By Ralph Schwartz
I was unable to attend Executive Jack Louws’ “State of the County” presentation Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Louws’ office provided me his prepared text.
Louws laid out an old-fashioned vision of community prosperity, spoke warmly of the reconveyance and touted a lobbyist who is speaking in Olympia on behalf of the county, the city of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham. Council members may take issue with the benefits of that lobbyist.
When these “State of” speeches come around, I think of the tagline that traditionally comes with the president’s annual address: “The state of the union is strong.”
Louws gave a nod to that tradition in his text.
“The state of county government can be found in this simple fact: Whatcom County is back on sound financial footing,” he wrote.
County staff and services have been cut (staff by almost 20 percent), debt is low, and Louws spoke of how the government is primed to help the county as a whole flourish.
It seems elected officials from the local to the national level have to say something about job creation — especially in front of business leaders.
“I will keep fighting to speed our local recovery and get our people back to work,” Louws wrote.
“This isn’t about government directly creating jobs. It’s about creating the conditions and building the infrastructure that will allow our economy to flourish … so that we can all again believe in a future where the next generation can do better than the last.”
This last line of his stands out. There’s been a lot of media attention given to the belief that young people, say the Gen-Y’ers born after 1980, will be the first generation to fare worse than their parents. A 2009 column along this line in U.S. News advises young people, “Don’t compare yourself to your parents.”
Louws doesn’t buy into this doom and gloom.
“I want Whatcom County to be a place where you can live and perhaps even become wealthy, but you don’t have to be wealthy to live. A place where you can get educated, trained and get a good job, and buy a decent home, and raise a family and someday retire and live better than your parents did, and know that your kids can live better than you.”
Louws envisions an inclusive prosperity.
“The agenda I present today is one … where government has integrity, where it is efficient and responsive, where it creates the climate for communities to prosper. But great prosperity only really matters if it is also a broad prosperity.”
“… No one is guaranteed success. But there is no reason why every child in this big county should not have the opportunity to succeed. So, where we find barriers to this vision, let’s work together as partners to remove them. Then we will have done something truly worthy.”
Elsewhere in his presentation, Louws spoke in the same vein as Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville has recently, about the new and productive partnerships that have formed between city, county and the port.
These partnerships as they relate to the county have led to progress on a new jail, on a revamped Whatcom Medic One and on sharing a lobbyist in Olympia.
“With our collective voice we carry a more powerful message,” Louws wrote.
Not all county leaders share this opinion. During the surface water work session on Tuesday, March 19, attended by all council members, Pete Kremen complained that the lobbyist was only working for the port and the city — or almost exclusively for them, anyhow.
He said “99 percent” of the lobbyist’s work has been for the city and the port, most especially for waterfront redevelopment.
“I was quite offended with the meeting we had” recently with Sen. Doug Ericksen, Kremen said on Tuesday. Kremen is on the Legislative Steering Committee of the Washington State Association of Counties.
“I wasn’t even able to get a word in edgewise about anything pertaining to Whatcom County,” Kremen said.
“We need them pushing our agenda as well as the port’s or the city’s.”
Kremen got nods from other council members at the meeting.
Another accomplishment Louws mentioned in his State of the County was the reconveyance, just approved by the council one week earlier. Louws called the 8,844-acre Lake Whatcom land transfer of state timberland to the county for a park a “landmark decision.”
The new park can attract businesses that want to locate in a place with a high quality of life, provide more tourism revenue and preserve a large wilderness area, Louws said.
During his run for the executive’s office in 2011, Louws was not supportive of approving the reconveyance immediately, saying it would create too much of a cost burden for the county. He said it was an idea to maybe revisit in another five years.
The full prepared text for Louws’ State of the County can be read here.