Local Election

Opponent of new jail measure files complaint with PDC over mailer to Whatcom voters

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo explaining the need for a new jail, as well as information about its costs and details of the tax, in this flyer.
Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo explaining the need for a new jail, as well as information about its costs and details of the tax, in this flyer. The Bellingham Herald file

A Whatcom County man opposed to a sales tax increase for a new jail has filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission over a mailer sent to voters this week in support of the ballot measure.

Doug Starcher’s complaint focused on One Safe Jail Whatcom County Correctional Deputies Association, the political action committee behind the mailer, for allegedly violating state law.

The ballot measure goes before county voters Nov. 7.

It’s the second time in two years – the last measure failed in November 2015 – that voters are being asked to approve a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax to pay for a new jail.

If approved, shoppers would pay 20 cents of every $100 spent on non-food purchases toward the 480-bed jail, until the tax ends in 2048.

It’s also the second time that Starcher, who helped write the statement against the jail sales tax measure for the Whatcom County voters’ guide, has filed a complaint with the PDC over a jail mailer.

That last complaint resulted in the PDC fining Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws $500 in December. The 2015 mailer irked many who opposed the new jail and took issue with spending county taxpayer money on what, to some, seemed to be a promotional flier.

This time around, Starcher accused One Safe Jail of violating state laws that let voters know who’s trying to influence them, among other allegations.

“When I vote I want to make sure that I’m hearing from people I trust,” he said in a statement. “As a voter, I rely on the people asking for my vote to follow the laws. It’s a concern that two years later, they still haven’t gotten this right.”

1027 Jail Fight2
Sign overlooking Interstate 5 near Sunset Drive in Bellingham supporting building a new Whatcom County Jail. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

In response, One Safe Jail stated in an email: “We are working with the PDC to correct any errors that may or may not exist.” It didn’t provide a name, saying only that the statement came from a representative.

The two-page mailer featured Sheriff Bill Elfo explaining the need for a new jail, as well as information about its costs and details of the tax.

The mailer indicated that One Safe Jail paid for it, and provided a P.O. Box for an address.

Among Starcher’s allegations:

▪ One Safe Jail appeared to be using public facilities for an election campaign. State law bans the use of public resources for such purposes.

Starcher made that argument based on addresses provided by the Whatcom County Corrections Deputy Association, 311 Grand Ave., and Bellingham Police Guild, 505 Grand Ave., when they contributed to One Safe Jail. The first is the Whatcom County Courthouse and the latter is the Bellingham police station.

1027 Jail Fight3
Sign overlooking Interstate 5 near Sunset Drive in Bellingham against building a new Whatcom County Jail. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The No New Jail Tax Campaign, run through the Whatcom Democrats, said it was concerned about this issue as well as others raised by Starcher.

▪ The political action committee has failed to report its expenditures for the campaign as of the time he filed his complaint on Wednesday. “Without any reported expenses, how are voters to know who is responsible for promoting this ballot measure?” Starcher wrote to the PDC.

▪ One Safe Jail didn’t report donations in a timely manner.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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