Thursday, April 17, 2014

This One is Easy

When it comes to no-brainers, our current City Council seems, well, kind of brainless.

Item #1: The City's Morse Creek hydroelectric facility. This is a tiny little dam that was built in 1924. Yes, 1924. It was originally built just as a dam dam, to provide water to the City, and later was turned into a small hydroelectric power source. A small one. As in, at its peak it provided .3 percent of the City's electrical power. Yes, that's .3 percent.

The 100% solution to .3% of our energy needs! And we can use the water to
plant these magic beans I got!

It was inactive from 1997 to 2004, and has been semi-permanently shut down since 2012. It needs, at a minimum, tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and more in ongoing maintenance if it ever hopes to be functional again. Realistically, the cost to get it operational again could rise into six figures. All with the best possible outcome of producing .3 percent of the City's electricity. (An amount that could more easily be saved if we all turned off a single light for a single day out of the year.)

In other words, it's a money pit. That seems crystal clear to me, anyway. So when the City Council is presented with a clear up or down, yes or no decision to be made - do we keep it shuttered or pay to repair it - they do what seems to be second-nature to them: They avoid making a decision, but hire an out of town consultant (for tens of thousands of dollars more) to "look into their options."

If I were feeling charitable, I'd say they're doing this to maintain the illusion that they're "doing something." But more realistically, the cynical side of me says that staff have helped lead the Council to this outcome in order to funnel more money to a favored consultant. Either way, it's stupid, pure and simple.

But not as purely stupid as the simple "solution" Brad Collins proposed for the City's garbage bluff problem, which is Item #2. Though the City bought the property in question way back in 1947, Collins says the City should "give the landfill back to the County."

Hey Clallam County...We've got a present for you!

Remember when all those people who had invested in PenPly wanted to get some of their money back from the people behind the failed mill, and Grant Munro told them to "pound sand"? Well, that's a warm and fuzzy response compared to the County's response to Collins' idea. Which is not even a little bit surprising, because what Collins proposed was remarkably, deeply, impossibly stupid. So stupid that he should be embarrassed to have said it in public.

Yes, these are the people at the helm of the ship. No wonder so many of us feel a need to keep a constant watch out for icebergs...


  1. Oh good Christ...Make a decision people! Hiring a consultant is not leadership. You were elected to be leaders, not job creators for out of the area consultants.

    1. I'm going to keep pointing out the reality that it is STAFF that comes up with these whiz-bang "options" for council members.

      Anyone interested in these issues should mosey on down to City Hall, and look at the Agenda Packet each council member gets before each City Council meeting. See first hand what options in decisions are presented to each council member to choose from.

      You will see first hand how convincingly STAFF promotes the hiring of these consultants.

      Remember also the role of Howdy Doody Bloor, who goes so far as to tell council members who NOT to talk with. Who advises the hiring of consultants so that the city can NOT be responsible for decisions made.

      If a problem develops, they blame the consultants.

      So convenient.

    2. I agree with you that staff are behind much that is bad at the city. No question at all about that.

      But staff are allowed to do all this at the pleasure of the city manager. So long as Dan McKeen allows staff to present preposterous things, they will do so.

      And so long as Council allow McKeen to allow staff, the problem will remain.

      So to fix this, the city manager has to hold staff accountable, the Council has to hold the city manager accountable, and the voters have to hold members of the Council accountable.

      Which part of that loop do you think is most broken? Which part do we (the public) have the most control over? And which do you think will get addressed first, if at all?

    3. Anonymous 1:47pm - If you kind of reverse your explanation, there's a (difficult) path forward there. We the voters can pressure the people running for city council to promise to replace the city manager if they're elected. Get 'em to make public statements on the issue, and hold them to them. If they don't deliver, then start a recall petition. It's a lot of work for us voters, but I guess that's kind of our job in this mess.

    4. Could one of the attorneys that are doubtlessly reading this blog please post something here about how we (voters) can get them (elected officials) to press the issue of poisonous staff without getting the elected in trouble. I know this is a sensitive issue.

      Thank you.

    5. I'm not so sure it is about evil staff, as much as it is the culture they have evolved into.

      The solution is not that difficult. Anon 4:32 is on the right track. We the voters have to tell the council what we want. So, we gotta get clear about that, ourselves.

      Yep. In this upcoming election cycle, we can demand statements of the candidates. We can submit a list of things we think are important to us they have to agree to, if they want our votes. And, if they don't follow through once elected, they need to know we WILL do the recall thing.

      There has to be consquences. Right now, we have staff working on things they have no qualifications for. Ya wonder why we get stupid projects, and stupid recommendations?

      But, as long as no one is paying much attention, this is what we get.

  2. I used to think Brad Collins was smarter than people like Mike Chapman and Bob Martin, but this foolishness really calls that into question. I mean, yes, the county is stupid, but they aren't so stupid as to take your $20 million dollar timebomb off your hands. May as well propose sending all the trash to Mars, Brad.

  3. I think even the most ardent environmentalist and hydropower fan would see the ultimate wisdom in letting this facility go and focusing your efforts on conservation. Why waste good dollars after bad ones?

  4. Thoughts about the landfill: Why doesn't the city just ignore the issue for the next few decades and let future city officials worry about it? Very few people can see all that garbage falling into the water, because the shoreline is pretty much inaccessible. The state departments of Ecology and Health have proven themselves ineffective at enforcing environmental laws ("unfunded mandates" according to our former mayor). Sewage still overflows into the harbor; for decades the city got away with refusing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (but gladly infused it with fluoride instead of treating it for pathogens); it fails to follow the Environmental Policy Act in approving projects and enforcing project conditions.
    Advice to council: Banish landfill-related issues from further consideration until 2020 at the earliest. Immediately lay-off all employees who have anything to do with solid waste. Listen politely but ignore anyone - including regulatory agency personnel - who attempt to discuss it.
    See no evil - hear no evil.

    1. Exactly. When faced with bad news, say, the city's finance director comes in and says that tax revenues are down, just say "No they aren't." If he repeats that they are, just repeat "No they aren't" until he gives up and shuts up.

      This is a simple - and cost-effective! - way to make sure that the news coming out of City Hall is always good. Then the PDN will print it, the members of the City Council can cite the PDN report on how good things are to prove that they're right, and the circle is unbroken. Case closed!

  5. It's like they're SO afraid of making a wrong move that they have to hire consultants to TELL THEM what to do so that hopefully they won't do something stupid that makes people angry.

    But what they forget is that nothing gets people ANGRIER FASTER than seeing our City Council piss away our tax dollars on an endless parade of consultants.

    Memo to City Council members: It's YOUR job, so YOU do it.

  6. Brad's idea is so stupid, even stupid people laugh at it. I guess he was just using .3% of his brain power when he said it.

  7. When in doubt, farm it out.

    And it seems like our Council is always in doubt.

  8. A few years back, Max Mania was pushing for the City Council to stop dicking around and deal with the old dump issue more completely, rather than this time and money consuming piecemeal approach. The local rag tried to make him out to be foolish for advocating for this approach.

    Now, here we are years later, and an estimated $20 million dollars (and counting) poorer, and the city is still dicking around, while time and money are wasting. The bluff could collapse any day, and the best the city can do is "offer" to give the problem to the county?

    So we've gone from a piecemeal approach to an outright attempt to avoid responsibility and to deny reality. Somehow that doesn't seem like progress to me.

    1. For the city to claim, without offering any proof, that the property in question didn't have any garbage on it when they took possession of it is ridiculous. They can't prove it.

      For them to have then allowed trash to be dumped there for decades is also ridiculous. Especially if what they say about it being garbage-free when they took possession - that's an admission the problem was created/developed under their watch. Which is to say, it's their responsibility.

      Now, after all that, and after dithering about what to do about it for years, they "offer" to give it back to the county, under the guise that it's a regional facility...Well, yes it is. One that the city bought, developed and approved all down the line. If the city couldn't plan for the future better, that's not the county's fault.

      This is like someone who stole your car and got arrested trying to sue you for not having left them a full tank of gas so they could have gotten away from the police. It just doesn't make any sense, and hasn't been a good idea from the start. For Brad to "offer" up the mother of all bad ideas as a solution is not a solution.

  9. wow! How astonishingly dumb and wasteful! I am actually referring to ALL the stories here.This blog reads like a continuous tale of corruption foolishness and woe...

    Do you think this is happening everywhere, or just in PA? Never has local council news been so interesting. Amazing

    I like to follow Rachel Maddows podcast about Christie in NJ. Your stories are just as juicy. Juicier,even.

    1. Hi, Ronnie - and welcome to the weird world of Port Angeles. Obviously, there can be corruption just about anywhere, but here in Port Angeles, I do believe there is a higher than average (or survivable) level of it. We're a small town in a sparsely populated rural county far from any official prying eyes or nosey press. So, like mushrooms in a dark, moist place, corruption has flourished here.

  10. As another poster pointed out on an earlier post, it can be very illuminating to watch how consultant contracts that start out small and seemingly very limited can balloon and grow under the careful control of staff.

    Step one is to arrange things in your official memo to the council so that a predetermined outcome is basically assured - how often does the council push back against a staff recommendation, really?

    Step two is to come back with one smallish amendment to the original agreement, presented as being some sort of minor housekeeping detail.

    Then, by step three, you can present the consultant as someone with "deep knowledge" of the subject or project, someone with "history" with it, and thus, the best person to handle the latest expansion (or even change) of scope.

    The just keep piling on as the "Yes" votes keep piling up.

    Then the final step is to leave your employment with the city, to take a position with one of these consultants or contractors who did so well under your care at the city. I have no doubt that we will see Glenn Cutler coming back to City Hall in that capacity.

  11. This kind of explains why Karen Rogers wanted to make SO many decisions in executive session. It might make people suspicious of what you're up to, but it does help to hide some of the really, really backwards positions the city takes on things. As someone else already noted, I can't believe that Brad said something that was so foolish and such a non-starter in public.

  12. Mr. Cutler is too busy drawing his double retirement (from the Navy AND from the City). He's, no doubt, having a great time. Why would he bother with consulting?

    1. Despite receiving double retirement benefits and the income and write-offs from his wife's direct marketing business (Tupperware, right?) Cutler undoubtedly sees himself as too young to truly retire and deprive the world of his talents. Moreover, a well-earned reputation for being greedy will entice him into feeding at the public trough again.

    2. Cutler is indeed a greedy bastard. But he's also just a plain old bastard, which means he'd truly enjoy coming back, being part of a consultant team hired by the city, just to rub his enemies noses in it. He's a bully, and he's petty, and again, greedy as all get out.

  13. Reading this gave me an idea. If a tiny little dam like that can produce .3 % of the electricity we need, think how much more we could produce if we made the city council stand on little treadmill generators during their meetings. That way, even when they were doing dumb things, they'd still be making themselves useful. Surely between the seven of them they could produce another .7 %, just to round things off. It'd keep them slim, too.

  14. To the Talented Mr. Ripley...It was a bit over the top. I'm not opposed to it in theory, but in practice this time it was a bit much. Pleese feel free to try agin.