Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stanwood Citizens Respond to their State Legislators at March Town Hall .

On Saturday March 22,  Our 10th District  State Representatives -Norma Smith and Dave Hayes - along with our 10th  Legislative District State Senator - Barbara Bailey - held a town hall meeting at the Stanwood Middle School  for local citizens.  About 50 men and women showed up.  All three legislators were Republicans, friendly, approachable and willing to answer questions.  Their main focus was on the supplemental operating budget passed for 2014 which made minor changes to the larger State budget passed last year

 In spite of my Democratic predilections I appreciated some of their efforts.   

As a member of the House Higher Education Committee, Norma Smith commented on the 1000’s of Jobs in WA that go unfilled for lack of qualified workers. To provide the education that HS students need to  qualify for employment, both Reps Smith and Hayes plus Senator Bailey (on the Senate Education Committee)  supported Senate Bill 6552  which would allow School districts the flexibility and resources needed to upgrade their educational standards to met the job requirements in nearby communities.  The bill passed by an overwhelming majority in both houses and was delivered to the Governor on March 13 this year for his signature.  It will be interesting to see if this vital  legislation is successful in meetings its goal.   

As a patrol Sargent for Snohomish County Representative Dave Hayes is involved with legislation affecting public safety.  In his first term in office Hayes sponsored House Bill 2057   that passed and was signed by the Governor.  The Bill enables police officers to better help each other in making arrests.  

My main quibble with Rep Smith and Senator Bailey concerns jobs and the economy.
Both have repeated the Republican mantra that lower taxes and lower minimum wages (or no minimum wage) would create jobs.   I am not convinced by the data that this is true.  Washington State has lower unemployment even though it has a higher minimum wage than many States.  Also, if we are to provide the resources to educate students for higher tech jobs we will need to retain our level of taxes.  We will also need taxes for what was the overwhelming concern of the 50  citizens who attended the town hall meeting i.e. Public Transportation to Everett.  

 Even if you can afford to drive,  I-5 can barely accommodate the rush hour traffic.  Citizens were begging that full service be restored to the Community Transit’s  Camano Island to Everett connector.  Most comments and questions were about transit even though the legislators wanted to discuss other issues.  Many citizens stood up and spoke of their need either to get to work or their need to get to medical and other facilities because they were too old or poor to drive a car.  I need transit to see my daughter in Seattle.  The last time I drove I was stressed by the traffic south of Lynwood going 60 mph only 2 car lengths apart.  Potentially as dangerous as a mudslide.  Public Transit would relieve  some  I-5 traffic making it safer for those who do drive. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Candidate for the Sedro-Woolley City Council, Ward 2

Given her long ties to her community, Germaine Kornegay is anxious to direct Sedro-Woolley toward a bright future.  This election she is campaigning for City Council from Ward 2.   As a mother, grandmother and a small business owner for many years,  Germaine’s major concerns are local businesses, education and public safety.

Because Sedro-Woolley  has many young families,  Germaine also advocates maintaining funds for vocational education and public parks.

Germaine Kornegay stands in an area along Reed Street
 that she will support as a public park.
She believes the city's students should continue to be educated by Skagit Valley College, SWHS,  Job Corp and local industries for future jobs in aerospace, computer technology, healthcare, alternative energy and finance.

Germaine proposes that the city council proactively solicit the type of businesses most needed by the community such as a movie theater, grocery and a sports facility to host events such as roller derby.  Roller derby is a growing sport and the facility she is promoting is the only one between the border and Seattle specific for the popular sport.

She also envisions an active downtown made possible  by renovating the empty spaces in the buildings above current businesses for offices and apartments.  Germaine will seek grants to preserve Sedro-Woolley’s historic heritage and renovate the downtown area to attract tourism and serve residents. Sedro-Woolley could use a local Historical Society to uphold our theme and history. There is not one currently.  

Essential to the development of the city’s future is public safety.  Currently the city’s 14 officers have kept the city safe. But this is not at all practical and especially hard on the Sedro-Woolley Police Department. During certain times of the day, there is just one officer on duty. Its neighbors,  Mt Vernon has 44 officers and Burlington 25. As Sedro-Woolley’s business community grows Germaine wants the city government to anticipate and prepare for the growing demand of its police department.

Overall, the residents of Sedro-Woolley are happy and love living there. Few things are of immediate concern to them. Germaine has talked to most of the residents in her ward to find that not one person was unhappy living in Sedro-Woolley. They do however have some concerns about the rate of growth and crime. Germaine feels this is a great foundation to build from. Her goal is to fully involve residents in the process by empowering them to create the future of Sedro-Woolley that they wish to see (and seem to agree with).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

WA State Insurance Commission Rescues Citizen from Malpractice.

    by Bonnie Chisum

I used to buy insurance online.   It was fast and cheap compared to buying traditional insurance from an agent.  The internet insurance coverage was fine for several years until I had to file a claim.   The nightmare began when my apartment was robbed.

“Instant Online Claims Processing!” the web advertisement had boasted.  I quickly filled out the forms online and forwarded the police reports and documentation to the insurance company.  Then everything got strange.  My phone rang.  An insurance claims adjuster from Florida wanted to confirm the details of my claim.  She asked me so many redundant questions that I had to ask: “Did you get the information from my claim form online?” The answer was “no.”

The stalling tactics began. The claim required multiple letters, phone calls and emails. When the requested information was submitted there was no response for three months.   Finally on the advice of Sue Jarvis at   State Farm Insurance in Stanwood - I filed a   complaint with the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. The company was cited by the Commission for failure to respond to the regulatory investigation!  After being cited the online Florida company finally settled my claim.

The excellent speed and efficiency in which the WSC processed the complaint contradicted the stereotype of government red tape.  In this example, the protection of a government regulatory board prevented me from experiencing a devastating financial loss.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stanwood Democrats Contemplating Snoco Elections

At Stanwood Democrats May Meeting.
From Left:  Arlington Storm Water Utilities Director - Bill Blake,
Stanwood Democrat's Treasurer - Dave Ridgeway
Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee Chair - Richard Wright

After all the hard work and excitement of the presidential and gubernatorial  elections last Fall the Stanwood Democrats would like to relax and regroup for a year but that is not to be.  The Snohomish county government will have a wide open primary August 6th for two seats on the council because councilmen John Koster and Dave Gossett are term limited.  Arlington's storm water utilities director -Bill Blake - is running for the  District 1 seat.  So he came to the Stanwood Dems monthly meeting at the Viking Restaurant this May.  Blake  reminded  the dozen or so  of us in attendance of  the importance of the Snohomish County Comprehensive Plan and his years of experience working on advisory boards for those plans.   The 2025 Comprehensive Plan went into effect when County Executive Aaron Reardon signed it in 2005.  The Plan controls growth and development in the county including land use, building codes, transportation, park services and watershed management.

  Blake advocated maintaining and expanding a broad economic base so that the county would not be solely dependent on Boeing and vulnerable to its economic cycle.   He outlined several ideas for sustaining the counties traditional economic drivers - agriculture, logging and fisheries.  All depend on sufficient water supplies and storm water management.  Watershed management must also handle the demands of population growth in the county.  Under Bill Blake's watch as Arlington's stormwater wetlands manager,  the city completed a $35 million upgrade to it wastewater treatment and water reclamation facility.   It won praise from the Stillaguamish Tribe's environmental program manager, Pat Stevenson i.e.: "The city's wastewater treatment plant is very sophisticated, and the stormwater wetlands is that extra effort that will help bring salmon back to the Stillaguamish."

Blake also had a creative way for "killing two birds with one stone"  with his Farm to School suggestion to a joint meeting of the Arlington School Board and the City Council.  The Arlington School  cafeterias consume 25 thousand pounds of food per month.  Local fresh produce benefits both the health of the students and the incomes of our farmers.  According to the Everett Herald reporter Gale Fiege:  "In its second year, the Fresh Food in Schools Project now includes 32 new farm-to-school programs statewide. Participating schools bought more than $300,000 worth of Washington-grown fruits and vegetables, an increase of about 82,000 pounds of produce from the previous school year, Larson said."

More information on Bill Blake's background can be found on his campaign web page.

The meeting ended with an upbeat report from the Snohomish County Chair of the Democratic Central Committee - Richard Wright - about campaign financing now being in better order with the set up of a "victory fund".  Office finances are  in the black for the elections.   Alida Booth - a Stanwood Democrat  on the Central Committee - posed the challenge of finding someone to replace County Executive Aaron Reardon who is resigning his office at the end of May.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Island Hospital Merger Debated at Fidalgo Meeting.

Dr. Bogosian addresses
 Fidalgo Democrats 

           For their monthly meeting on May 7th.  the Fidalgo Democrats invited Dr. Charles Bogosian and Attorney Mary Kay Barbieri as guest speakers.    As commissioner of Island Hospital Dr. Bogosian outlined the financial necessity and medical advantages of forming a partnership with larger hospitals in the region.  Representing the concerns outlined by Healthcare Freedom  Attorney Barbieri argued that the Catholic Hospitals, now in consideration for merger,  have and will impose the  Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) of the Catholic Bishops on affiliated hospitals and clinics.   GoSkagit Reporter Gina Cole provided an excellent summary of  the proposed mergers for Island and other  hospitals in the North Sound.

Dr. Bogosian told the audience that Island Hospital is financially stable,  but warns that the Affordable Care Act requirement for electronic medical records and  reduced medicare payments due to the sequester will reduce their profit margins currently at 3%.  Because of these concerns the Hospital administration initiated the mergers.   I suspect the desire for greater profits was also a lure.

Most Democrats support medicare but if Republicans continue to win Federal Elections,  Medicare will be eroded and our local hospitals will be adversely impacted.  That is not yet a done deal.

As for electronic medical record,  one member of the Fidalgo Dems audience - Donna Davidson - asked if Island Hospital could turn to Group Health for help.   No one present could answer that question.  Hopefully an answer will eventually be found.  Because I have Group Health insurance,  my doctor and I have found  Group Health's electronic medical records (which are available to us online)  helpful and convenient.

I like many others (even some Catholics) would not like to be solely dependent on hospitals and clinics governed by the ERDs.   The death last November of a young woman because the ERDs denied the termination of a miscarried pregnancy is a cautionary event.   At the other end of life many of us would prefer Death with Dignity ( as guaranteed by WA state law) to having our estates dried up while we live on as unconscious vegetables.  We would rather see the money spent on educating the younger generation and other worthy causes we supported while we were alive.  This would be denied by the ERDs.    Death with Dignity would also reduce the cost of medicare to tax payers,  but it would mean less money for the pharmaceutical-medical industrial complex.

Hospital mergers could also mean monopoly pricing.  I would like to know what the effects of a single payer system would have on hospital costs and mergers.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Corporate versus Community Rights

 The Fidalgo Democrats gathered at the Anacortes Public Library for their April monthly meeting to discuss how Communities could regain sovereignty over their environment.  The meeting featured three speakers on this subject: Stoney Bird, retired corporate attorney,  Ron Harris, retired businessman and Bill Bowman.

  Commercial development that threatens the livability of many communities has been in the news.  In the North Sound our environment is threatened by coal trains  and a water bottling factory in Anacortes.   Communities in the Mid West are polluted by  aging pipelines transporting crude oil and worse - oil from tar sands.  Residents of Pennsylvania, New York and Quebec are worried that fracking to retrieve natural gas will contaminate and deplete their ground water.    Through their interpretation of the Interstate Commerce clause and rulings like "Citzen United" ,  the conservative US Supreme Court has given corporations the power to strike down various federal and state laws designed to protect public welfare. Businessman Ron Harris reported that there has been some local support for a 28th Amendment to  the Constitution a.k.a  The People's Rights Amendment. introduced into the US House by Congressman Jim McGovern.  Many believe that the amendment would level the playing field between coporate and community rights and allow communities to take the offense in their struggle against coporations.

Both Bill Bowman and Stoney Bird referenced the findings of The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund  (CELDF).    CELDF claims that after decades of work, billions of dollars, the work of thousands of communities, and the involvement of the largest environmental groups,  things are worse now than they've ever been.   They argue that communities need to go on the offense and stop playing defense.  "What we've had is groups and people resisting one hog factory farm at a time, one toxic waste incinerator at a time, one road project at a time, one asphalt plant at a time."    CELDF  aims its  focus on governance that has eroded community sovereignty.   As with former slaves,  the natural environment in our current legal structures is treated as property to be exploited.  Our  environmental regulations only regulate how that property is used.   The Interstate Commerce Clause in the US Constitution has been successfully used by Corporations to override local restrictions on their activities.

The Fidalgo Democrats Chairwoman -Corinne Salcedo (left) - hosts guest speaker Stoney Byrd 

To take the offense against environmental destruction in the Pacific Northwest ,   Stoney Bird outlined efforts made by  Bellingham and Spokane.   Residents of these cities have tried to pass a "Community Bill of Rights" e.g.  One group proposing the idea is called Envision Spokane. Founded by the CEDLF,  Envision Spokane is made up of more than two dozen unions, community organizations and groups with ties to national organizations. Envision Spokane wants  “big developers, corporations and the city government” to respect the natural environment.  Envision Seattle has an agenda similar  in spirit embodied in Initiative 103 .    Coal-free-Bellingham has also proposed a Community Bill of Rights to be adopted by citizen's initiative.

 Section 6 of Envision Seattle's Initiative 103  seemed almost as aggressive as the 1776 Declaration of Independence i.e:

By the adoption of this ordinance by this municipality, the people call for changes to state and federal law that would result in the recognition of a fundamental and inalienable right to community self- government throughout this State and the United States. The people also declare their support for changes to state and federal law that would eliminate certain corporate constitutional rights and powers that currently interfere with, and prevent, the exercise of local self- governance. Those rights and powers include corporate authority to preempt community lawmaking, corporate “rights” as “persons” under the State and federal constitutions, and corporate “rights” under other sections of the State and federal constitutions. 

These Community Rights initiatives have already  faced  court challenges based on conflicts with State and Federal Law.   However,  Fidalgo Democratic Chairwomen - Corinne Salcedo - challenged my pessimism  with the following email response: "I would differ with your statement that these initiatives have already faced court challenges.  Out of some 150 community rights initiatives, only THREE have faced challenges.  So I'd say the community rights movement is making headway."

To many beleaguered communities,   large corporations have replaced the top down power of King George III.    Their power is based on money to finance elections and the promise of jobs.  Nevertheless,  the damage done by the massive explosion of the  West Texas fertilizer plant  this week has been an object lesson.   Even though there are State and Federal regulations for the use of chemicals,  citizens cannot depend on those governments to effectively administer those regulations.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Food Distribution in the North Sound

March 14 Human Rights Festival - Panel on Food Distribution
Seated Left to Right:  Ethan Schaffer, Carolyn Conner,  Michael Frazier,
 Rita Ordonez, and Holly Thompson.  Jim Meyer is at the Podium.

 As part of the Human Rights Festival at Skagit Valley College,  A seven member panel representing organizations involved in food distribution in  Skagit Valley gathered to discuss their experiences.  Jim Meyer  - a Cascandian Home Farm  manager and Community Action of Skagit Board Member opened the session with an explanation of food sovereignty and food scarcity.   Although the various community organizations  have achieved much with regard to food sovereignty and  security, they want to broaden their efforts.

According to Holly Thompson of WA. State University Extension, sixteen percent  of residents in the Skagit Valley do not have access to healthy food.  Twenty seven percent of households struggle to put food on the table.  So there is a growing effort to coordinate the various sources of food for these families.   I was impressed by their ability to provide locally grown fresh produce to those in need.  (The food collected in my old neighborhood back East was all canned or boxed).   In addition to federal money, Food Lifeline (Seattle), and North West Harvest,  there are volunteers who grow crops  and glean crops from local farms (after  farmers completes the commercial harvest) for the food banks.  Farmers also donate some of their crops to food banks.

Skagit Community Food Access manager,  Rita Ordóñez  oversees  the countywide food distribution center in Sedro-Woolley, which provides food and support to 14 county food banks, 6 programs to provide meals and other anti-hunger initiatives. She was enthusiastic about the 2,000 sq ft building that enabled the distribution center to gather enough food to serve 1.67 million meals last year.  The  center brought in 58 thousand pounds of local produce.

Michael Frazier, Executive Director of the Skagit County Food Bank Association acknowledged the many diverse sources of food his organization depends on.  The sources include Headling Farms, Ralf's Green House, Broadview Farms, Franz Bakery, Costco, Fred Meyer, Target Walmart and Starbucks.  Local businesses. organizations and churches host food drives.  They have a fleet of trucks that pick up the food and distribute it to various food banks.  In 2011 the McIntyre Foundation provided a grant for Improvements including a walk-in freezers, coolers, and awnings for clients waiting in the food lines at the Sedro Woolley Food bank -  one of the 14 food banks in Skagit County.  

After our first three speakers addressed food insecurity,  our last two speakers Ethan Schaffer, executive director of Viva Farms  and Grow Food   and Steve Crider, Amy's Kitchen Liaison for Government & Industry Affairs addressed  Food Sovereignty in Skagit County.  Advocates of food sovereignty put the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the centre of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than large-scale, industrialized corporate farms .   Illustrating how centralized Farm production has become,  Steve Crider claimed that 75% of the nation seed supply is owned by just 6 large Agribusinesses.  

 Farm crops and livestock are  a major factor in the Skagit Valley Economy with a market value of $256 million.  The Skagit Valley is rated among the top 2% in the world for agriculture use.  Over half of Skagit Farm products are sold outside the area and over half of what we eat comes from elsewhere. Some of that is probably due to the desire for variety (pineapples and bananas) but it still seems a little crazy.    
 Ethan Schaffer is involved in the effort by Grow Food to train new farmers to replace the many farmers who are retiring and own 70% of the farmland in domestic markets.  Some of those being trained are currently farm workers.  These new farmers are desperately needed as the demand for fresh, local produce grows. More people have become aware that  they are overfed and undernourished.   Locally Viva Farms was launched in 2009 to provide new farmers affordable access to education, training and technical assistance, capital, credit, land and markets.  

We as food consumers can nurture and sustain our local food supply by buying our produce and meat at farmers markets, co-ops and CSAs in our area.  I order my produce from Klesick Family Farm two miles away from where I live.  They deliver on Fridays to my door.  It is very fresh, convenient and most items are reasonable priced.  Potatoes are cheap and have a fresh flavor.   Food that is not sold at local markets goes through many middlemen before it is sold at retail.  The farmer then receives only 12 to 19 cents for every dollar you spend.

The money we spend on canned food for food bank drives would provide more food if we just gave cash to the Skagit Food Share Alliance  because the Alliance buys wholesale from local farmers. 

While I learned much about our local farm programs and food supply at the 2013 Human Rights Festival in March,  I did not fully understand the relationships between the many organization involved with helping people and farmers.  Indeed Holly Thompson commented on the lack of communication among the community groups concerned with food insecurity.  In answer to my email inquiry this week, Ms. Thompson elaborated: " There is the lack of collaboration amongst community organizations that are working to either combat hunger or improve markets for our local farmers. This is why it is critical that a "Skagit County Food Network" be created. This local food network could include a cross section of the  diverse group of community members such as: farmers, community organizations like Community Action and our food distribution/food banks members."