.”

Trying to help

I like helping people, I want this county to succeed, thrive and expand the core of what it can be and should be. We take care of our own people, some of us take that as a serious responsibility. Why are my requests broad reaching? I believe that when the county makes a decision and calls themselves “the people” their positions directly affect the community in which I am a stakeholder.

If they come after you without honest reasoning or processes, when they attack you in your homes, business and livelihood in my name, I have a right to say no, to ask them to whose benefit this decision is being made and by whose orders?

After reading thousands of pages of emails, thousands of hours of research and years of watching decisions occur that lack vision and commitment to all members of the community, I have a plan.

I have three steps to success, to becoming the thriving community we want to see. Firstly, we need to adopt an executive/expanded “council of six” form of county management in lieu of our current three-commissioner administration. This follows the lead of six other Washington counties, creates a venue for more voices in government and allows us to cut overall executive compensation.

PUD reforms

Secondly, we need to dissolve the PUD by referendum and place control of our wire under the supervision of the reformed county. The PUD has proven itself as popular as Ted Cruz at the DNC, their customer service is miserable and they have one commissioner willing to take an even modest stand against the long-sitting PUD manager. It is time for the PUD to work for a decentralized grid which promotes a metropolitan area network.

Think of power as a computer network, in the past we had pier to to pier network and, much like Christmas lights, when one node goes down, it shuts down our entire grid. If we are all producing and selling some power, instead of our current agreement where we purchase from one source, the BPA, we need to create and purchase as the internet runs to today. Many nodes selling and buying in variable directions creating massive redundant systems. It can be done, it should be done and we are small enough to make that a reality. The current PUD structure is a barrier and it should be advancing our needs. It is time for them to become a function of county government and more active supervision.

A vision for the future

The third and most vital step is a vision for the community, a vision where retirement incomes are protected by low-living expenses and our young are giving real incentive to achieve education and return to our community. A vision that allows for gains in environmental health, food availability and freedom for business productivity. We need a vision where our community is protected by it’s regulators and not attacked by them. We can live in a county where a building inspection is useful and where planners serve to meet your needs and not the needs of their yearly fiscal fiasco.

I suggest you at least ask for your own records, the records of properties and the discussions of your permit. It is your right to know and you may be surprised.

It is time to become the beacon of the West Coast, a point in which others look for advice, for guidance to a better future. We are a wonderful and caring community. It is time to put small-minded politicking aside, and to get to work building. Currently, I am working with our local representative to make building code changes, on a plan to an actual plan to improve living conditions in our county and listening to what people are telling me. I care about your success and I want a county that does as well. Let’s work on a vision — let’s move forward.

Jason Knott is a community activist living in north Long Beach.

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