Op-Ed

He’s leaving the County Council with this advice: Respect each other more.

Ken Mann, a former Whatcom County Council member, says he looks forward to staying engaged in local issues and actively promoting an open dialogue across the political spectrum.
Ken Mann, a former Whatcom County Council member, says he looks forward to staying engaged in local issues and actively promoting an open dialogue across the political spectrum. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Greetings fellow Whatcom County citizens! It has been two months since my second term on the County Council ended. I feel great! I do miss my colleagues and the opportunity to guide our community, but overall, removing the workload and the rancorous public spotlight has drastically improved my quality of life.

With the benefit of my experience and current perspective, I would like to offer a few thoughts on local government. It is important for you all to know that the county is well run.

You have a competent county executive who understands managing a large organization.

You have honorable and intelligent colleagues on the County Council.

You have a council staff that is dedicated, hard-working and smart.

Furthermore, in eight years, I never ever encountered an elected official that had even a hint of corruption – Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – no exceptions. Whatcom County is in good hands.

I can look back over 14 years in public service, eight of them as an elected council member, and remember a few important accomplishments and successes:

We acquired thousands of acres of forestland around Lake Whatcom, known as the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance, which will provide world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and protect our drinking water supply.

Because of years of conservative fiscal policy, we escaped the terrible specter of massive cuts and layoffs during the Great Recession, and we were able to maintain critical programs like Conservation Futures Funding and the Women Infants and Children program.

I am deeply troubled by the decline of civil conversation and the absence of intellectual rigor in the public dialogue. We have become a nation of emotional reactionaries wrapped in identity politics. I believe it is our patriotic duty to open our ears and our minds.

Ken Mann, former Whatcom County Council member

I’m proud of my advocacy for Downtown Bellingham businesses that are continually asked to shoulder a disproportionate burden of social problems.

More recently, the important work of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force has created a forum for productive research and discussions to redesign our struggling criminal justice system, while saving taxpayers millions of dollars and achieving better outcomes.

I can remember some failures and frustrations, too.

The decision of the County Council to outlaw large-scale wind energy systems was a bitter moment.

Funding some very expensive road projects and subsidizing water treatment for small cities are some other battles I lost.

But, what I remember most is the blitz of issues beyond our control that dictated our agenda for eight years: The Great Recession, the never-ending land-use lawsuits, feuding paramedic agencies, a little proposal called Gateway Pacific Terminal (the coal port), the Hirst Decision on exempt wells… not to mention a tangled debate over a jail and criminal justice issues. Whatever vision or agenda I had upon taking office was immediately sidetracked by the next unpredictable crisis.

I leave office with one dominant sentiment that I’d like to share: I am deeply troubled by the decline of civil conversation and the absence of intellectual rigor in the public dialogue. We have become a nation of emotional reactionaries wrapped in identity politics. I believe it is our patriotic duty to open our ears and our minds. No party or group has a monopoly on good ideas. No party or group is always wrong. The path of progress requires effort and it begins here: listen to all sides, be genuinely curious, engage with respect, think for yourself.

The one exception to this rule is if somebody tells you that the answer to a complex challenge is “common sense” – then you must run the other way. I guarantee you they have no idea what they are talking about.

People ask me what I’m going to do now. Well, I am going to do everything else in my life, but do it better. I am going to be a more patient father, a more attentive husband, and a more thorough businessman. For the last eight years, I have been pulled in a million directions and not had the time and energy to truly excel at any of it. That was disappointing for me. I am genuinely excited about the opportunity to focus on the people and relationships that matter most.

I thank the people of Whatcom County for giving me their trust and allowing me to do this work. Overall, it has been an inspiring, educational and rewarding experience. I look forward to staying engaged in local issues and actively promoting an open dialogue across the political spectrum.

Ken Mann served as District 2, Position A, Whatcom County council member from 2009 to 2017.

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