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Letter to the Editor: Disputes perceived conflicts of interest applied to Llanos

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In response to Gayland Gump’s Letter to the Editor

Your concerns about conflicts-of-interest might make sense if you were advocating for a full-time salaried Council, wherein other income is reportable and a process for mitigating conflicts, as in most other government bodies, is implemented, one for which I have advocated. Instead you display a profound lack of understanding as to the Council model we have in Ferndale. Let me clear it up. What we have is essentially a volunteer council. By definition the council positions are part-time, and pay not a salary, but a stipend for attendance at meetings, travel, etc. Our system assumes the council members, including the mayor will have a “day job.”

The previous mayor owned(s) a plumbing company; should he have been recused from all matters involving building? The current mayor runs a tax-exempt non-profit (a church); should he be recused from all property and revenue tax matters? If a council member owns say, a bakeshop or a tavern downtown, should he/she be recused from all matters concerning retail zoning and parking requirements? We recently had a council member who is employed by a Union…should he have been exempted from all matters concerning the city’s deal with the Unions representing municipal employees? Now to your characterization of Mr. Llanos.

Your argument with Candidate Llanos seems to be ideological, i.e., developer v.s. affordable housing advocates, etc., etc. Fair enough. Your opinion piece however is a hit-job. It drips with insinuation impugning Llanos’ motives, and employs sophistry that is at best misleading, and at worst, disingenuous. I’ll tell you what I mean.

You imply that Llanos is a developer, “This certainly sounds like something a developer would be involved in,” right after quoting him as to his profession, “[I’m] an engineer for cities and private developers. . . .” You have effectively called him a liar. I was a private developer, and I hired engineers all the time. To borrow from Freud, sometimes an engineer is just an engineer. Indeed your issue seems to be with the advent of the Catalyst initiative, which you mention four times over three paragraphs, along with your implication that Mr. Llanos supports such a program. In fact he served as an expert both to the council and Western students involved in assessing the best areas for such a program. A proponent? He has not said.

Your ‘research’ as you call it apparently led to the smoking-gun to which you devote a paragraph wherein you reveal that Mr. Ramon’s political signs appeared on corporate-owned property. “In nearly every instance, I found that the signs were located on property owned by corporations involved in property management…” This is silly. Did your research include a survey of his signs? How many were on residential lawns as compared to ‘corporate’ property?

You stated in your piece that, “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…”— But before this paragraph you are clear by way of insinuation and incomplete and out-of-context information that his vocation is in fact ‘damning.’ You then opine that the ‘narrative’ reinforces your accusations about conflict of interest, when in fact the narrative is yours alone, composed by you in your opinion piece.

You wrote that it’s “…also clear that Mr. Llanos already has plenty of influence on the City of Ferndale.” Clear to whom? It’s not at all clear to me, and were it true that he has “influence,” so what?—‘Influence’ is a see-saw, half an equation—there is an influencer, and then up must pop the influenced. Who in City government do you accuse of violating the RCW you quoted?—Who is he influencing?

And finally, you assert that to vote for Mr. Llanos is to give the fox free reign in the henhouse. That circles us back to where I began. By what rules are the vocations/professions of the candidates prohibitive to being elected to the City Council? By your logic our volunteer citizen-Council would never achieve a quorum on anything.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but after 35 years as a Democratic Party activist, campaign manager, etc., I know a hit job when I read one, hell, I’ve written a few. I’m retired, but I could not allow this opinion piece to go unanswered. Your piece contains few facts, but rather events or instances and out of context quotes from which you infer, insinuate, and accuse. Still, voters may be prompted to get the facts about Mr. Ramon, I did. Your preferred candidate has a sign in my yard (as does Mr. Llanos), my intent was to vote for her. But like other voters having read your attack on Mr. Llanos, presumably with your candidate’s blessing (will she disavow your attack?), I was moved to reconsider.

Glenn Stewart

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  1. dave doran September 30, 2019

    The original author laid out a pretty clear and convincing factual case for his concerns and without any malice as I read it. A volunteer council has the exact same responsibilities as a paid one, and the same power as well. But you’re right about one thing, a plumber should never have had a say in hooking the city to hard water.

    • glenn stewart September 30, 2019

      The ‘exact same responsibilities’? Do you realize how many council members would be exempt from matters due to conflicts if you begin applying that standard? The writer questioned the candidate’s motives for running—“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.” She called him a ‘developer’ after first vilifying developers and after he said he’s an engineer. She mentions “7 corporations” without further detail—I looked into it, you should to, and you’ll see how misleading it is. My piece centered upon the notion that there is somehow a profession/vocation that is excluded from being elected to the Council—I made the point that ‘conflict’ is an inherent dynamic of our current system….I also cited several examples where a conflict is possible among any number of officials. My point was in part that if one objects to a person of a particular vocation being on the Council, he or she should advocate for changing the citizen-council system to a professional, full time paid council.
      Glenn Stewart

  2. Gayland G. Gump October 1, 2019

    Mr. Stewart,

    Rest assured that Maralise Fegen was not privy to my letter and if she has seen it, it was only after it appeared here. That said, I do have a dog in this fight and that is not Maralise. Principles matter to me and there is sufficient evidence in the world that monied interest do exploit our political system to enrich themselves. You claim I have no facts here but I beg to differ. Mr. Llanos is listed as a governor of seven different corporations some of which clearly have interest in property, property management, and property development.

    As for your critique, you dinged me for characterizing a direct quote from Mr. Llanos as being something a developer might say and tied it to an earlier quote extracted from the Common Thread Article, which I used to establish Mr. Llanos’ livelihood. These two statements were clearly separated in my letter and apparently you excerpted and conflated them so as to suggest I was calling Mr. Llanos a liar. The paragraph that intervened pointed out that some of Mr. Llanos’ seven corporate governorships, could be characterized as making him a land developer in his own right. The Llanos quote was my attempt to further illustrate my assertion that his own corporate identity might be characterized as that of a land developer. One might say you are employing the same stratagems in your rebuke as you accuse me of using in my letter.

    With regard to invoking Freud, Mr. Llanos is an engineer, which I acknowledged from the get go. But I believe he could just as easily be considered to be a land developer as well and clearly he works for people who are. The issue of recusal is always complex and dependent on the specific issues at hand. My concern is that so many of the issues that the city council deals with involve the regulation of areas which Mr. Llanos’ vocation and business interests intersect that he would effectively have to recuse himself so as to be ineffectual in the position on the city council. You may make as many theoretical arguments based on other situations as you will, but I strongly doubt they would rise to the level that I see before me with Mr. Llanos.

    Regarding the multiple references to the Catalyst Program, I was using Mr. Llanos’ own comments to establish his awareness of and I believe participation in creating this program. Per your own statement regarding Mr. Llanos, “In fact he served as an expert both to the council and Western students involved in assessing the best areas for such a program.” I think it entirely reasonable to think that the program that ended up being implemented relied heavily on Mr. Llanos’ expertise and that he is in fact a proponent of the program as suggested by the quotes I cited in my letter . Certainly, his role as agent in one of the Catalyst Program respondents, and his role as a proponent (expert contributor) of this program appear to be a potential conflict of interest.

    As for the issue of signage, no I did not conduct a survey of Mr. Llanos’ signage, I explicitly identified the sign’s in question as being ‘the large “Vote for Ramon” signs’. A sign size which, to the best of my knowledge, only Mr. Llanos and Mayor Mutchler have placed at various locations about town. I don’t know of any other candidates for city office that are utilizing such large signage. Again, the placement of these signs reflects what I perceive as potential sources for conflicts of interest. You are of course welcome to disagree.

    Irrespective of what particular model of governance we have I see conflicts of interest as detrimental to the body politic. Indeed my objection to Mr. Llanos’ candidacy is ideological, I’d prefer my elected officials not be subject to divided loyalties even potentially. I’d also prefer that we not give corporations and land developers tax and fee breaks in the name of incentivizing them to do what they are supposedly in business to do.

    I did my best to characterize and illustrate the conflicts of interest that I believe I found when I went looking into Mr. Llanos. What I don’t have, apparently, is 35 years as a political operative with the evident skill to split hairs as you seem to. I do not pretend to have the level of political sophistication that would let me parse my message in a way that is less objectionable to you. Perhaps, had I your experience, I could have done a better job.


    Gayland Gump

  3. dave doran October 1, 2019

    “Do you realize how many council members would be exempt from matters due to conflicts if you begin applying that standard?”
    No, how many and,
    if the shoe fits,
    why shouldn’t they wear it?
    Since a ‘volunteer’ councilor might also need a job,
    anything they do while serving on the council to increase their position is allowed.
    A paid councilor might need to practice ethics,
    act in the public’s interest
    and recuse themselves where conflict is concerned.
    But not so a ‘volunteer’ since it might ‘exempt’ them from legislating,
    then you’d never achieve a quorum!
    You simply can’t question self-serving on the council level
    unless you’re paying their salary.
    In the end,
    Ferndale voters will decide and most of them have a good grasp on logic.

  4. glenn stewart October 1, 2019

    I said the signs-on-corporate-property thing was silly, and it is. Maralise has a sign in my yard, a yard paid for by a building-industry corporation that I own.

    At the end of the day I believe both Maralise and Ramon would both make good Councilmembers…Both bring a lot to the table, I wish we could have them both. My objection is the vilification of a candidate and his vocation…we have a system that assumes the councilmembers will have day-jobs…the tone of Gayland’s original letter sounds as though Ramon sits on the board of Home Depot—the nonsense about “7 corporations” is profoundly misleading, I looked into the detail of that, and so should anyone interested—forming an LLC as an owner contractor to build a home is normal practice, and advised, which accounts for most of the “7 corporations”— two are his own engineering companies, one is active, the other dormant—all but 1 of the corporations has been disbanded or is inactive.

    I’ve been on the peoples’ side since I was a boy…I worked hard for Ann Richards against oil companies and developers in Houston, my book “Underlings” savages Big Retail (I was banned from the industry after 30 years working as a executive in the industry)—I know who the ‘bad guys’ are, and Ramon is not one of them. To equate Ramon, a guy who has partnered in building houses on 3 or 4 lots (he lives in one of them) with big business and the exploitation of the masses is way over the top.

    In so far as ‘developers’ go— if ‘developers’ don’t build the housing we need, who’s gonna do it? Will it be Maralise? Gayland? Greg? No one under the current system is gonna force builders to build at a loss, so we better find a way to get them on board with the goal of affordable housing, and there are myriad ways to do this. I disagree with tax-largesse from the community as incentive, and with the Catalyst program specifically, objections which I have posted online and are in my book.

    I read platitudes about a ‘better community,’ and the ‘spirit of Ferndale,’ etc., etc…We’re supposed to be better than trashing candidates volunteering to serve in municipal government.
    Glenn Stewart, Ferndale

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