I thought that nothing that Whatcom County did at this point could surprise me, but I was wrong. Not only can the County still surprise, but it has the capacity to make me sick.
There’s no point attending County Planning Commission meetings these days, because it’s a closed club – a biweekly Tea Party convened to serve the building industry and its attorneys. Perhaps the ingrown atmosphere is conducive to forgetting that the proceedings are taped, and that what is said in Northwest Annex doesn’t necessarily stay in Northwest Annex.
Or maybe all of those involved believe that what follows is perfectly acceptable public discourse.
Attorney Jack Swanson appeared before the Planning Commission on March 28th – the audio was recently posted on the Planning Commission website (click the link from this website).
Mr. Swanson ostensibly was representing three property owners, but he really was giving one barn-burner of a political speech. He emphasized how angry everyone should be that the Planning Commission and County Council don’t have the last word in planning in Whatcom County, because the Council's decisions are subject to review by the Growth Management Hearings Board.
(In reality, Jack knows that the County Council and Planning Commission have never had the last word, because he makes very active use of the courts to attempt to overturn decisions that do not favor his clients. But railing against the Hearings Board, a 23-year-old institution, plays well to this crowd.)
And he urged the Planning Commission to vote for nullification. That’s right, Jack Swanson was there to tell the Planning Commission to violate the law.
“I’m really concerned that we may get to the County Council here and they may throw up their hands and give up with the Growth Board, and remove my client’s property from the LAMIRD,” he said. Well, that’s what the County Council has to do because it’s the law and the County did not appeal the decision.
If Mr. Swanson wins in court, then he will want the Council to follow the law. Not to make up its own mind about whether the court was right or wrong.
But Jack wasn’t a tiny bit subtle about telling the Planning Commission to violate the law. “Tell the Council, tell the Council to stand up to these people for a change,” he said, at about 1 hour and 25 minutes into the audio. And then added “Am I getting angry?”
Nowhere near as angry as I was, four minutes later, when Jack Swanson justified his call for nullification by comparing the Growth Management Hearings Board's decision to the Holocaust. Listen to it yourself, at 1:29:15 in the audio:
And now, as you know, you’re probably getting to wonder what the people felt like when they got on the rail, the cattle cars on the tracks that would take them to Auschwitz, you know. Because that’s kind of where you are, right now, because of the failure of the County to appeal last year, year before, not appealing certain issues. You’re now stuck with those, and it’s going to be a real fight to see what you can do to help out the people of Whatcom County, who deserve a lot more than what they’re getting right now. So that’s my sales pitch, if you don’t mind.
I’ve been in the public process business for close to 30 years, and this is, without any competition, the most offensive and distasteful remark I’ve ever heard. Nothing even comes close. I had to turn off the audio when I heard that line because my hands were shaking.
What disrespect for those who lost their lives at the end of that cattle car journey. They were not facing the potential loss of speculative profits from their property, which is the concern of Mr. Swanson’s clients. They did not have a right of legal appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, as Mr. Swanson’s clients do. It’s just the worst type of demagoguery --
and our Planning Commission ate it up.
Were you thinking that the Chair of the Planning Commission, Michelle Luke, would tell Mr. Swanson that he was out of line?
Did you suppose that other commissioners, and County staff, would say “that’s totally out of line?”
Not a bit of it. “That’s my sales pitch, if you don’t mind” were the last words of Mr. Swanson’s testimony. Here are the next few lines from the audio:
Michelle Luke: Thank you.
Jack Swanson: Thank you.
Michelle Luke: Anyone else wish to speak?
And you know what? The Planning Commission found Mr. Swanson so persuasive that they’re doing exactly what he asked for. Yes, recommending nullification to the County Council.
This goes well beyond normal partisan discord. It’s shameful, it’s out of control, and it’s happening right here where we live.