July 19, 2011
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS MEETING ROOM
Thurston County Courthouse, Building One, Room 269
2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia, WA 98502
HOLD FOR 7/19/2011 - 2:00 p.m.
Neighbors to the proposed Nisqually Jail on Yelm Highway and Route 510 are appearing this afternoon before the Commissioner’s weekly public comment session at 2 pm. at the Thurston County Court House, 2000 Lakeridge Drive Olympia, Wa.
Since the Commissioners did not set up a full disclosure session when they first knew about the controversial Jail over a year ago; and now that time is of the essence given construction activity on the Jail site, the neighbors today decided they would take this earliest opportunity to come before Commissioners to let them know how the neighbors felt and to ask for the help of the Commissioners.
After several representatives of the Neighborhood delivered petitions signed by many citizens of Thurston County and presented a variety of compelling mitigating factors, the neighbors appealed to the Commissioners to help STOP Jail until a fair and complete process is put in place that weighs the costs and benefits to the taxpayers of the County for the following reasons:
THE JAIL PROCESS WAS FLAWED
The neighbors contend that the transfer of land to the Nisqually Tribe was done without due process and with steps along the way that were flawed.
COMMISSIONERS HAD ADEQUATE ADVANCE WARNING OF THE VERY LARGE (500 BEDS) HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL JAIL PROJECT
To prove their point, the neighbors documented that the Commissioners had full knowledge of the proposed Jail in advance of the transfer of land from Fort Lewis to the Tribe which only occurred in September of 2010.
In their capacity as stewards of the rights of their constituents, the neighbors contend, the Commissioners failed to provide sufficient and timely notice to the public in general not to mention those most directly affected - the immediate neighborhood. It is hard for the neighborhood to comprehend why the Commissioners did not raise a caution flag to the instigators of the Jail as well as their own constituents when they first got wind of the project.
THE COMMISSIONERS KNEW BUT DID NOTHING
The Commissioners did not take positive action early on - at a point in time more than a year ago when they had time to shine the light of public scrutiny on one of the biggest and controversial projects in the County in a long time.
PUBLIC INVESTMENT (Taxpayer dollars) IN THE NISQUALLY JAIL
Incredible as it might seem, before all the phases of the contemplated Nisqually Jail are complete, there will be more than $50M US taxpayer dollars invested in something over which the taxpayers will have no oversight or control. The total of $50M is an approximation of the value of the 175 acres of transferred land that was until recently owned by taxpayers, the $10M dollar taxpayer grant from the Department of Justice, and the $11M taxpayer loan from the Department of Agriculture, not to mention the hidden taxpayer subsidies for infrastructure (roads, electric, etc.) in support of the current phases plus future phases of the jail.
ABUTTING NEIGHBORS APPEAR NOT TO HAVE BEEN GIVEN OFFICIAL NOTICE
It has come to light that the “public notice” process required of the Tribe was not monitored by the Commissioners. Had the Commissioners decided to monitor the process, they would have found that, according to the best information at this time, none of the 16 abutting neighbors remember receiving any notice.
The neighbors believe, that had this been a comparable private or public development, the public notice process would have required that everyone living within a quarter of a mile of the project be notified. According to the neighborhood, because of the size and controversial nature of the project, the Commissioners should have taken upon themselves such a comparable process including registered mail - and monitored it carefully.
HOW COULD THE COUNTY WORK WITH THE TRIBE WHEN THEY DID NOT WORK WITH THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
The Neighborhood contends that the County with their various planning units was early and deeply involved in reviewing plans or attending planning meetings for the Jail. We live in an age of inter jurisdictional cooperation. The County, State Agencies, Federal Agencies, Elected Officials up and down the line knew about this Jail and compared notes about the jail. But the one jurisdiction that was glaringly left out by all was the NEIGHBORHOOD.
PUBLIC INFORMATION REQUEST - ERRONEOUS INFORMATION
The neighborhood asked for “Public Records Inspection and Copying Request” seeking disclosure of the history and materials available to the Commissioners that were in the County files. The request specified Tax Parcel 21833000000 – 640 acres. That TAX ID is the only identifier available on the land records at this time. The request was submitted on June 9, 2011 to the Commissioners/County Administrator’s Office. Regretfully, what was for the most part not responsive. The response included 4 items totaling 37 pages. Three of the items had nothing to do with the Tax Parcel and the Jail.
Given what the neighborhood knows now and has been able to discover from public records on the internet, there will be a new request made to gain more insight to what the Commissioners knew and when they knew about this controversial project.
THE ARC - A COMPETITOR TO THE NISQULLY JAIL
The neighbors reminded the Commissioners that in the same time frame as the Commissioners were publically silent about the planning for the Jail, the Commissioners were spending taxpayer’s dollars ($45M) on a currently empty facility they call The Accountability and Restitution Center (ARC) in Mottman Industrial Park.
The Commissioners must have seen the ARC fiscal challenges coming. The neighbors believe the Commissioners could have and should have recognized that the Nisqually Jail would act as a competitor to the taxpayer’s $45M investment, making it more difficult to salvage the ARC in the long run. The neighbors believe there was a time before the transfer of land that the Commissioners could have and should have acted with the assistance of our Congressional Delegation, State Executive and Legislative branches, and other key players if necessary to bring the conflicting projects into public light – presumably then being better able to avoid the waste of additional taxpayer dollars.
WHAT ELSE LURKS OUT THERE THAT THE NEIGHBORHOOD SHOULD KNOW?
The neighborhood is now rightfully nervous about what other plans are in the works that the Commissioners know about but have not shared with their constituents. If the past suggests the future, we appeal to the Commissioners to get actively involved with this neighborhood; to review any and all plans - distant or imminent – that might affect the 640 acres that make up Tax Parcel 21833000000 and related land.
CONSTRUCTIVE PROCESS GOING FORWARD
The neighbors ask the Commissioners to set up a mechanism so that the neighbors can be enlightened about how we have come to this unfortunate point. This same mechanism (task – force or committee) might explore what were the weak points in the Jail process that led us here. The same committee might make recommendations regarding how to strengthen that process. For instance, could the Commissioners work with the State Legislature to construct a “Jail Siting Panel”. This Jail Siting Panel would have a mandate to evaluate any and all jails in the State that involve the use of taxpayer dollars. The US Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, has a manual that shows how states and localities can create a legislated process which assists site selection under a formal process of data collection, analysis, and public input within a careful framework. See:
The neighborhood concludes that working together, the Commissioners, Elected Officials, State and Federal agencies can collaborate in halting work on the Jail until a more just and equitable solution can be found.