PO candidates can’t give back realtors’ contributions

Questions about the influence of outside groups and big money on Port Orchard city government races have been raised by Port Orchard blogger Todd Penland. Penland’s posts about campaign spending in four local races have generated chatter on Facebook and letters to the editor of the Kitsap Sun.

Recently, Penland posted an online petition through Change.org calling on four candidates, including mayoral challenger Rob Putaansuu, to reject campaign contributions from the National Association of Realtors, which are recorded in the database of the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. The contributions, totaling nearly $25,000 in the four races, are listed as independent expenditures.

The petition had 32 signatures as of Wednesday.

In the interest of transparent campaign finance, the state requires all candidates for elected office to detail direct contributions they take in (including from themselves) and expenditures they make during their campaigns.

Individuals, organizations and political action committees who make independent expenditures on behalf of a campaign (either for or against a candidate or cause) also must log their revenue and expenditures with the PDC. But here’s the difference, the candidate has no control over independent expenditures. In fact, state law requires contributors not to coordinate in any way with the candidate, according to Lori Anderson, PDC spokeswoman.

The National Association of Realtors, based in Chicago, has spent $8,307 on mailers, phone calls and online ads supporting Putaansuu’s campaign and $5,449 apiece to support the campaigns of city council candidates John Clauson, Cindy Lucarelli and Shawn Cucciardi. All four candidates have been endorsed by the Kitsap County Association of REALTORS.

The no coordination rule will make it tough for the candidates to return the money, because it never was actually in their control. As current campaign finance logic goes, candidates have no say over the free speech of individuals, organizations and PACs who wish to campaign on behalf of or against them.

The bottom line is, Putaansuu, Clauson, Cucciardi and Lucarelli can’t decline the expenditures no matter how may signatures Penland gathers.

Penland’s concerns that the National Realtors’ donations will erode local control of city government were echoed in a letter to the editor of the Kitsap Sun by Dianne Gardner, who worries that the “bigwigs out of Chicago” have their eyes on Port Orchard to make a profit. “What’s more, I am completely against outside money influencing voters,” Gardner writes.

Mike Eliason, CEO and government affairs director for the Kitsap County Association of REALTORS, fired back with a letter stating, “Although our national organization headquarters are located in Chicago and Washington, D.C., political candidate endorsement decisions and funding are decided by local Realtors within Kitsap County.”

Eliason described the Realtors as a “bottom up” association. Local groups aren’t directed from above, he said, but visa versa. A portion of local dues goes to funds with the state and national organizations for “government affairs,” which can cover lobbying or political campaigns, potentially on state or national issues. But local groups retain interest in and proportionate control over these funds.

When election season rolls around, the Kitsap Realtors draw on the local, state or national funds to support the causes or candidates of their choice. What fund they tap depends on a variety of factors, including the balance in each, Eliason said.

Members of the Kitsap realtors group also have the option to donate to RPAC, the association’s political action committee. The committee, which anyone can join, is the group that makes endorsements and devises the campaign spending strategy, Eliason said.

Eliason said the Kitsap realtors group routinely makes independent expenditures as well as direct campaign contributions. While Washington State campaign finance law limits donations to candidates in city council or mayoral races from any one person, group or PAC to $950 per election, there is no limit to independent expenditures.

Direct contributions to city of Port Orchard races from the Washington Association of Realtors on behalf of the Kitsap Realtors stack up as follows: $950 for mayoral candidate Rob Putaansuu and $700 each for Shawn Cucciardi and John Clauson.

Lucarelli (the position 5 incumbent) has registered with the PDC for mini-reporting, which requires she raise and spend no more than $5,000 and which exempts her from detailed reporting. So we don’t know at this point if she has received direct campaign contributions from any Realtors group. Anyone who’s curious can request an in-person meeting to view details of a mini-reporting candidate’s records within eight days of the election.

Lucarelli is not alone. All other city of Port Orchard candidates (aside from the four named above) this year have gone with mini-reporting.

Eliason said he wasn’t free to discuss independent expenditures made by the Kitsap County Association of REALTORS in this year’s election because of the “no coordination” rule. Were candidates to read his statements in the media, they could be construed as a form of communication. But he pointed to past activity as examples of how it works.

“In the past decade, we’ve had independent expenditures in the city of Poulsbo supporting candidates, also in the city of Bremerton,” Eliason said. In 2008, the realtors supported three candidates, including Clauson with independent expenditures. Whether the money is listed as coming from the local, state or national level, it is directed toward campaigns in Kitsap County by the local RPAC, Eliason said.

All four candidates who received the independent expenditures said they were not contacted by the National Association of Realtors about spending to promote their campaigns, and they were unaware of the expenditures until the chatter started online and about town.

“I heard about the situation, but I have no idea what they’re doing or what they’re spending the money on,” Clauson said.

But these expenditures do show up on candidates’ PDC summary reports, which anyone can access.

Remember People for a Better Port Orchard, the group that spent $2,785 in 2011 on advertising aimed at defeating then-incumbent Mayor Lary Coppola? You’ll see their spending in the mayoral campaign listed on Coppola’s PDC disclosure page as an independent expenditure (IE, against).

Are independent expenditures bad in and of themselves? Not necessarily, but they’ve gotten a bad name. The lack of spending limits and the potential for groups to game the system are sticking points in the ongoing debate over campaign finance reform. Eliason says his organization plays by the rules and shouldn’t be lumped in with the bad guys.

It is interesting and perhaps significant that of the 53 mayoral candidates around the state listed by the PDC in this year’s election, Putaansuu is the only one with an independent expenditure. And among the more than 600 candidates for city councils, the three in Port Orchard are among a mere 20 candidates with independent expenditures. In the council races, the donations aren’t all from Realtors. The National Association of Realtors, as of the most recent reporting, had donated at total of $129,264 for city council candidates, including those in Port Orchard (total $24,857), plus candidates in Renton, Seattle and King County.

It’s no secret that a hot button issue for Kitsap realtors (and the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, contributing through their PAC the Affordable Housing Council of the HBA of Kitsap County) is a proposal in the city of Port Orchard to impose development impact fees. The Kitsap County Association of REALTORS took out a large display ad earlier in the discussion stating their position. The HBA’s PAC by the way has donated $950 apiece to Putaansuu, Cucciardi and Clauson.

Eliason said the realtors, unlike some PACs, will always put their logo on campaign materials (or identify their organization in phone calls), and as an organization they eschew slamming opponents of those they endorse.

“In all of our activities, we’ve always run positive messages about our endorsed candidates. We don’t run negative ads about our opponents,” Eliason said.

As for endorsements, the Kitsap realtors do “early endorse” incumbents whose records suggest they’ve represented the group’s interests, Eliason said. This year, they endorsed Clauson and Lucarelli before the filing deadline and did not hold interviews with the challengers, Marcus Lane and Nick Whittleton. Lane, who filed on the last day of filing week, said he has been invited to a couple of realtors’ luncheons and has accepted the invitation.

Cucciardi and his challenger Keith Law were both invited to interview before the RPAC, Eliason said. Only Cucciardi responded to the invite, according to Eliason.

When it comes to campaign contributions, it’s understandable that people watching local races may become concerned by relatively large expenditures on races for mayor or council seats. There is no doubt that groups like the HBA and Kitsap County Assocition of REALTORS are well heeled and well organized. But ultimately they don’t hold the pen to individual ballots. The public at large may or may not be swayed by their materials.

Would it be overly optimistic to think that Port Orchard residents are capable of critical, independent thought when it comes to evaluating the source and content of campaign materials, blogs and articles in the media? Or that on election day the results will be the product of the democratic process, imperfect though it may be? You tell me.

I’m open to receiving or hearing about campaign materials related to the Port Orchard race that you receive from any candidate or group. I’d like to know what’s out there. So thanks in advance for keeping me up to speed by emailing christina.henry@kitsapsun.com or calling (360) 792-9219.

— Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun

Kingston residents can learn about road projects, local programs at upcoming meetings

The West Kingston Road Bridge will be closed for eight months during construction, which is scheduled to begin in April 2017.

Two major community meetings are on the horizon for North Kitsap, updates on the Kingston Complete Streets project Tuesday and a community open house for local organizations and events later this month.

The county is presenting the latest design renderings and plans for the complete streets project, which includes reconstruction of the West Kingston Road Bridge.

The project also includes road construction from the ferry terminal to Lindvog Road and from 3rd Street to the Village Green off West Kingston Road.

The meeting is schedule for Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 4 p.m to 8 p.m. at the Kingston Community Center, 11212 NE State Highway 104.

The new bridge and culvert will cost about $2.9 million, and is being funded by the U.S. Navy, according to Kitsap County.

The road will be closed about eight months for the project, which is expected to start in April 2017.

Read more about the project on the county’s website.

The Kingston Community Open House later this month will feature county departments with local project information and North Kitsap organizations that provide local programs and services, such as The Port of Kingston, the North Kitsap School District and other nonprofits.

The open house is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Kingston Middle School on West Kingston Road.

Kingston Complete Streets meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 4 p.m to 8 p.m.
Kingston Community Center, 11212 NE State Highway 104

Kingston Community Open House
Tuesday, Sept. 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Kingston Middle School, 9000 NE West Kingston Road

If Seattle teachers’ strike has you wondering about Kitsap schools

Schools in North Mason and South Kitsap opened on schedule today. Bainbridge, Bremerton, Central Kitsap and North Kitsap schools opened Sept. 2 as planned. That’s not news … unless you’re North Mason celebrating the opening of a new high school.

Earlier this spring, there was talk among local union leaders of a possible long-term strike this fall to follow up one day-walkouts. Four of the six teachers’ unions (South Kitsap, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island) were protesting lack of progress in the state Legislature over funding of K-12 education. So if you’re a Kitsap or North Mason parent reading today about the the teachers’ strike in Seattle, you may be wondering if teachers on the Kitsap Peninsula will follow suit.

True, Kitsap and North Mason teachers, along with others in the state, have complained about stagnant wages, saying a teachers’ cost-of-living increase and temporary pay boost allocated by the state, is inadequate compensation to attract and retain high quality teachers. They say that the $744 million in new spending for schools approved in Olympia over the 2015-2017 biennium doesn’t meet requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Seattle teachers have the same complaints, but they are also in the midst of contract negotiations. According to the article by the Associated Press, “The district has offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years, and the union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years. Phyllis Campano, the union’s vice president, said the district came back with a proposal that the union ‘couldn’t take seriously.'”

The strike, which began Wednesday, affects 53,000 students.

Teachers in Pasco, with 17,000 students, also are on strike.

But these strikes are mainly about local issues and not tied to the larger debate about education funding, according to Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, quoted in the AP article.

Most educators and legislators agree that the current system, which relies heavily on local levy funds, results in inequity in teachers’ pay and student opportunities from district to district. An overhaul is needed, most agree. In the meantime, districts negotiate with unions to supplement the state’s pay schedule.

North Kitsap School District recently completed negotiations with its teachers, and the school board on Wednesday (today) will consider the new contract.

With local schools starting on time, it would seem like talk of a strike has died down. But at least in South Kitsap, union members did consider a longer term strike, electing to hold off pending the Legislature’s response to recent court sanctions.

The state Supreme Court held the Legislature in contempt over McCleary and, in the absence of a special session, is fining it $100,000 a day. Nineteen senators, including Republican Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who caucuses with the Republicans, issued a follow up statement saying the court had overstepped its authority.

On Aug. 31, the South Kitsap Education Association opened the floor to discussion of a long-term strike, according to union president John Richardson. Members did not vote on a strike but approved a proposal to leave their options open. They authorized their representative council (leadership) to bring a strike motion before members in January, or not depending on progress the Legislature makes as it goes back into session.

“They’d like to do more action, but at this point, they’re not sure what will move the Legislature,” Richardson said. “Also, they want to see what happens with the contempt order.”

I have not contacted other local union leaders, since schools were opening as scheduled. I will be following this and other developments related to McCleary as the saga continues.

Chris Henry, education reporter for the Kitsap Sun

Kitsap Sun has video interviews with PO candidates

I see that some people have already linked to a couple of the Kitsap Sun’s editorial board video interviews of candidates for Port Orchard Mayor and the contested council positions.

Here, posted for your viewing convenience, are the interviews done to date: (Port Orchard Mayor) incumbent Tim Matthes versus Rob Putaansuu; (Council position 5) incumbent Cindy Lucarelli versus Marcus Lane; (PO Council, position 1) Shawn Cucciardi versus Keith Law; (Council position 4) incumbent John Clauson versus Nick Whittleton.

The number of contested council races grew from three to four last week, when Bill Christensen announced himself as a write-in candidate for the at-large position against Clancy Donlin. The editorial board has not yet had an interview with Donlin and Christensen. I’ll post an update, when we get the video.

Send me your questions for these candidates, as our Port Orchard election coverage continues in the run-up to the Nov. 3 general election, chenry@kitsapsun.com or find me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/chrishenryreporter. — Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun

PO Mayor: Matthes and Putaansuu

PO Council, position 5: Lucarelli and Lane

PO Council, position 1: Cucciardi and Law

PO council position 4: Clauson and Whittleton

Head of special needs PTA down but not out

In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.

Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 2.14.10 PM
Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.

In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.

Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.

Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.

On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.

“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony said.
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.

In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”

Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.

With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.

“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”

On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.

If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.

For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to https://www.facebook.com/sodaptsa.

To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at www.wastatepta.org. Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.

SK’s turf field of dreams to open Friday

Football season kicks off tomorrow at South Kitsap High School with a new coach and a new turf field.

The Wolves play Central Kitsap, guided by coach Gavin Kralik, who is profiled in the Kitsap Sun’s football tab, Kickoff, 2015. The special section gives highlights on how this year’s season is shaping up throughout Kitsap and North Mason counties.
Before the game, district officials will host a dedication of the new, high tech turf field and track that were built thanks to donations of more than $500,000 from Kitsap Bank and $150,000 from author Debbie Macomber and family.

Joe Knowles won’t lose his spot of honor at the school, where people will refer to “Joe Knowles Field at Kitsap Bank Stadium.” The track will be named in honor of the late Dale Macomber, son of Debbie and Wayne Macomber.

“What an opportunity we have — this team of incredible, generous and innovative individuals has come together and forged a partnership that will change this community and inspire its young people for generations to come. What we are doing is truly special,” said Superintendent Michelle Reid.

Central Kitsap High School also has a new turf field, or rather a resurfacing of its turf. North Mason will get a turf field next year, leaving Bremerton the last district waiting in the wings.

Congrats South on your new field. Go Wolves!

Port Orchard, hauntings and such

I learned a lot about Port Orchard when I was working on our coverage advancing the city’s 125th anniversary celebration on Saturday.

See a listing of anniversary events planned for Saturday, by clicking here.

Back to my story research, I thought I knew the closest mayoral race in the town’s history. See if you know by taking our trivia quiz. I’ll give you a hint, it was not the 2011 race between then-incumbent Lary Coppola and now-incumbent Tim Matthes.

I also was amazed to find how many buildings in the city, especially in the downtown core, date to the first half of the 20th Century. PO125_9According to a map of historic buildings on the city of Port Orchard’s website, quite a number are from the ’oughts, ’teens and ’20s, and there’s even a few from the late 1800s. You can find out more about Port Orchard’s historic buildings at the Sidney Museum and Arts Association, which hosted its annual historic homes tour in July.

SMMA’s own building at the corner of Prospect and Sidney is an old Masonic hall dating to 1908, listed on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Given the age of the architecture, it’s small wonder talk of ghosts bubbles up around the town. Rumor has it the Old Central Hotel building, now the Olde Central Antique Mall, is haunted.

Another restless spirit is reputed to live in the yard abutting Prospect Street that is part of the Olympic Bike & Skate property owned by Fred Karakas. According to local historian Bryan Petro, the property was homesteaded by a man named Campbell who married a Native American woman. When she and their two boys died of a fever, Campbell is said to have buried them on the homestead.

“That’s why nothing is built there,” Petro said. “We’ve been told that’s haunted. It’s probably by her.”

Karakas says the burial was on the property of the building next door, which he also owns. The building once housed a tarot card reader who got strong vibes from the place, Karakas said.

Well, isn’t that the way with history? There are sometimes multiple versions of a story. Karakas and Petro also disagree on the origin of the name “Fathoms ‘O Fun,” the organization that has hosted Port Orchard’s summer parade and Fourth of July fireworks show since the late 1960s.

According to Petro, 56, city leaders decided to ax the Days of ’49, a Wild West themed annual festival involving much boozing and debauchery. mockhangingThe festival was supposed the hearken back to the city’s rough and tumble logging days. Mock shoot-outs, stage scenery jails and pretend hangings on Bay Street were a few of the reasons the city curbed its enthusiasm in favor of a tamer summer celebration initially called Sunfest (or Sun Fest). Petro says that name was claimed by another community, and “Fathoms ‘O Fun” was the replacement.

Karakas, in his 70s, said he arrived in town shortly after the Days of ’49 ended. But the festival died an unwilling death, according to Karakas. The wild and crazy times lived on, if diminished, in the Dinghy Derby race, which involved fake cannon shots and again, considerable boozing, according to Karakas. The dinghy races were part of Sunfair (or Sun Fair) Karakas concedes, but as to the origin of Fathoms, it came from a Sunfair T-shirt, a motto of the year. The following year, there were leftover T-shirts, and the organizing committee, of which Karakas was part, just taped over the year and used them again. (This is very much Karakas’ modus operandi). Thus Fathoms ‘O Fun became ingrained in Port Orchard’s memory bank and history.

One other little piece of trivia from the odds and ends bin, do you know which downtown business operates in a building that used to house a brothel upstairs? Find the answer, and test your knowledge of Port Orchard’s legend and lore against the folks in this video.

See a timeline of Port Orchard’s history by clicking here.

Port Orchard’s longest-sitting public servant

If people taking our Port Orchard trivia quiz had trouble with the question on who was the longest-sitting public servant in city government, it’s understandable. The city’s had quite a few in recent years.

The trivia quiz, online now at www.kitsapsun.com, is part of our coverage of Port Orchard’s 125th anniversary. The city and community have a big celebration planned for Sept. 5. Check the Kitsap Sun on Sunday for a look back at Port Orchard’s history (it will help you on the trivia quiz) and a look forward at the celebration.

Now, to the question at hand.

Q: Who was Port Orchard’s longest sitting public official?
A. Carolyn Powers, city councilwoman
B. Leslie J. Weatherill, mayor
C. John Clauson, councilman
D. Bob Geiger, councilman

If you said, Bob Geiger, you’re correct.
Geiger, who served 45 years on the city council, was not only Port Orchard’s longest serving public official but the State of Washington’s when, in December, 2007, the mayor and council honored him for his service. Geiger had announced he would not seek another term.

Carolyn Powers, was appointed to the city council in 1987 to fill an unexpired term and served 26 years on the council before retiring at the end of 2013. She also served a term in the State House of Representatives.

Leslie J. Weatherill was Port Orchard’s longest serving mayor, holding the office from December 1983 through December 2003.

John Clauson, running for re-election this year, has served on the council since 1983, 32 years.

Happy birthday, Port Orchard!

In fire country “the drill” getting familiar but old

Over the weekend, I called to check on my cousin Diana Hottell and her husband Bill, who live in Twisp.

Diana and Bill, longtime Twisp residents, knew one of the three firefighters killed last week while battling the Twisp River Fire. Tom Zbyszewski (pronounced be-SHEF-ski), 20, of nearby Carlton, loved drama, had been a lifeguard at the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and was about to head back for his junior year at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

The Hottells, who we’ve visited on a number of occasions, live in a charming older home on the Twisp River. We’ve enjoyed their hospitality, Diana’s cooking and sleeping in the cabin on the river that they built for the purpose of having some peace when guests descend, as they do when you live in a place like Twisp. We’ve attended their performances at the Antlers Saloon, where in the past Bill has played ragtime piano and Diana, the banjo, self-taught. Bill is a former Jesuit priest and also was with the Marine Corps for what that’s worth.

Bordered by a large field, their home was spared. They know three people who lost their homes in the fire, however. And when they went up the canyon to check on a friend’s vacation cabin, they found it burned to the ground. Strangely, the fire didn’t jump the river, Diana said.

In the decades the Hottells have lived in Twisp, the last two fire seasons have been the worst they’ve seen.

“It’s apocalyptic,” Diana said. “Last summer was unprecedented … until this summer.”

A firefighting helicopter flies past a dark red sun and through a deep haze that blanketed the Okanogan Valley Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Tonasket, Wash. Out-of-control blazes in north-central Washington have destroyed buildings, but the situation is so chaotic that authorities have "no idea" how many homes may have been lost. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The U.S. is in the midst of one of its worst fire seasons on record, according to an article Monday in the Associated Press. About 11,600 square miles have burned so far.
Brandon Gardner, a firefighter with Snohomish County Fire District 7, pulls a water hose into position while helping prevent a wildfire from spreading to a nearby homeowner's property near Okanogan, Wash., on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP)

In case you didn’t notice, over the weekend, Kitsap County was blanketed by a haze of rank smelling smoke from fires around the state. Although this is only the sixth-worst fire season going back to 1960, according to the AP, it’s the most acreage burned by this date in a decade, so fire officials expect the ranking to rise.

Adapting to fire season has become second nature to the residents of Twisp and other Eastern Washington communities.

When the town was evacuated last week, the Hottells knew the drill. Last summer, they piled two cars full, mostly with photo slides and maps from their youthful trips around the world and Bill’s more recent travels as a historical tour guide in the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East.

The threat of fire puts into focus the things that really matter Diana said. This year, the list got smaller. Once again, Bill’s slides and their family documents came along, but this time they only filled one car when they went to Spokane to stay with friends.

As other fires burn, the Twisp River Fire is largely contained, according to Diana, and life is returning back to normal, but the haze lingers in the Methow Valley and so does the feeling of being constantly on guard. Bill attended a meeting this weekend at the fire hall hosted by the mayor and other local officials. The meeting was packed. Residents are ready to help each other with proactive clearing of trees and brush around homes or, at a moment’s notice, to put up someone else’s livestock if a fire threatens a property.

The Hottells and others will keep an eye on the wind, tune into local advisories and hone their list of must haves, ready to pack up the car on any given day. In the meantime, they’ll carry on with their daily routines, which include playing ragtime for dances at the local senior center. According to a recent article in the Methow Valley News, the Hottells typically end their performances with the song “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”

Foster homes for puppies needed

We’ve written before about Summit Assistance Dogs, the Anacortes organization, that trains and places assistance dogs with people who have a range of disabilities. Donna Vaquer, a Port Orchard resident, is a volunteer trainer with Summit and an advocate locally for the organization. She and others with the group often take their dogs to local schools.
We recently heard from Donna that Summit has an urgent need for new foster homes for puppies.

“We will train you and support you as you learn the training techniques,” she said.
There are both short-term and long-term opportunities available. Long-term placements are usually 7 months, more or less, with breaks for vacations or whatever needs the foster families might have. Short-term placements are respite care for the long-term care givers, such as a weekend, or a week long stint.

How can you say no to these eyes?


The only hitch is, after you’ve fallen in love with them, you’ve got to let them go do their job. But there’s training for that, too, and there are multiple benefits.

“Volunteering for Summit is a most rewarding activity and really does change the life of a person with disabilities,” Donna said.

Find out more about the organization at www.summitdogs.org, where you can also find a volunteer application.