Category Archives: County

Checking on check collection

In preparing the story about Kitsap County’s program for collecting on bad checks, I quickly learned that the issue generally isn’t new, even if it is just getting attention here. There were a lot of stories out there, and the primary bone of contention in all of them is that the letter bad-check writers are getting looks like it came from the prosecutor’s office.

That implies prosecution, which even our prosecutor suggests is unlikely.

Given that the referendum on Hauge is hotly contested anyway, it was not surprising it drew out the the prosecutor’s critics. Nor should it be surprising that the program would have its defenders.

Going with that, though, is the concern of business owners burned by hot checks. While the number of people writing checks for regular retail is shrinking, there are still a fair number of them doing it and enough bad checks out there to hurt the businesses that get them.

It’s that concern that has probably sparked the seeming popularity among prosecutors for the program. All of our county neighbors that share land boundaries with us use it. Beth Terrell, attorney for the plaintiffs, said 12 Washington counties use Bounceback for the same operation Kitsap County does. They are Adams, Clallam, Clark, Grant, Jefferson, Kitsap, Kittitas, Klickitat, Mason, Pierce, Spokane, Thurston, Walla Walla, and Yakima. I couldn’t find the websites for the programs in Adams and Walla Walla.

What we found out is this is not a new issue. Some of the same issues were raised in a lawsuit we referenced in the story, the final opinion you can read here. Attorneys on this case believe they can do a better job arguing against the legality of the program than the case made before.

Crosscut did a comprehensive piece on the program in 2012 and pointed out that King County, at least back then, wasn’t doing anything similar, because the prosecutor there said he doesn’t want to mix public prosecution with private business.

Oregon passed a law prohibiting companies from sending out letters under prosecutor letterhead, which caused some Oregon counties to cancel the program. Counties in Massachusetts bailed on the program, but there are enough stories out there suggesting BounceBack and other companies like it are hurting for customers.

That could change if legislators successfully restrict these kind of operations, or if the Washington suit is successful. The attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case don’t say they want Bounceback to necessarily go out of business, but they want them to follow what they believe is the law, particularly the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. That would mean no more prosecutor letterhead and no more threatening prosecution. For those who get the letters it would at least mean they know who is really issuing the threat. And it would likely mean more customers would balk at taking the class and get away with it, which might make the business model unworkable for collectors.

More evidence that a PCO vote is not a mandate

Following the story about the commissioners’ rationale behind going with the Democratic Party’s third choice for commissioner, I was copied on this letter addressed to Rob Gelder, county commissioner. It’s from Martha Lynn-Johnson, a board member for the Kitsap County Democratic Central Committee.

“You insulted the PCO’s by going with your friend; regardless of how the PCO’s voted. Ethically speaking, you should have recused yourself since you and Linda are good friends. It should have been obvious that the majority were trying to keep Linda out of the top three. I was stunned that you went to the third choice (too bad Clarence wasn’t picked instead of you). And, to add insult to injury, you say you two were being naughty, however, you’ll see how long our collective memories will be for the next two years. You will never be re-elected. You are a disappointment.

“Unhappy PCO”

One minor correction. I was the one who wrote the commissioners found themselves on the “naughty list.” Gelder didn’t say that. Just so we’re clear.

While this is just one person writing to the commissioner, based on the comments following the story and in the private conversations I have had, this is not an isolated opinion. Many Democrats were madder than commuters lining up to get on the George Washington Bridge.

The way the state constitution is written the commissioners’ only obligation to the party is to pick among the three candidates the party sent. So commissioners have every right to choose the person they feel will best do the job.

On the other hand, when they don’t pick the party’s first choice, the precinct committee officers have every constitutional right to complain like cable customers looking at an electric blizzard that should be the Super Bowl. It might even be a healthy thing when they complain. It sends a message for next time around.

That’s actually on Friday, although Democratic complaining could be seen as a trick. This time it’s three Republicans vying for a job. Charlotte Garrido, Gelder and now Linda Streissguth, will be on the dais when leaders from Kitsap and Pierce Counties pick a successor for Jan Angel’s former House seat.

I tried to get some background on why the selection process works like this, but it’s something that goes back to the 1800s. That’s when the state constititution was crafted and I didn’t find the rationale in an afternoon.

As a casual history student, though, I can state with great authority that there is a reason the process is set up this way. As a political philosopher I can think of a few reasons why.

One process is, on its face, a political exercise. PCOs have every reason to not just consider who will best do the job, but who is the most electable the next time around, who has been the most loyal party soldier and whose agenda most matches theirs. County commissioners can consider all those factors, too, but it makes sense that they might put their own list of priorities in a different order. In this case the two commissioners both belonged to the same party, but it wasn’t that way when the PCOs and the commissioners picked Steve Bauer in 2007.

Too much is made of the fact that Streissguth didn’t have a majority on the first two ballots. She had the lead. Unlike past PCO processes where a third name, or even a second one, is a fair distance behind the first choice, Streissguth got enough votes to be considered a strong contender.

And while we all had to scratch our heads and find another instance where commissioners bucked the party in Kitsap County, the Chris Endresen-Mary McClure switcheroo, it was just last year that it happened in Pierce County. The County Council, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, named the county Republican Party’s second choice, Steve O’Ban, to a Senate seat to replace Mike Carrell after he died. The party had picked Dick Muri by a 20-16 vote among PCOs.

Having watched the Pierce Council when they worked with Kitsap commissioners to pick a replacement for Derek Kilmer in the 26th LD Senate seat, I’m not at all surprised. Those council members take their role seriously and are willing to execute their own discretion in making a final pick.

In fact, even political factors are openly discussed. Nathan Schlicher, who won a 12-11 vote among 26th Legislative District PCOs, got the 7-1 nod from the county leaders in large part because he said he was going to run later that year, while the other candidate, Todd Iverson, said he wasn’t sure.

Dan Roach, a Republican Pierce County Council member who served 10 years in the state Legislature, said that was a deciding factor for him.

Politics was an even more open factor a few months later. When O’Ban, who had been serving in the House, was picked, one of the reasons was that he would be a stronger candidate in 2014. If PCOs raised a fuss there, I haven’t seen evidence. Instead, they picked Dick Muri to replace O’Ban in the House. The council complied.

The Pierce County Council members didn’t just look at the PCO results and put a stamp on it. They asked questions. They did their own research. What’s the point of that if you’re not open to making up your own mind?

If Democrats locally maintain their displeasure, this obviously has the potential to be a factor against them in November. Disgruntled Democrats won’t necessarily vote for a Republican, but they are more likely to sit out the question, to leave their ballots blank. Republicans have put up a candidate, Ed Wolfe, who is well liked and well backed. And after this week’s event he is probably well funded. Streissguth not only has to overcome Wolfe, but might also have to beat back a challenge from within the party from former Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman. He came in fourth on PCO night, by the way. He said he is talking to friends he counts as advisors to help him decide whether he will run.

Tweet the state House Republicans

Washington State House Republicans will hold a Twitter town hall forum from 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Monday. State Rep. Dan Kristiansen and J.T. Wilcox will answer Tweeted questions.

Use the hashtag #solutionsWA.

The party’s press release is below.

No word on when the counties will meet to replace Jan Angel in the House. Josh Brown’s replacement on the commission might happen Monday afternoon.

Washington House Republicans to host Twitter town hall January 9

Washington House Republicans will host the Legislature’s first-ever Twitter town hall, January 9, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Participants can ask House Republican leadership members Rep. Dan Kristiansen and Rep. J.T. Wilcox a 140-character question using the hashtag #solutionsWA.

House Republicans are not the only government entity to make use of this communications trend nationwide. President Obama held a Twitter town hall last July.

“This event will enable people to ask questions and provide their ideas in the days leading up to the 2014 legislative session,” said House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish. “This is a new platform for us. We look forward to hearing from Washingtonians on the issues that are important to them.”

According to Pew Research, nearly one in 10 U.S. adults uses Twitter to share information. And, more than 50 million people in the U.S. use Twitter to get news. However, just like all social media, Twitter has its limitations. Participants and the responding representatives will only have 140 characters to relay their questions, answers and ideas.

“It’s our job as elected officials to involve the public at every opportunity. This is why we use a variety of forums like Twitter, which has a lot of active followers that we may not otherwise hear from on statewide legislative issues,” said House Republican Floor Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

The public is encouraged to participate in the January 9 Twitter town hall using #solutionsWA. Those unable to participate or have trouble with #solutionsWA can visit the House Republicans’ Twitter page @WaHouseGOP.

Visit www.houserepublicans.wa.gov for more information about House Republican members, solutions and results.

County receives grant for military and overseas voting

Kitsap County will receive part of a $743,580 award the federal government is giving to 16 Washington counties to assist with an electronic ballot system used by military members and overseas voters.

The county led the consortium of counties in applying for the funding, which will help pay for the system that allows voters outside the state to get ballots by email.

The Department of Defense issued the grant, along with grants to a King County five-county consortium, counties in Texas and Florida and to four states. The DOD money is specifically aimed at efforts to ease voting for members of the military and Americans overseas.

Kitsap’s share will be $30,000 for the five-year program, plus $10,000 to administer the grant for the 16-county group, according to Shawn Devine, elections division spokesman.

The county’s press release follows:
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Pay increases planned for judges, county prosecutor

Brynn writes:

Kitsap County finances appear to be stabilizing. County commissioners are in the process of negotiating new contracts with all employees covered by a collective bargaining unit, and although the meetings are conducted behind closed doors, commissioners have said publicly they’re offering a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for this year and next.

Pay raises are also coming to Kitsap’s District and Superior Court judges, the respective courts’ commissioners and Prosecuting Attorney Russel Hauge. The raises are on the county commissioners’ consent agenda for approval at the board’s regular meeting Monday night. The increases — there’s two — take effect Sept. 1, 2013 and Sept. 1, 2014.

Part of the resolution also restores the formula for how the prosecutor’s salary is calculated. Pay for the elected position is tied to the pay scale set by the state for Superior Court judges. All of the county’s non-judicial elected positions were once tied to this pay scale but in 2008 commissioners froze the pay of the assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner, prosecutor, sheriff and treasurer.

Recognizing the tough financial situation facing the county, the elected officials requested the freeze. At the same time county commissioners (and other elected officials) opted to pay for their health care premium expenses to find additional savings. County commissioners can’t change their salaries while in office, so this how they were able to reduce their overall pay. This practice continued through 2011.

The resolution set for approval Monday will return the pay of the prosecutor to a rate that is equal to the pay of a Superior Court judge. The county pays half the prosecutor’s salary and the other half is reimbursed by the state. It’s the same for Superior Court judges — the county pays half of the salaries and the state reimburses the other half. The only salaries covered in full by the county are for the District Court judges and commissioner and the Superior Court Commissioner. The court commissioner positions are set at 90 percent of the Superior Court Judge’s salary.

Here’s the breakdown of what the judges and Hauge are paid annually and the proposed increases:

Current pay:
  • Superior Court judges: $148,844.80 (Kitsap County portion: $74,422.40)
  • Superior Court Commissioner: $133.947.90
  • District Court judges: $141,710.40
  • District Court Commissioner: $127,545.60
  • Prosecutor: $147,759.20 (State reimbursement: $74,422.40)

Proposed increases for 2013, 2014: (The first number is for 2013, the second for 2014)

  • Superior Court judges: : $151,809 (Kitsap County portion: $75,904.50); $156,363 (Kitsap county portion: $78,181.50)
  • Superior Court Commissioner: $136,628.10; $140,726.70
  • District Court judges: $144,544; $148,881
  • District Court Commissioner: $130,090; $133,993
  • Prosecutor: $151,809; $156,363

For comparison sake, the county commissioners — whose salaries are the same — make $112,049.60 a year as of Jan. 1, 2013. Under state law commissioners can’t change their salaries while in office, but they can change the salary for the next term. The salary for Brown’s position, along with the other county elected officials, are up for review either later this year or next year. The salaries must be set before the election.

It’s likely these positions will see a 2 percent cost of living increase similar to what is being negotiated with employees covered by a collective bargaining unit.

Open office hours with Commissioner Josh Brown

Brynn writes:

Commissioner Josh Brown will be at the Silverdale Library tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m. to meet with constituents and talk with them about whatever they want to talk about.

This is something he’s been doing for more than a year, but it sounds like not too many people know about it, so the library is trying to raise awareness in hopes that more people will show up to talk with the commissioner. Here’s the details from the library’s event calendar:

Central Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown will be at the Silverdale Library every fourth Tuesday of the month for “Open Office Hours,” to meet with citizens to listen to their ideas and concerns. “Open Office Hours” are open to all residents and will run from 3:00-5:00pm in the Hess Room of the Silverdale Library located at 3450 NW Carlton St in Old Town Silverdale. No appointment is necessary. Visitors will be welcomed on a first-come basis and will have up to 10 minutes each to talk to Commissioner Brown about any topic related to county government.

Since he just returned from the Paris Airshow, if you go ask Josh how the City of Light was in the spring.

Survey says, polling starts early in Kitsap commissioner race

Folks on Facebook are saying they received robo-calls asking them about the county commissioner race for the seat currently held by Charlotte Garrido.

The survey doesn’t ask about her, not by name.

You get three choices.

Are you voting for Lary Coppola? (press 1)
Are you voting for someone else? (press 2)
Are you undecided? (press 3)

Coppola said he’s not having the survey done, but asked people to pick him.

If any of you have received the call, I’d like to know if there is any information about who is paying for it.

Garrido’s campaign email/phone went to county office

Now that candidate filing is complete, assuming they waited, operatives for political campaigns are on duty looking for campaign violations committed by opponents. Each election cycle we get word of them and check them out. In the past we’ve had complaints about a firefighter using his gear in campaign ads, questions about requests for information that should be publicly available, a complaint about incumbent legislators wearing their official legislative name tags and too many complaints about sign vandalism to count.

This next one, a problem that has been fixed, is one we found.

On Charlotte Garrido’s website for her re-election campaign to county commissioner, her contact page had a phone number and email address that took, until sometime Monday afternoon, someone back to county offices. We made a call to Garrido this morning and will post her comment on the matter as soon as we get it.

UPDATE: Ray Garrido, Charlotte’s husband, left a comment below on how this happened. It deserves placement in the main body, so I’ll also paste it here:

“I’m the person who put the phone number and email address on Charlotte’s contact page. I thought it would give people a way of contacting her about county issues, which is what the text of the page says. It was my mistake. I should have read the rules closer and I changed it as soon as I found out it was inappropriate.” — Ray Garrido

I also just spoke with Charlotte, and she wanted to be clear that this was not intentional, that she wants to be “absolutely, totally legal.” When she was contacted by the PDC, she called her husband and the number was changed. She was also disappointed we didn’t call her before calling the PDC. I did call the PDC first, because I wanted to make sure it was an actual infraction. It seemed like a clear-cut case, but no sense stirring things up if it wasn’t. Once I knew it was, I called the phone number on the website and waited a few hours before posting.

We also called the Public Disclosure Commission. “Yeah, this is bad,” said Lori Anderson, PDC spokeswoman. “We’ll contact her and tell her to take it off of there.”

The phone number went to Laura Melrose, Garrido’s assistant in the county offices. We spoke with Melrose and she seemed surprised to learn her number was linked on the campaign site. This suggests that not many, if any, people have taken up the offer to contact her from the campaign site. The email went directly to Garrido’s county email address and puts nothing in the subject line.

Both items were fixed sometime Monday.

By “bad,” Anderson means it was a violation of state campaign laws. RCW 42.17A.555 states:

“No elective official nor any employee of his or her office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition. Facilities of a public office or agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationery, postage, machines, and equipment, use of employees of the office or agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the office or agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the office or agency.”

Most times these violations can be written off as small mistakes and I don’t suspect Garrido will be penalized for this incident.

But the rules are there for a reason. On this one the perception is taxpayers are paying for a campaign. If Melrose had spent any time at all answering a phone call that was campaign related, that’s taxpayer money paying for Melrose’s time. That’s not supposed to happen. Because someone noticed, it won’t anymore, if it ever did.

And just in case you want proof the site referred people to county contacts, click on the pictures. One is what was on the site. The other was the email address I saw when I clicked on the link.

‘Swift and certain’ parole program passes Senate

In March we had a story about the state Department of Corrections program that would be part of a number of changes affecting Kitsap County jail. The program passed the state Senate today. I’ll post the Senate Democrats press release after this little comment.

Kitsap Sun commenters caught the quote from Chad Lewis, state Department of Corrections spokesman, who said Corrections considered the program because it would cost less to implement how it handles parole violators now. What commenters apparently missed was the second part.

Lewis said the new, less expensive, program works better.

Hence the reference to the Pew Center on the States study that reported the same program in Hawaii meant violators were “less likely to be arrested for a new crime, to use drugs and to have their probation revoked.”

Because commenters missed or ignored that part of the story, the ongoing argument was over taxes, budgets and liberal and conservative spending values. That argument was not completely inappropriate, because the state did go into this looking for cost savings, which means the corrections budget is being cut. And it does translate to bad news for the county, because there is less money for the budget.

Still, did the point “It costs less and works better” pass by everyone? Did I write the story that badly? Be honest.

In some ways I thought this was a good news story, though clearly it’s tough for the county jail to be counting on less money. The positive, though, was in someone’s ability to take advantage of a crisis, to find a solution perhaps no one would have sought had there not been a problem.

Apparently the state Senate thought it was a good idea. The bill allowing for the program passed 43-2.

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County commissioner: Your early picks

Rob Gelder and Chris Tibbs could rematch. Linda Simpson wants to unseat Charlotte Garrido. We won’t know for certain until August whether these four candidates will be the final two in each commissioner race. What we do know is the race will be contested, that there will be two candidates in each race on the November ballot.

And these are the people we know who for now are the only ones going for the job.

So let us who know who your TWO picks are in the survey on the righthand column. Pick one in each race.

County considering daytime board meetings

Until 2007 county commissioner meetings, the regular meetings, were in the daylight hours. Thinking they would get more participation by holding them at night they moved them to the evening. That participation, according to the commissioners, has not happened.

The county has issued a press release saying the commissioners are considering changing the meeting times, but it reads as if the decision has been pretty well made. The board will reserve the right to hold special meetings at special times and in different places. The full discussion of this idea is scheduled for the board’s 7 p.m. meeting on Monday (Feb. 13).

The county’s press release follows:

Continue reading

Office hours with Josh Brown

Brynn writes:

I received information about an open house that will be held Tuesday in a newsletter released by Commissioner Josh Brown’s office. Those interested in meeting with Brown are welcome to attend his “Open Office Hours” Jan. 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Silverdale Library, 3450 NW Carlton Street in Old Town Silverdale.

According to a blurb from Brown’s office, he’ll make himself available to meet with citizens to hear their concerns and ideas and to talk with them about topics related to county government. He’ll be in the Hess meeting room of the library. People can just drop by, no appointment is necessary.

For more information, call 360-337-7080.

Josh Brown, Lary Coppola trade accusations.

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola takes the county to task for its dealings with Juel Lange in Poulsbo and Marcus Carter in Central Kitsap. Carter has a gun range. It’s Coppola’s arguments about Lange that got County Commissioner Josh Brown upset. Lange had an outdoor swimming pool he operated for customers for 35 years in North Kitsap. He closed it in 2004 but had hoped to reopen it this year. That won’t happen. From Coppola’s column in the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal, which he publishes:

Lange won’t be able to open this season after being a victim of what can only be called a classic flim-flam by county regulators.

and

Meanwhile the Kitsap County Health District is requiring Lange to have a lifeguard at the pool, something he claims has never worked because parents would dump off their kids for long periods, with a lifeguard, while they always stayed and watched without one — and according to Lange, the kids behave better.

The Health District also required Lange to install a second pool drain to supposedly prevent sucking swimmers down the drain, or some such nonsense, while an alternative solution he proposed was not acceptable.

Brown points out in his response that Coppola actually sits on the Kitsap County Health District’s board of directors. Here’s the two of them together on the district’s website.

Coppola never raised this issue in his position on the board, Brown’s chief contention in the response to Coppola Brown wrote and shared with us:

Lary,

I read your recent editorial in your newspaper blasting the Kitsap Health District policies over Lange’s Ranch. Your article attacks Kitsap County and our DCD. What you never clear up for your reader is that the regulations that Lange’s Ranch must clear are Health District policies—a board on which you sit! You have never brought this up to the Health District Board at a meeting, nor do I recall ever seeing any correspondence from you asking Health District staff to report back to you and the Board on this matter. This article continues your pattern of misrepresenting facts, attacking others when you take no responsibility, and just plain lying. I believe you owe the employees and Board of the Health District an apology.

Josh Brown

Also worth reading are some of the comments on the stories referenced earlier, the ones from our paper. The first story, the one warning of a “showdown,” begins mostly with those complaining along the same lines Coppola does in his piece, with some counterarguments from those saying government should regulate as it has here. After the second story, however, there appear to be a lot of folks who know Lange weighing in.

More from ‘Sexpresso’ hearing

Brynn writes:

When writing a meeting on deadline for the next day’s paper you don’t always get the chance to include everything you want in a story because of time and space constraints.

That was the case last night as I tried to write a story on the Planning Commission public hearing regarding “sexpresso” coffee stands.

With roughly 30 people testifying, not every comment made it in the story. Many of the speakers repeated those that went before them, so I summarized the concerns.

I wanted to follow up today with more quotes from last night’s meeting so those who weren’t there could get a feel of what was said.

But first a little background on the “sexpresso” stands in Kitsap. In February 2010 I wrote about whether Kitsap County commissioners would follow the direction of city of Bremerton leaders and Mason and Snohomish county commissioners and implement a lewd-conduct ordinance.

In Snohomish after a handful of baristas faced prostitution charges, the commissioners voted to strengthen the county’s lewd-conduct ordinance. Their revised ordinance requires baristas to at least wear bikinis.

At the time Kitsap County commissioners stayed out of the debate on the grounds that no laws were being violated and there wasn’t much they could do.

“We have a lot of priorities right now and this isn’t one of them,” Commissioner Josh Brown said at the time. “Counties don’t have the regulatory authority that cities do. We can’t exactly restrict the businesses that are coming into our county like cities can.”

By April 2011 the board changed its position largely because the stands, previously clustered in the commercial area of Gorst, spread to more residential areas like East Bremerton. Causing a greater cause for concern, Brown said in April.

And while the earlier sexpresso stands only promised pasties a couple times a week, the trend was moving to wearing them every day. This change prompted commissioners to ask Department of Community Develop director Larry Keeton to look into the county’s options for regulating clothing inside the businesses.

It should be noted that one of the stands along Highway 303 does not have baristas in pasties but instead bikinis, according to the owner. It should also be noted the stand along 303 near its intersection with Riddell Road has been removed. That leaves Fantasy Espresso along Highway 303 and Espresso Gone Crazy and Espresso Gone Crazy II in Gorst as the stands promoting women in pasties.

In his presentation before the Planning Commission Tuesday, Keeton said his department didn’t have a recommendation for what planners felt was the best solution. Instead he wanted public comment to guide the commission.

All but six people that testified supported the county’s proposal to create a lewd conduct ordinance that would regulate clothing in public places. This includes places like public beaches, parks or lakes.

That means people wearing skimpy swimsuits could face a civil penalty if someone calls 911 to report what they think is a violation the lewd conduct ordinance.

Two people said they preferred an option that would designate the stands as adult entertainment and require someone to check identification to make sure customers are at least 18 years old. This option would also require businesses to clearly mark that they are adult entertainment, and require them to remove female silhouettes from signs.

Finally there were four people that opposed regulations altogether. That included two attorneys representing two espresso stand owners; one man who supports the stands and what they offer; and another man who said he didn’t necessarily support the stands, but felt the county was overstepping it’s role by regulating a moral issue.

After the hearing attorneys Kenneth Bagwell and Philip Havers said their clients continue to cooperate with the county and respond to requests to put up screening to prevent inadvertent viewing of women in the stands from the road.

Havers told planning commissioners his clients were willing to put up additional screening.

If the stands are blocked from the road, Havers didn’t think a lewd conduct ordinance could be enforced because people would have to go out of their way to see what happens inside the business, he said after the hearing.

That’s a question to be debated between attorneys, Keeton said.

As stated in today’s article, the majority of those testifying Tuesday were women. Of those, most were mothers. Many cited concerns about children being inadvertently exposed to the stands, and the impression the stands leave on young boys.

They also cited concerns that the stands would incite aggressive sexual tendencies in sex offenders and possibly cause some boys and men to become sexually aggressive. They are worried sexual violence toward women will escalate as a result of the stands because men will see women as sexual objects and not respect them.

I’ve included some of the comments from the hearing below. (Note: I wasn’t able to get everyone’s name spelled correctly, so I am not including names because I don’t want to get them wrong.)

One woman said:

“Men and boys are very visual. A little glimpse will be with them all day long,” she said. “It could start off with curiosity, then it could go from there when that’s not enough.”

Another woman said:

“There’s enough immorality, enough killings, enough rapes going on,” she said. “When women expose themselves like that, that opens the doors.”

Here’s comments from the man who questioned regulating a moral issue:

“I see people here telling other people how to live,” he said. “I’m 72 years old, I’ll save me. I’ll be responsible for my own actions.”

(It should be noted he said he has never visited one of the stands and has no financial interest in the stands).

Attorney Bagwell also questioned if the county was overstepping its bounds with the proposed regulations:

“Ultimately you can’t infringe upon the rights of others to conduct business because of the morality of some people,” he said.

Planning commissioners closed the public comment period Tuesday, but left the record open for written comments. Next county planners will compile the testimony while a county attorney will review a memorandum from the espresso stand attorneys sent last week. The document references case law that the attorneys say make the proposed options legally invalid.

Planning commissioners could deliberate and make a recommendation at their Aug. 16 meeting. The recommendation would go to county commissioners for review. Once the board of commissioners receives the proposed recommendation, another public hearing will be held before the board makes a decision.

Brown, Burlingame on veterans levy proposal

Following publication of a story July 5 on a proposed property tax levy to aid Kitsap’s veterans and non-veteran homeless, I heard from Abby Burlingame, who challenged Kitsap County’s actions related to its Veterans Assistance Fund over the past two years.

Burlingame, who ran against incumbent Commissioner Josh Brown in 2010, said, “During the campaign I raised concerns that the county was borrowing money from that fund to balance their budget. I would like to know if they paid it back. Was that question asked during your interview? If that question was not asked, I would like to know why not.”

I did not ask that question as I interviewed Brown for the recent article. But in response to Burlingame’s questions, I called Brown last week and a got a few answers to some questions she raised.

First, a little background. The county under state law collects and distributes money on behalf of indigent veterans. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much, 1 and 1/8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. But before 2006, the county didn’t have a systematic way of getting the money to veterans. That was done informally, through the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“By 2005, over $1 million had accrued in the fund because it had been spending less than what it had been taking in,” said Leif Bentsen, who works for the county part-time coordinating the Veterans Assistance Program.

The fund was then handled by the auditor’s office. In 2006 the board of county commissions assumed authority of the fund and turned the administration over to the department of personnel & human services. In December 2006, under the same state law, the Kitsap County Veterans Advisory Board was created.

“When my department took it over,” said Bentsen, “we realized that 1) having the money sitting in the bank wasn’t helping veterans; and 2) many vets-in-need were slipping through cracks under the previous system. Part of the problem was that the majority of veterans didn’t know that it even existed, including myself until I was given the responsibility of overseeing it and organizing the new board.”

By 2009, as the recession was raging full blast, the veteran’s fund still was underspent. It had a balance of $900,000 and the program that year had a projected budget of about half that amount. The county technically didn’t “borrow” money from the fund, but state law allows local governments to lower the amount collected when the balance in the fund exceeds the total amount that could be collected, in this case, $320,000 in 2009.

“It allows us to take that $320,000 and apply it to our general fund program, 70 percent of which is criminal justice,” Brown said at the time. “If we didn’t dip into these reserves this one time, we would need to cut another $320,000 from the general fund.”

That’s because the county is limited as to how much it can raise taxes in any given year to 1 percent over the previous year (not counting new construction). The net effect, as Burlingame points out, was $320,000 less for the veterans fund and $320,000 more for the general fund.

This February, Brown backed proposed legislation that would have separated the veterans fund levy from the general fund levy. The effect, said Brown and legislators who supported the bill, would be to eliminate competition between the two funds. With the veterans fund tax as a stand-alone, there would be no more of the push-me-pull-you syndrome. Money for veterans could be collected and the county could collect the equivalent $320,000, or whatever it would be in that year, for the general fund. And if you said that amounts to a tax increase, you are correct.

Burlingame wanted to know why, if the veterans fund was so flush that the county could tap it in 2009, there is now a proposal on the table to implement a separate levy specifically for homeless vets and other homeless people. Revenue from the levy would be split 50/50 between vets and non-vets. Advisory boards for each group would make recommendations about allocation of funds.

She also wanted to know, now that the veterans are apparently in such dire need, if the county intends to replenish the $320,000.

“The reason I mention this is not to have any kind of vindication on the issue, it is because our budget is in serious jeopardy,” Burlingame wrote to me in an email. “Our county commissioners continually make contradictory statements regarding the condition of our budget and The Sun allows them to gloss over the ramifications of those choices. While reporters may recognize these transfers of money when they happen, they never address how those previous decisions end up affecting people like the veterans in the future. They never attach responsibility to the politicians who made the decision and said everything would be fine.”

So here are the questions I asked Brown, with his responses.

- In 2009 the board eliminated collections to the Veterans Assistance Fund for one year. Do you feel any sense of responsibility for the fact that the county’s veterans assistance program expenses now exceed revenues?

“I guess I don’t look at it that way,” said Brown, who elaborated at length about the context in which that decision was made.

In the first place, said Brown, the Veterans Assistance Fund was being underutilized when he took office in 2007. Informal distribution through the VFW worked in previous years, but as new generations of soldiers returned home from service, they did not so much connect with that organization. The goal of county officials when Brown arrived was to get the funds out into circulation on behalf of vets. Brown didn’t claim credit for the effort, but he did support it. His own family has military ties, and he is a strong supporter of veterans, he said.

“It’s been just a phenomenal success,” Brown said. “And today, we are helping many more vets than we did in the past.

That’s one of the reasons the fund balance is down. County and local social service workers became better at identifying and connecting with veterans in need.

“In a way we’re a bit of victims of our own success,” Brown said.

The second point of context was the state of the economy during late 2009, when the county and other public agencies were facing unprecedented funding shortfalls. Brown described revenues at the time as “a falling knife.”

“Sale tax revenues were dropping precipitously. We were dealing with a major financial crisis, not just as a nation but locally,” Brown said.

The board weighed the fact that the veterans fund had nearly $1 million, for a budget of around $400,000, as compared to what had been whittled down to a $4 million reserve in the in the general fund balance. To put that in context, county general fund revenues in 2007, when Brown took office, were about $86 million, he said. They’re now down to $78 million, and the reserve fund has been built up to $7 million. In 2009, the board of commissioners was worried about exhausting its reserve fund. So they chose to use the veterans fund to help balance the budget.

“This was not a decision the commissioners made lightly,” Brown said.

- Now that the economy has more or less stabilized (if not recovered) why wouldn’t the board consider reimbursing the veterans fund, as Burlingame has suggested, for the amount it was unable to collect in 2009, about $320,000?

Brown says that would be a stopgap measure. At the current rate of consumption, $320,000 would last about 8 months.

“I concede there’d be 8 more months of funds,” Brown said, but he denies the action taken in 2009 caused the problems the fund is having today.

Were the board to consider making the transfer, Brown said, it would force a choice between shoring up the veterans fund and cutting essential services, like law enforcement. In the long run, it would not solve the issue of sustainable funding for vets, Brown said.

The vets levy, however, has been successful in King County and Brown thinks it could help address the sustainability problem here. Although not openly endorsing the proposal, Brown said, he’s open to discussing its merits, despite the fact it involves the dreaded “T” word.

- The bill separating the veterans fund from the general fund would have prevented the board from making the budget shift in 2009. Earlier this year, you seemed to favor what you described as elimination of competition between the funds, and yet the law as it is helped you balance the budget in 2009. Can you comment on this apparent conflict?

Brown reiterated his goal, and the goal of county veterans advocates, is to provide sustainable funding for veterans. The bill, which didn’t make it out of committee, would have helped do so by protecting the fund from fluctuations in the general fund.

The bill would have allowed for a small — Brown emphasizes — tax increase, because the money now going to veterans would have been taken out of the general fund maximum in any given year, essential creating more taxing capacity. The impact to individual taxpayers would have been minimal, Brown said. For the owner of a $250,000 home, the 1 and 1/8 cents per $1,000 vets fund levy amounts to about $2.80 per year.

Had the law passed, said Brown, he would have pushed — and still may — for a “council-matic” increase in the vets levy. Brown suggested a penny per $1,000 increase, or an additional $2.50 per year on the same $250,000 home. That would generate about $300,000, which would have a substantial impact on the fund, Brown said, adding it’s the least we can do for our vets.

State of the Vets Fund

Heads Up: On The Agenda

Brynn Grimley writes:

Here’s what we’re looking at for this week:

Kitsap County Commissioners (meet at 619 Division Street, Port Orchard)

Monday, Jan. 17: No meeting, County Offices are closed in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 8:30 a.m.: The board will review its agenda for the Jan. 24 meeting for 45 minutes then “share information” from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m. They’ll then here about “Inattentive Driving Code” for 15 minutes before spending the next hour and a half discussing the DCD work plan/docket. At 11:30 a.m. they’ll recess into a 30 minute executive session to discuss real estate.

City of Bremerton (meets at 345 Sixth Street, Bremerton)

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 5:30 p.m.: The council will hold a regular meeting. No business items are on the agenda, but there is one public hearing item listed. It’s the first of two hearings on leasing Smith Park children’s play area to Kitsap Community Resources. A decision will be made on the lease at the council’s Feb. 2 hearing.

City of Port Orchard (meets at 219 Prospect Street)

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 6 p.m.: The council will have a work study session, but the agenda is not listed online yet. See it here, if it’s posted.

City of Poulsbo (City Hall, 200 Moe Street)

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.: The council is meeting, but the agenda is not listed yet on the city’s website.

North Kitsap Legacy Partnership: A Year Later

Brynn Grimley writes:

One year ago Tuesday Olympic Property Group President Jon Rose and County Commissioner Steve Bauer met with me and environmental reporter Chris Dunagan to tell us about the North Kitsap Legacy Partnership.

Since then we’ve covered the different stages of the project, including initial reaction from economic development leaders and the environmental community. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying on top of the latest developments with the project, but because they’ve spanned the last year and been so varied in their makeup, I thought it might help people to see a chronological list of stories to help you remember what’s happened in the last year.

These are stories I used to refresh my memory while writing the Sunday story on the most recent development with the project. As that story states, the tribes are now willing to come to the table to talk with OPG and county officials — a significant turn in events.

One part of the equation I did not include in my story was the idea of creating a fully contained community land use designation that would allow OPG to develop  Port Gamble at a higher density than currently allowed. OPG has not said explicitly that it needs a FCC for the project to go forward, but leaders have said they’d like to see it as an option because there aren’t many “tools left in the toolbox.”

Dunagan recently wrote about FCCs and the countywide planning policies that will be up for discussion Jan. 27 during a hearing of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

Here’s the list of stories I used to write my Sunday story, and additional stories I think are important to the larger NKLP project — including Dunagan’s most recent countywide planning policies story:

I realize there’s a lot here, but it might help give context heading into 2011 as the county and OPG look to work with the tribes to create a plan that tries to address everyone’s concerns.

Kitsap County Snow Agenda

Monday night’s county commissioner meeting is canceled, meaning the public hearings planned will be postponed.

Other items, however, are being approved at the commissioners’ afternoon workshop. Everything on the consent agenda, a sale of a condo, a declaration of Dec. 1 as “World AIDS day in Kitsap County and appointments to the county’s lodging tax committee and to the Greater Hansville Advisory Council was approved.

The public hearings, which are being rescheduled, were on the county’s capital facilities plan, establishing sewer rates, a noxious weed assessment and 2011 taxes.

Speaking of Stormwater, Remember the Manchester Mudslide?

On Wednesday, environmental reporter Chris Dunagan wrote about Kitsap County officials’ study of stormwater issues throughout the county and in Manchester, Kingston and Silverdale.

Stormwater has been a contentious issue in Manchester, said Port Commissioner Steve Pedersen. Residents of the town testified last year on their concerns about stormwater run-off at a public hearing on the proposed Spruce House development. The project was blocked by the county’s hearing examiner, whose decision was upheld in March by the county’s board of commissions.

The problem with Manchester, Pedersen explained (not specifically commenting on Spruce House) is that the town sits at the bottom of a bowl. Water runs down from the area of Alaska and California streets. You may recall the mudslide of monumental proportions taped by a county employee in 2007. The footage related to a dispute between two neighbors over who was responsible for the muddy mess. The video is a graphic illustration of the need for stromwater management, which is not just about reducing pollution of streams and bays, but also about controlling erosion.

According to Pedersen, the Port of Manchester has been working with the county on a stormwater management system in Manchester. The port had considered going in with the county on a grant proposal, but the notification did not come in time for them to get the application together. The port will continue to collaborate with the county to the degree it is able.

“While we don’t have the money, we want to be a player in how we can find a solution. We’re trying to be willing partners,” Pedersen said. “We want to find some kind of resolution everyone can live with.”

Because the county’s planning is still in the early stages, the nature and location of any stormwater facility is still unclear.

In other Port of Manchester news, the port has been looking at properties it might buy for the purpose of economic development. We’re not talking a mall here. Pedersen said one idea being floated is for a farmer’s market location. The town attracts plenty of tourists, especially in fair weather, and the port would like to encourage them to spend their money in Manchester.

They’ve checked out several properties, but the Spruce House property is not among them, Pedesen said.

Like the stromwater plans, the port’s idea for economic development is in the early stages, although they’d like to strike while real estate prices are still low. One thing is likely, the port will not try to fund any real estate purchase through a special tax or levy increase. They will work within existing revenue, Pedersen said.