Let me start by saying I am going to vote for Maralise Fegan for Ferndale City Council Position 7. I have spent hours sitting across from Maralise exchanging ideas and debating methods. She is sharp, listens well, and compels me to bring my best to the table. She is the kind of leader that I know will serve the best interests of our community. This letter, though, is not about Maralise but her opponent.
To my knowledge I’ve never met Ramon Llanos, so I have no personal measure of the man to judge him by. I’ve only what I’ve read about him and what I’ve turned up while trying to understand his motivation to run for a city council position. Mr. Llanos, from all I’ve been able find so far, appears to be a very competent civil engineer and business man. He is a governor & officer of LDES, Inc., a limited liability corporation.
In an interview with Common Thread NW (CTNW) , Mr. Llanos describes his vocation as follows, “. . . an engineer for cities and private developers. . . .” His livelihood in and of itself appears to be a prima facie case of conflicts of interests with the duties of a city council person.
Digging a bit further into Mr. Llano’s background, I found that he is a governor in at least 7 other corporate entities in Washington State. Mr. Llanos, it would appear from various other corporate governorships, could well be described as a land developer in his own right. Those governorships clearly establish ties to other individuals and/or corporations that have business dealings with the City of Ferndale.
Quoting Mr Llanos from the CTNW interview again, “I was just part of a presentation to the city regarding downtown revitalization. I don’t know if you are aware of the Catalyst Program. The city is trying to figure out how to have some incentives for downtown property owners to demolish some of the old buildings and create new businesses and housing.” This certainly sounds like something a developer would be involved in.
I find it very disconcerting that after touting his role in bringing the COF Catalyst Program into existence that Mr. Llanos is the Registered Agent for one respondent to that program and that he has business ties to the other respondents.
Mr Llanos, in his video taped interview with MyFerndaleNews, also spoke of working with city staff to help bring the, I assume, Catalyst Program before the city council. In that same interview he talks about incentivizing developers/builders by lowering utility hook up costs and tax breaks. By the way, the Catalyst program waives ALL developer fees, including water and sewer hook-ups, and comes on the heels of the property tax giveaway where those same developers don’t have to pay property taxes for eight years, including taxes for the school district and the fire district.
My problem with these kinds of solutions is that while they improve the developers bottom line, the cost associated with those solutions don’t go away and end up having to be absorbed by someone else, inevitably the taxpayer.
Also from the CTNW interview, “One of the things I did when I was working with the city was, I helped them develop the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) that is pretty popular now in Bellingham. The city then did a pilot program in Ferndale, and I was part of it even though I am not a council member.” I find it interesting that Mr. Llanos through his relationships with city has seemingly found it possible to influence city policy even without being on the city council.
Mr. Llanos’ corporate relationships in and of themselves are not damning, but they do reinforce the narrative that Mr. Llanos has too many potential points of contact which would at a minimum suggest conflicts of interest to most reasonable observers.
In my research into Mr. Llanos, I also found myself wondering about the large “Vote for Ramon” signs that have cropped up at various high traffic areas around town. In nearly every instance, I found that the signs were located on property owned by corporations involved in property management or land development. Entities potentially subject to city regulation.
There is one final piece of concern regarding Mr. Llanos that I am struggling to understand. In the interview with MyFerndaleNews, Mr. Llanos said he’d initially wanted to be on the COF Planning Commission but his application was not acted upon favorably. It was clear from what Mr. Llanos said during the aforementioned interviews that he had significant input into newly adopted city policies and regulations under the purview of the planning commission, yet Mayor Mutchler who is the appointing authority for that commission, appears to have decided to not appoint him to the planning commission rather he suggested that Mr. Llanos run for a council position. Why?
“The Ferndale City Council is the legislative and policy-making body of city government. Council members are responsible for passing laws through ordinance and policies through resolutions, and approve the annual budget initially proposed by the mayor.” (COF web site).
A large portion of these ordinances and policies regulate the very areas by which Mr. Llanos’ makes his livelihood. It is also clear that Mr. Llanos already has plenty of influence on the City of Ferndale.
Chapter 42.23 RCW prohibits municipal officers from using their positions to secure special privileges or special exemptions for themselves or others, and from entering into certain contracts or having other personal financial interests with their jurisdictions.
I see a vote for Mr. Llanos as being the equivalent to handing a fox the keys to the hen house. That is a risk I don’t think the citizens of Ferndale can afford.
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