“C” is for CONFLICT

by Randall Stephens

Just prior to the primary election for Clark County Council Dist 2 an interesting issue was raised in a blog post by Kaitlin Gillespie, County Government reporter for The Columbian.   In a July 29th blog post Gillespie pointed out the possible conflicts of interests of both Democrat Chuck Green and Republican candidate Mary Benton.  Benton failed to advance to the general – but Green squeaked by even with the conflict question hanging over his head.

"C" is for C O N F L I C T

“C” is for C O N F L I C T

What’s the conflict of interest for Green?  Green is the project manager of C-Tran’s controversial Bus “Rapid” Transit (BRT) dubbed “The Vine”.   On the chance that Green get’s elected he could be discussing and voting on C-Tran contracts, Regional Transportation Committee (RCT) issues and other County Transportation projects that are entwined with C-Tran.  How will Green avoid going down the government for government sake rabbit hole?   Most reasonable people would recues themselves and not vote or take part in those discussions.  Green, when asked if he would abstain if such conflicts arose said “If the council is voting on something related to BRT, I may consider recusing myself”.  What’s to consider???  What about the myriad of other transportation issues that C-Tran is entangled in with the County?   He doesn’t see the problem because it’s inconvenient for him.
What about this new Charter passed by the people of Clark County?  Surely it must address the issue?  I mean that was the entire point of the Charter right?  Return power to the people and remove cronyism from County government?   Let’s look at section 5.6 of the document….

Section 5.6 Employment and status as elected official No county elected official shall hold any other office or employment within county government during a term of office.

It certainly looks like the intent was to eliminate the possibility of such conflicts and potential for cronyism.  Of course Green and his supporters will rebut with “C-Tran isn’t part of County government”.  That’s a thin argument when you consider that two County Councilors sit on the C-Tran Board and RTC Board where they set policy and budgets – basicly they hire Green’s boss!

“There is no conflict.”
There is no conflict? Give me a break!

"There is no conflict"

“There is no conflict”

The conflict is glaring.   So glaring that Green doesn’t see it.  What did Darth Vader say to his son Luke when the Dark Side was trying to keep the little bit of good in him down? “There is no conflict.”


You Can’t Take it With You!

by Randall Stephens

BentonIt appears that candidate for Clark County Council (Dist. 2), Mary Benton can read the writing on the wall regarding the outcome of Tuesday’s primary election. She is emptying her campaign coffers in a last ditch effort to squeak through the primary.   The problem is it looks like neither she nor her campaign consultants read Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Sec. 390-17-300.
After a review of Benton’s PDCs it’s apparent that her campaign has spent almost all of the $16,399 contributed to the campaign.

Screenshot 2015-08-02 18.33.44

At first glance this looks like wise strategy.  Going all in for the primary is something candidates typically do.  The problem arises from the fact that several big contributors gave the maximum $950, or near to it, for both the primary and general election.
WAC 390-14-300 (4) & (5) state………

(4) Contributions for the primary election shall be accounted for separately from those for the general election, such that campaign records reflect one aggregate contribution total for each contributor giving in the primary election as well as one aggregate contribution total for each contributor giving in the general election.

(5) General election contributions shall not be spent for the primary election if to do so would cause the contributor of the general election contribution to exceed that contributor’s contribution limit for the primary election.”

 We can only wonder what strategy or explanation Benton can offer to address this apparent violation of Washington State election laws.



Why the Walkout?

by Steven Nelson

f154086With local teachers walking out on their jobs and walking away from their students it leaves one wondering why?  Most of the arguments we hear are “We’ve not had a cost of living adjustment for years” or “we have to reduce class size” or “We don’t spend enough on education”.  Okay, the first two points conceded!  The third point is always a moving target and can be addressed with fiscal responsibility.  Supposing if one wanted to play the blame game for this situation you’d have to consider the history of the economy (“The great Recession”) and who’s been holding the reigns of State government the past few decades (Democrats).  However, let’s not jump into that briar patch.  How about we look at their demands and see where current efforts fall short.

“We’ve not had a cost of living adjustment for years”:

  • The House budget has $230 million for K-12 staff salary increases providing the voter-approved increases required in I-732.
  • The Senate budget makes similar increases also meeting the requirements of I-732.
  • The average salary of a teacher in the Evergreen School District, for example, is $61,885 plus insurance and pension benefits valued at around $21,000 bringing their total compensation package to over $80,000 a year. While one can argue whether this is an appropriate level for a teacher or not, it is significantly higher than the median income of a Clark County resident of $59,341.

Well okay, looks like a non-issue then so let’s move on…….

“We have to reduce class size”:

  • The Senate capital budget includes funding for building 2,100 classrooms to deliver on class-size reduction goals.
  • The House budget has similar investment levels including K-3 class size reduction ($350 million)
  • $210 million in higher pension costs – accounting for longer employee lifespan – Includes investments for higher enrollment, inflation, bilingual & special education, gifted education program, and increased costs for items such as levy equalization. All these efforts help reduces class size.

Seems more than reasonable.

“We don’t spend enough on education”:

Well here’s what being increased this year…………..

  • The Senate budget includes a $2.7 billion increase in K-12 spending over two years – that’s the largest dollar increase in state history.
  • K-12 spending increases by 17.8% – the largest percentage increase in 25 years (all other government sees only a 6% increase)
  • Enrollment for low-income early learning increases by 4,000
  • Early child care will be higher quality with new standards
  • College tuition will be reduced an average 25% – the first tuition reduction since the 1970s!

The House budget has similar investment level $2.7 billion. The increase includes:

  • $1.3 billion toward McCleary including K-3 class size reduction ($350 million), all-day kindergarten ($190 million), books, supplies, and operating costs ($740 million).
  • As stated before $210 million in higher pension costs.

Let’s take a look at one subject you won’t hear these walkout teachers and their union masters address in their tantrums.  A Teacher’s Strike is Illegal! That’s right, according to The Revised Code of Washington, RCW 41.56.120….

“Right to strike not granted.  Nothing contained in this chapter [on union collective bargaining] shall permit or grant any public employee the right to strike or refuse to perform his or her official duties.”

Also the Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson in a legal opinion found that…..

State and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike.”  

So if a teacher’s job is to teach, what are we and their students to learn from this illegal strike?

  • blogSpanCry that you’re not getting what you want even though you are.
  • Do as your union bosses tell you to do without questioning it or thinking for yourselves.
  • Kids it’s okay to break the law when you really want something bad enough.
  • Kids, the teachers may love you but they’re not above using you for a bargaining chip.

When is it going to be enough? They are getting everything they are asking for. More this year than they’ve gotten in many years. And yet they are still complaining?


Wind Projects Die but Outdated City/Port Plans Zombie On

by Randall Stephens
In 1992 the federal government decided to subsidize wind turbine energy production. Apparently, unless it is subsidized it is not a very efficient source of energy. Sadly for us, the taxpayers, wind turbines are made in Germany, not the US. $billions in taxpayer subsidies have since gone to prop up and bail out German investors.

Wind Turbine Blade in Transport

Wind Turbine Blade in Transport

Not to worry in Vancouver, though. A lot of those turbines get shipped in through our very own port. In fact, we’ve come to depend on them. So much so that we are willing to divert $90 million of our region’s precious WSDOT funds to upgrade the I-5/Mill Plain exit so that the big German investors will not have to invest in steerable trailers for shipping those turbines to Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington.  Much has been said about the need for the project, but has anyone seen any type of study that documents the need?  Can we really justify the need to lay waste to a core city street and interstate interchange without documentation showing the need?

A March 27, 2015 article in The Bulletin “North-Central Oregon wind farm dies” details just one example of E.ON Climate & Renewables North America withdrawing its application for the 76,000-acre Brush Canyon Wind Power Facility in central Oregon. How alarming is it to learn, then, that the federal subsidies have ended and allowed to lapse? The Germans are pulling the plug on their plans to build a big wind turbine farm in Eastern Oregon.  However the City says we must do this for a dying taxpayer subsidized industry that has no future?

Perhaps the City and Port are gambling that President Obama will be successful in making the production tax credit (PTC) permanente as proposed in his 2016 Budget?  With the monumental conservative shift in the House and Senate in this past election cycle it’s a heck of a risk with ninety million plus tax payer dollars.

Related articles:
Daily Caller: GONE WITH THE WIND: 1 In 4 Wind Turbine Companies Went BUST In Last Two Years

Institute for Energy Research: Obama Budget to Make Wind Subsidies Permanent

Columbian: Inslee hears of need for Mill Plain interchange project

RTC Gets an Ear Full but Majority of Board Doesn’t Listen

Commentary and notes by John Ley

Tuesday April 7th I attended the April 2015 RTC Board and made the following statements.

“Members of the Board, I would hope that you are as outraged as I am at what has been revealed regarding the $80 million proposed expenditure for the I-5 /Mill Plain interchange. Apparently one of two $80 million SW WA projects has no legitimate plans to back up the expenditure of this money.  There is no engineering. Nothing to substantiate “how” or “why” the largest project you asked the state to pay for, is a legitimate request fulfilling a legitimate transportation need……………..

RTC Board Hearing

RTC Board Hearing

I have YOUR list of 34 projects. Each allegedly goes thru a non-political screening, evaluating very specific plans and being awarded points for “Safety”, “Mobility”, “Multi-modal”, and “Economic Development”. The purpose is supposedly to REMOVE politics from the process. I now have ZERO faith in YOUR ability to execute the process, and I would hope THIS BOARD has also lost faith.

This project got 14 of a possible 22 points for “Mobility”. REALLY? You don’t have plans to show how this improves “mobility”. This project was awarded 21 of 28 points for Economic Development. Yet you don’t have any documentation on how spending $80 million for THIS project improves Economic Development.

I’m outraged that this Mill Plain/I-5 project was rated #5 of our regions alleged “TOP transportation priorities” and can be approved by this body & forwarded to the state legislature for funding, with NO legitimate documentation……..”


Letter to Oregon Lawmakers from Washington Lawmakers encouraging them to remove I-5 HOV lane.


Additional Notes On The Meeting

Rep. Paul Harris mentioned that Oregon is debating HB 3152, which would REMOVE the only HOV lane in Oregon. He stated that this would help SW WA citizens returning home from Portland in the afternoon, and that several Washington legislators had written letters to Oregon legislators in support of this bill. He added that it would IMPROVE the air quality for north Portland residents, by reducing the number of vehicles standing at idle on I-5.

Councilor David Madore made a motion that the RTC Board would send a letter of support for Oregon’s HB 3152. Jeanne Stewart seconded the motion.

Jeanne Stewart made some great “common sense” comments at the end. But the majority of the RTC Board chose to ignore her, the other two councilors, and Paul Harris.

There was considerable discussion, as an Oregon DOT rep. said the HOV lane was working “as planned” in that it moves more people (the buses move faster). But if you eliminated the HOV lane, it would move more cars, but fewer people. Jack Burkman led the “don’t do this” discussion. Councilor Jeanne E. Stewart responded, expressing the frustration drivers feel while stuck in the 2 non-moving lanes. She asked for the common sense solution to be done, which was to remove the HOV lane so that traffic flow would improve.

David Madore requested a roll call vote, so that each member of the RTC Board’s vote would be recorded. All three County Councilors voted “yes”.

Camas representative Melissa Smith voted “No”. Battle Ground representative Bill Ganley abstained, not having time to discuss the issue with Mayors or elected representatives of the other small cities he represents.

The “no’s” led by Jack Burkman & Larry Smith carried the day. The SW Washington RTC does NOT support the removal of the only HOV lane in Oregon to help improve traffic flow for the afternoon commute.

Another sad fact came to light was that the taxpayers are spending $12,400 to send RTC executive Matt Ransom to Harvard for 3 weeks in June.  To learn what, we can only speculate.

There was a discussion over the annual “dues” pay towards RTC’s operations. Clark County has the largest share — $36,300. CTran pays $25,000, Vancouver $21,300, Camas $3,500, Washougal $2,400, Battle Ground $3,100, Ridgefield and other small cities less than $1,000. The Port of Vancouver pays $4,000 and the Port of Camas/Washougal pays $2,000. These rates have apparently been the same, since the RTC was founded in 1992. They will do a “review” and present options for a different allocation of the $104,500 annual dues. The county feels it is paying much more than its “fair share” of the dues.
Additionally, about 84% of the RTC’s operating budget comes from federal funds and about 10% from Washington State.

At the end of the meeting, Councilor David Madore asked if anyone on the RTC Board had any specific information about the Mill Plain/I-5 project. Nobody responded. He asked for a show of hands if anyone had any information on the specific details regarding this proposal. No hands were raised. At the very end, Matt Ransom said there were links on the RTC web site for various projects, but it was offered half-heartedly in my opinion.

Two small side notes. Melissa Smith spent a year acting as “Vice Chairman” of the RTC, supposedly preparing to become Chairman. Yet she is constantly seeking help and input from Jack Burkman on how to run the meeting, etc. Additionally, a citizen entered the meeting during my “citizen communication” and noticed one board member playing solitaire on their computer . . . . . (and we’re paying these people’s salaries).


March Madness; April Angst


Robert Dean Professional Land Surveyor

– A spoof on the current use program –
by Professor Robert Dean

Frank: We are in for a real treat tonight, Steve. This matchup has all the hallmarks of a classic battle of the Titans. On one side of the court is Coach Van Nortwick with his red-hot shooting Washington State Assessors; yes, run, gun, and dunk till the cows come home. And, on the other is Coach Dean and the Current Use Farmers. Coach Dean is definitely old school: solid defense, liberal construction , relying on the expressed intent of the Rules Committee to preserve open space and farmland; seemingly uninterested in even scoring points on his opponent.

march-madness-ccSteve: Absolutely, Frank! No surprises here tonight – a battle royal for sure!

Frank: Explain for the viewers, Steve, how these two diametrically opposed game plans play out. Why is it that on a given night either strategy might prevail over the other.

Steve: Certainly, Frank! When the game of current use was invented back in 1967 the idea was to preserve as much open space and commercially viable farmland in the state as possible – naturally, that favored adopting the old defensive strategies that were popular and so successful in the 70s and 80s of last century. Things changed in the 90s when the Assessors realized they could bring in huge unplanned revenue windfalls for their counties by denying agricultural use tax breaks to farmers. The Assessors introduced a whole new offensive style of play predicated on punishing tax evaders, like the hapless Current Use Farmers, and driving them into oblivion with narrow construction , relentless back taxes, high scoring penalties , and vicious interest rates .

Frank: Yes, Steve, and even though the initial idea of preserving farmland and open space was hugely popular with two thirds of the fans , the new rule changes that allowed the Assessors to score points in a hurry were also encouraged by the league’s governing board in order to raise revenues.

Steve: And that’s what makes this game great, Frank! There are two ways to win:
1) You can accumulate open space and productive farmland for future generations; or,
2) You can score big points and reap huge windfall revenues right now.
Frank: And there you have it! Let’s go to Veronica, now, at courtside as she introduces the military honor guard and flag bearers for the playing of our national anthem.

The foregoing spoof might be more potent if Clark County’s assessor, Peter Van Nortwick, were as statist as many of his counterparts in other Washington counties. Fortunately, he is not so short-sighted. Nevertheless, his position is elected and our next Assessor may not take such a long view of his or her duties and responsibilities.

The dichotomy in the law between the twin goals of farmland preservation and revenue enhancement creates a tension that could break in either direction. Currently, county assessors, under guidance and instructions from the Department of Revenue, have almost limitless discretion to approve or deny current use status, apply valuation standards, and assess penalties – appeals are available to the taxpayer but the results are far from certain. If you win your appeal you pay the normal taxes – if you lose you go under financially to the tune tens or hundreds of $thousand with 7 years back taxes, plus 12% interest on that, plus 20% penalties on the total.

When you do appeal to the Board of Equalization you will be counselled by Clark County’s website[i] that the Assessor is presumed to be right and that you should not plead poverty. The proper comportment is to stand, slightly stooped, gazing downward, while holding your cap low and in front of you.

With Republicans having more influence in the Legislature than in many years previous now is the time to begin pushing back against the statists who want our money right now. I would propose a few very small additions and amendments to RCW 84.34 to swing the force of the Open Space and Current Use Act back to the goal of resource preservation and away from revenue enhancement. Of course, assessors who measure their success by the revenues they collect will oppose such revisions.

I would make the following changes:

  • RCW 84.34.020 Definitions – restore the pre-1993 gross income thresholds of $100 per year.
  • RCW 84.34.020 Definitions – (2)(a)(i) …”Commercial purposes” means the use of farm and agricultural land, by an owner or lessee, on a continuous and regular basis, prior to and subsequent to application for classification or reclassification, that demonstrates that the owner or lessee is engaged in and intends to obtain through lawful means a profit from cash income, barter, or trade, by producing an agricultural product.
  • RCW 84.34.924 – Liberal construction – The provisions of this chapter shall be construed liberally so as to give effect to the intents and purposes stated in RCW 84.34.010.

[i] http://www.clark.wa.gov/board-of-equalization/documents/dosdonts.pdf

Don’t… Plead poverty. Although they might sympathize, the board members can’t take into account your ability to pay


The hearing is an informal review designed to enable property owners to represent themselves without an attorney. Keep in mind that the Assessor is, by law, presumed to be correct. The burden of proof is on you to show that the assessed value is not correct by presenting clear and convincing evidence to support your estimate of market value.

[1] 82 Wn.2d 295, YAKIMA FIRST BAPTIST HOMES, INC., Respondent, v. DALE A. GRAY et al., Appellants

[No. 42453. En Banc.      Supreme Court      May 24, 1973.]

[8] Statutes – Construction – Result. Statutes are to be construed to avoid absurd consequences.



[1] RCW 84.34.010

Legislative declaration.

The legislature hereby declares that it is in the best interest of the state to maintain, preserve, conserve and otherwise continue in existence adequate open space lands for the production of food, fiber and forest crops, and to assure the use and enjoyment of natural resources and scenic beauty for the economic and social well-being of the state and its citizens. The legislature further declares that assessment practices must be so designed as to permit the continued availability of open space lands for these purposes, and it is the intent of this chapter so to provide. The legislature further declares its intent that farm and agricultural lands shall be valued on the basis of their value for use as authorized by section 11 of Article VII of the Constitution of the state of Washington.

[1] SECTION 11 TAXATION BASED ON ACTUAL USE. Nothing in this Article VII as amended shall prevent the legislature from providing, subject to such conditions as it may enact, that the true and fair value in money (a) of farms, agricultural lands, standing timber and timberlands, and (b) of other open space lands which are used for recreation or for enjoyment of their scenic or natural beauty shall be based on the use to which such property is currently applied, and such values shall be used in computing the assessed valuation of such property in the same manner as the assessed valuation is computed for all property. [AMENDMENT 53, 1967 House Joint Resolution No. 1; see 1969 p 2976. Approved November 5, 1968.]


[1] Washington’s Open Space Taxation Act (Chapter 84.34 RCW) – A Review from the Perspective of Farmland Protection

A Report Prepared for the Office of Farmland Preservation, Washington Conservation Commission

WSCC Contract # 2008-OFP-2, Bob Rose, Conservation Consultant, July 25, 2008, page 17.

Most of the abuses of the current use program appear to be by people on small acreage parcels who want to pay fewer taxes. In counties where there is an appreciation for the economics and dynamics of agriculture, the assessor’s office may make more allowances for the land to remain classified as farm and agricultural because of a belief that it is prudent to preserve land for farming and a recognition that the economic consequences of taking land out of Current-Use status can be quite punitive for a landowner.


v Ibid, page 25.

Tax exemptions under the law are to be construed narrowly. Therefore, the Department of Revenue and assessors are required to view exemptions as narrowly as possible.

vi 20%

vii 12%

viii Ibid, page 8.

Voters were asked: “Shall Article VII of the State Constitution be amended by adding a section authorizing the Legislature to provide that farms, agricultural lands, standing timber and timber lands, and other open-space lands used for recreation or enjoyment of their scenic or natural beauty, shall be valued for purposes of taxation on the basis of the use to which such property currently is being applied, rather than on its highest and best use.”

In the General Election, held on November 5, 1968, voters overwhelmingly approved the Current-Use amendment with 68 % in favor (705,978 votes) and 32% against (335,496). The language was added to the State Constitution as Section 11 in Article 7 in 1970.

ix Ibid, page 19.

The assessor will calculate additional tax and applicable interest as if the owner had given two years’ notice AND there is an additional 20% penalty on the total amount.

(7 years back taxes plus simple interest at 1% per month or 12% per year).

RCW 84.34.108(4)(a),(b)


Don’t… Plead poverty. Although they might sympathize, the board members can’t take into account your ability to pay


 The hearing is an informal review designed to enable property owners to represent themselves without an attorney. Keep in mind that the Assessor is, by law, presumed to be correct. The burden of proof is on you to show that the assessed value is not correct by presenting clear and convincing evidence to support your estimate of market value.