Whalen: More comments to: The Amaros versus the Land Bank Featured

I’ve read both the articles Sharon Kivisto wrote: Not Living the Dream on a San Juan Island Farm, and I'm ashamed to be an islander, we should be better than this. I also read Michael McElrath’s comments. I want to add to the discussion. First of all, kudos to Sharon for her thorough research and well done ‘expose’.

Next, kudos to Michael for illustrating who has really been neighborly and who really hasn’t. Michael, your comments mirror those I was going to make. I’d like to expand on your view of what it actually means to be. Reviewing the Land Bank’s website, under Stewardship, it reads; What is stewardship? Stewardship includes a broad array of land management activities designed to protect the community’s investment. Stewardship is being a good neighbor. So the Land Bank enters into discussions with the Amaros to resolve their differences. Months pass, and the Land Bank suddenly delays discussions with the Amaros. During the delay, the Land Bank, aware that the Amaros are in the middle of a property trade with another party, acts to buy the property out from under the Amaros. The Land Bank knew the Amaros already had a signed deed yet acted to undercut the Amaros by offering more money. What part of that maneuver fits with being a good neighbor? It doesn’t! It embodies just the opposite. It demonstrates deceitful manipulation and scheming - all while professing principles of stewardship and being a good neighbor. In short, it illustrates the Land Banks precept of stewardship as lip service. The Amaros have a good argument the Land Bank was negotiating with them in bad faith and the deal the Land Bank contrived in purchasing the property out from under the Amaros should be deemed illegitimate.

Recently I pulled up the Land Bank’s page, which included some history about the ordinance that created the Land Bank. The last sentence read "was renewed for additional 12 years by nearly 73% majority in 1999". In 2011 voters reduced that approval to 52%. On San Juan Island the vote was actually against renewal. I emailed the county auditor noting the counties website needed to illustrate current figures rather than figures from twenty years ago. The county auditor replied she would forward my message to the director of the Land Bank. The Land Bank director, Lincoln Bormann, emailed me shortly thereafter, thanking me for pointing this out and saying the verbiage would be changed.

Sure enough the verbiage changed. "Was renewed for additional 12 years by nearly 73% majority in 1999" was replaced with “the ordinance has been reauthorized twice since its inception". While an accurate statement, I felt it was less than candid and disingenuous. The Land Bank was happy to note nearly 73% approval in 1999, and let that information remain posted for 20 years despite the fact that the approval vote was reduced 20% in 2011. On San Juan Island the majority vote was against re-authorization. It wasn’t as if Mr. Bormann simply forgot the voting results from 2011. As recently as August of 2018 Mr. Bormann had reviewed them and cited the results in a declaration in an attempt to have venue in the Land Bank’s case against the Amaros remain in San Juan County. When reminded the posted voting results were 20 years out of date and misleading Mr. Bormann apparently decided it would be better to not post the new voting result percentage as it illustrated voter approval had dramatically declined. Instead it was convenient to just let the outdated voting results ride for twenty years as long as no one was noticing. Sharon’s editorial noted she was continually misled by the Land Bank. That aligns with the disingenuous response Mr. Bormann offered on the outdated voting results.

An excerpt from Sharon’s editorial noted;

When asked how the Land Bank could have a campground when camping on Land Bank property is not allowed by the county code, staff allegedly told the Amaros the code would just have to be changed. When Bormann was asked last week, he said it was just an idea the staff tossed around. The above paragraph is telling to me. First impressions are Land Bank staff were being flippant with responses. Director Bormann seems to lessen the comment as just some idea his staff tossed around. I’ve always thought first responses are telling and an indicator of true intent. In this instance I see the Land Bank staff’s comment as a true reflection of the Land Bank’s direction. It wasn’t just some idea his staff tossed around. Campgrounds were inclusive as part of the draft Mount Grant Management Plan. This illustrates the land banks position on county code. If it doesn’t fit with their agenda they’ll simply act to have the code changed. They have no reason to think they can’t. This has everything to do with the fact that our supposed oversight authority (County Commissioners) seem to let the Land Bank define everything. The tail here is definitely wagging the dog and our county commissioners are the dog. Our county commissioners tend to follow the wind direction and to date they’ve adhered to the wind at the back of the Land Bank. To that I say it’s time to check the wind direction. Our county commissioners are suppose to have oversight of the Land Bank.

What happens when the Amaros win their lawsuit? One result is adios to the access road to Mount Grant which is through the Amaro property. That means after all the money spent toward the purchase of Mount Grant there’s no access. That sure doesn’t sound like much of a management plan! Then there’s the cost of creating a new access road. Have our commissioners considered these costs? Have those costs been compared to what the Amaros was asking;

1. a garbage receptacle

2. a fence between the properties

3. no pit toilets sited they could be seen of smelled from the Amaros property

4. the Amaros indemnified by the county

Comparing risk and the costs fall squarely into the oversight our county commissioners are supposed to be providing. Have they allowed the Land Bank to walk the county into a risky and costly scenario? Where’s the oversight? These are questions that will be directed at our county commissioners if the Amaros win their lawsuit.

In 2011 many saw extending Land Bank funding another 12 years as too much. The campaign to thwart the extension got a late start. Even so, the vote came within 2 % of failing. I’ve discussed this statistic with voters in San Juan County. The consensus is extension of funding for the land bank would fail if it was on a ballot today. I agree!! I support the Amaro family in their arguments with the Land Bank. As Sharon rightly illustrated the Amaros have been wrongfully portrayed. Their arguments have been fair minded and reasonable. They are good neighbors. Has the land bank been a good neighbor? As many are beginning to see the answer is no.

Ron Whalen

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