Readers of this space know of my intense perturbation regarding the media's "selling" of Bellingham, the Fourth Corner community I call home. The remarkable amount of publicity suggesting people move here has become a very real problem.
My thinking is not original. I first heard such observations from a San Juan Island neighbor, author Ernie Gann, who refused to tell the media where he lived. The adventure novelist (The High and the Mighty among his triumphs) was convinced the less the rest of the world knew about the island, the better off islanders would be.
It was nearly three years ago that I began undertaking efforts to debunk Bellingham utilizing a campaign that would paint for public consumption a joyless picture of the city. In my role as the Picasso of PR, that pursuance has included changing our current unofficial motto, "City of Subdued Excitement," to something a bit more pretentious like "City of Sublimely Subdued Subjective Excitement," or even "Tony Soprano's Kinda Town."
Just why 'hamsters are lethargic, indifferent and depressed was examined a couple of years ago by way of an interview with Dr. I.B. Spacey. It was Spacey, Bellingham's world-renowned master of medical world stuff and all-around smart ass, who targeted vitamin D deficiency as the community's dirty little secret. Spacey's pioneering efforts produced the intriguing information that more than 90 percent of blood tests here reveal deplorable vitamin D deficiencies. Interestingly enough, the vitamin D story is now on the back burner because of superior opportunities to inform about the real Bellingham.
Chances are pretty good you don't know that whooping cough in Whatcom County has reached epidemic proportions and is on pace to soon number 3,000 cases. The county ranks fifth in the state and is first among the 10 largest with populations of more than 150,000. The reason for Whatcom/Bellingham's record is the increased rejection of the pertussis vaccine. The past 12 years have seen the rejection figure double so spread the word that there are an awful lot of stupid 'hamsters you wouldn't want living next door to you should a move here be considered.
The challenges of life in Bellingham in addition to the major vitamin deficiency and whooping cough, have been reduced in priority by the Hammer the 'hamsters Committee devoted to reducing our population. The HHC has chosen to inundate the world's media with information about the community's immature leadership during recent years. In the committee's sights are: the firing of the city's parks & recreation director for failure to properly reconfigure a golf course pond; the sliding past an asleep-at-the-switch City Council of a hidden camera scheme that led to the mayor's re-election defeat; and the thoroughly bizarre story of two Port Commissioners (there are three) who forced the resignation of the Executive Director in what recalled the Machiavellian maneuvers intrinsic to many of the plot twists of television's "Mayberry RFD."
The firing late in 2010 of veteran and highly-regarded Parks & Recreation Director Paul Leuthold had unusual beginnings. Upkeep of Padden Lake Golf Course is the city's responsibility and it was mayor Dan Pike who, while checking out the course, made a critical comment to Leuthold about a pond located between the 13th and 15th fairways. It needed work alternately described as silt removal or drainage and Leuthold, aware of the importance of cost-saving, put friend/city engineer Mark Handzlik to work. Handzlik, a golfer, was "paid" with free golf. It was win win for the city. According to Handzlik, both his boss and the city manager knew of the arrangement.
Suddenly, everything went Mayberry and got either Gooberized or Gomerized to death depending upon one's point of view. Charges of conflict of interest, violating policies on moonlighting, using city computers, and being on the city's clock while working on the project were bruited about. The mayor, normally placid (some say right out of "Murder She Wrote") turned nasty levying a sentence that hardly fit the "crime." Result: Leuthold and Handzlik were fired. As things turned out, the firings were a factor leading to Pike's re-election failure last November.
Another factor was the hidden cameras fiasco, additional proof that you simply stay away from Bellingham unless you want to experience fools gladly as they attempt to myopically claim Subdued City as the Santa Barbara of the North.
It was mayor Pike who signed a contract with something called ATS that would have placed red-light cameras at four intersections in addition to speed snappers in two school zones. The signing followed a Council closed-to-the-public 6-1 vote that approved the deal. Earlier, the Council had voted unanimously to encourage public expression. Subdued City rose up in a wrath most righteous, got an initiative on last November's ballot and there went the traffic cameras. Pike was defeated, but wait a minute. The state Supreme Court ruled the initiative against the cameras was invalid.
There was, of course, money involved and Bellingham's plan was to write at least two traffic tickets per location per day to equal a yearly cost of $28,500 per camera. Those tickets were to cost $124 at the intersections and $250 at the school zones. This was in stark contrast to Mukilteo's approach to matters. Mukilteo, for the geographically-deprived, is halfway to Seattle and set costs at $20 while enabling the public to vote.
The slumbering City Council in March of this year voted to pay ATS $100,000 by June 1 to end all the foolishness. There is a chilling history of money spent here on surveys, advanced planning documents and architectural renderings plus the disheartening waste of time offered in the name of public good by committees and public commentary.
Another story to pass along to friends and relatives considering a move to Subdued City is a real classic involving the Port of Bellingham whose inability to get things done is legendary. Turf warfare is what a lot of it is all about and savage infighting has characterized the Port Commission's inability to work with the City Council whose shortcomings are hardly breaking news.
For something like 18 months, Charlie Sheldon worked effectively as Port of Bellingham Executive Director having been hired by Commissioners who couldn't come up with a choice during a first round of interviews. Sheldon, with an excellent record in a similar position in Seattle, eventually was chosen and did work that pleased everyone including Commissioner Scott Walker who eventually changed his mind. Meanwhile, former Commissioners, ex-mayors and others of political bent came to believe Sheldon was the real deal. That is everyone but Walker.
On March 30, the three port commissioners held an executive meeting. It was closed to the public with only invited staff and counsel also in attendance to discuss "personnel." The discussion was about Sheldon with Walker unable to convince fellow commissioner Jim Jorgensen to ask for Sheldon's resignation. According to witnesses, Walker would not elaborate on his disappointment with Sheldon.
It was at this point that an illegal weekend meeting between Walker and Jorgensen was held. Jorgensen eventually caved and Sheldon was forced to resign. Walker and Jorgensen had engaged in a "serial meeting" in which two commissioners talked through an intermediary from the Port staff. It was a violation of the Open Meetings Act of Washington State.
In one of those journalistic embarrassments underlining the Bellingham Herald's lack of responsibility to its readers, the reporter who normally covers the Port for the paper was out of town. No one stepped in for him and the paper was beaten for two days by John Servais who publishes the on-line Northwest Citizen. Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Servais was the principal force behind The Independent, now defunct. Servais, highly sensitive about such matters as inept leadership and lazy journalism, has called for a public response. One option is to recall Walker and elect a replacement this fall. The other is to expand the commission to five members, a move that would produce better Port decisions and lessen the possibility of further outrages. An open to the public Port meeting, at which a problem-solving expansion can be accomplished, will be held Monday (May 14). No one is holding their breath.
One month after Sheldon left office, Walker's indignation was finally explained by something called the Pacific Maritime Online. Sheldon had taken a busines trip to the Caribbean and Walker was miffed for his not informing the board. According to many, Walker's idea of travel exotica might involve a visit to nearby Marietta whose resemblance to Dismal Seepage of "Vic & Sade" is striking.
At this writing, 'hamsters can affix their names to a petition calling for an expansion of Port commissioners from three to five. Needed are 6,915 valid signatures, a number that amounts to 10 percent of last November's voters.
No way do you want to move to Bellingham. No way, that is, unless you yearn for a real life version of "Mayberry RFD."
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