Beyond Locals Only, the Finale: Adios, O.S.

I started this blog in January, after my departure as editor of the North Coast News; I had moved to Arizona, but wanted to stay on as editor for a while, and continue the northcoastnews.com blog that I started indefnitely (double meaning: I started it without definition, and wanted to keep it going for an indefinite period of time). Bill Crawford, the publisher of the North Coast News and Daily World, shot down both ideas from his Aberdeen office.

So I launched my own blog, to wrap up some unfinished business and keep an eye on things.

Now that my old house over on a lovely court between Butterclam and Marine View has sold, I officially have no ties with Ocean Shores. I am what the Russians would call Superfluous Man. As such, I will discontinue my increasingly infrequent contributions here, though I will keep it active for a while for folks to comment, gossip, toss ideas around, and maybe even report some real news . . . doesn’t seem like the North Coast News/No Coast News is doing much reporting, from what I hear.

Some questions, for those who care to ponder, bounce around and maybe pursue:

*Why did Crawford nuke the blog that I started? It contained hundreds of comments on issues, as well as the only electronic version of the many “stir-the-pot” (as my detractors called them) research stories on Ocean Shores union contracts, legal payments during the storm drain lawsuit, local voting and candidate positions, library spending issues, crime stories, features, etc.

If you’re wondering, go ahead and ask Crawford about it, and/or demand to have it back:  Bill Crawford, 360-537-3945 / bcrawford@thedailyworld.com.

*Will Ocean Shores continue to avoid bankruptcy by tip-toeing the law, refusing to pay back citizens the “interfund transfers” and “interfund loans” totaling in the millions, not having a professional negotiator taking the citizens’ side against the heavyweight unions, placating the unions with annual pay increases and generous sick/vacation payouts, refusing to look at ideas like outsourcing policing (using the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department) . . . and using every trick in the book to get more money out of property owners?

*Under Ken Mercer’s direction, the Ocean Shores Convention Center was a financial catastrophe, overspending by hundreds of thousands of dollars for several years running, and requiring those good ol’ “interfund loans.” Will Mayor Crystal Dingler ever investigate the emails that were deleted — breaking state laws for retention — by Mercer? Does anyone suspect that emails between Mercer and the advertising agency that was paid huge fees might expose a problem?

*Will Dingler or anyone else investigate the library’s seemingly bogus “request for qualifications” — which was done only after my investigations into the library’s un-bidded use of the husband of a board member as a computer consultant paid thousands of dollars? Oh, and isn’t it curious that the RFQ was done after a first library levy lost, used a huge chunk of that very consultant’s own writing — yet was called by a board member “showing the voters our transparency”?

Email Dingler at cdingler@osgov.com. You might also ask her about being “Facebook friends” with the local fire department union representative.

*Ocean Shores continues to play a dangerous version of “Political Karaoke,” with amateur city council members mouthing along to the words they are being fed. During campaigns to get elected, they pound podiums and beat their chests and make all sorts of bold claims about what they are going to do for you if you vote them into office . . . and, once elected, quickly shrivel up and play the game. Why do none of them demand change, investigations, etc.?

*Do state audits mean anything? Year after year, Ocean Shores is pounded for its financial shenanigans by the state auditor’s office; and the city’s reply is always, “Ooops, sorry, won’t happen again!” Until the next year . . . Here’s my story from last year (rare link that the Aberdeen folks forgot to remove). It even made Seattle TV news; likely to be more of the same, when this year’s audit comes out. And the O.S. City Hall response will be, “Don’t worry, auditors — we figured out a way to get an endless stream of money from residents, we’re calling it ‘the ambulance utility’!”

*Why does local watchdog Don Williams know more about, and constantly point of the mistakes of, financial rules than anyone at City Hall? After a string of errors and misinformation, you would have thought finance director Steve Ensley would have resigned, by now; but no, his arrogance only increases, as he badgers and lectures about how O.S. doesn’t have to listen to state findings, and the only problem we have is that locals don’t pay enough in taxes!

*Why hasn’t Dingler demanded a restructuring of the incredible “Exempt Employees Agreement”? . . . Oh, that’s right: Because she’s buddies with Ensley, Styner and the rest of the Exempters! How’s that for representing your best interests, 289ers?!

*Does any of the above trouble you? Please don’t hold your breath and wait for the current No Coast News or (Almost) Daily World to do any investigation. But you might contact someone at the Seattle Times, or one of the Seattle TV stations, and say, “Hey, we’ve got some funny business going on here, why don’t you come down and take a look at this and that?”

All that being said: If you can find out a way to make a living there, or are looking for a quiet, peaceful, beautiful place to retire, Ocean Shores can be a great place to live. The deer; the waves; the Weatherwax, that undeveloped, mini-forest that one fictional character would kill to protect; the eagles, soaring over head or just hanging out on driftwood, with that, “So, what are you lookin’ at?” attitude;  the fantastic storms, yielding fascinating beach combing opportunities; the incredible, almost shocking lack of traffic (except on a few busy weekends); the “crime scene” that is dominated by speeding tickets and loose dogs, not murder and mayhem as in the big cities; the clean, endless beaches; the mysterious, world-set-apart dunes, setting of more fictional crime; the good folks like Don, Arnold, the Flying Cats and Elk Head crews, “Miss Bliss” and the Anchor crew, Bill from U-haul, Jim and Rose of the Collins Inn (bummer about the restaurant closing!), Nikki from the Shilo, Rose and Nicky and the others who keep an eye on “the senators”; Gary, Martha, Chuck Frank and Bongo from the ol’ neighborhood; the Wednesday morning rabble rousers (stop by the library Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. if you want to know what’s really going on around town); the amazing, priceless, why-can’t-she-be-mayor? Gene Woodwick; the other Gene, that wise, tireless Gene Seeley, who year after year tells everyone who will listen how great it would be to have a firebreak in the dunes . . . and maybe some day they will act on his advice, before a quarter of the city burns down; the fog horns at night, and big ships coming and going from Grays Harbor to the rest of the world; the dogs romping on the beach, happier than any dogs, anywhere; Gary and all the other great photographers who capture those beach and wildlife moments; “the other Iversen,” Chris, a good, hard-working cop that represents the best in trustworthy police work, and the best of the often-beleaguered city workers; the drive up the 109, to see what’s going on (or not) “up the beach,” to quote Gene W.; the walk out Damon Point, with or without those superstar birds, the snowy owls; awkwardly paddling a blow-up kayak around stunning Duck Lake . . .

Ah yes, it’s all making me homesick. Maybe, someday, when I start collecting Social Security (if it’s still around), Ocean Shores will make a nice retirement nest.

Hold down the fort, until then . . .

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This is a joke, right?

Received this email about last night’s “special meeting,” which just can’t be right, can it? “John Lynn, motioned that the Mayor establish her negotiated union contract with the Continue reading

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“Don’t you ever do anything except complain about Ocean Shores?!”

Well, no, here is my writing blog (“fiction and non-; funny and yawn”), with a free baseball novel, Arizona magazine writing, fiction works-in-progress . . . and some complaining about O.S.

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Deleted Convention Center emails

Background: Ken Mercer was chosen as the first Ocean Shores Convention Center director, even though Mercer was a manager at J.C. Penny and had no relevant experience running such a facility.

A few years later, I became interested in the way Ocean Shores was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2% and 3% lodging tax money that came back to the city. With a committee of hotel folks pretty much rubber stamping Mercer’s budgeting, O.S. was putting about $300,000 a year into “promotions.” Yet few people ever saw any TV commercials, where was that money going? The Seattle ad firm of Howard & Frost was spending most of that money on “Internet advertising,” with hearty commission chunks of some $50,000 per year going to the agency. Jack Frost would come down to Ocean Shores once a month, and tell local hotel/motel representatives all about click-throughs and banner ads.

My curiosity really was peaked when I was meeting with Mercer and Frost, and Mercer interrupted to say, “Jack and I have to go sell some ads.” Hmmm . . . The Director of Tourism and Business Development going around to locals to get them to buy ads?

So I did what I do, started sniffing around, attending meetings, talking to people . . . and dropping public information/freedom of information request bombs. In one, I asked for copies of all communication between Mercer and Frost.

Guess what? A few of them trickled in, but Mercer noted, “I had computer problems and had to delete a bunch of stuff.” Months and months of emails were missing; this despite the fact that state law regulates retention of public records, including emails between parties with which a city is doing business. I shared this with public information guru Toby Nixon, and he supported my assertion that the city had the obligation to dig up the records; most email systems have backups, and it was stated that Ocean Shores had backups of emails. I asked then-mayor Garland French (“the substitute mayor”) about this, and he ignored me.

After Crystal Dingler was elected, I made several requests to her to dig up the deleted emails. After some back and forth, her ultimate answer was, “sorry, we can’t afford it.”

This despite the fact that, under Mercer’s “leadership,” the Convention Center/Tourism went deep into the hole, routinely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it generated and necessitating some $750,000 in that old O.S. bailout, the interfund loan.

Does anyone care about this? Or, is it just, “that’s the way we do things, out here” — especially now that Mercer “was retired.”

Email from Dingler about this: erased mercer emails sept 2012

From a Daily World “Q&A” Continue reading

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Your city government at work . . .

From City Hall: “Tom, Attached is the third installment of records in response to your May 10, 2013 request for “copies of all electronic communication (‘emails’) for the period of Sept. 1, 2012 through May 10, 2013 between (‘sent’ and ‘received’) the Daily World and North Coast News and all elected Ocean Shores officials and all ‘Exempt Employees’ of Ocean Shores.

“While there appears to be blank pages in the second email of this attachment, nothing was omitted.  The original documents were scanned on both sides, so these pages that appear to be blank are actually just the back sides of the previous pages. This is the way they appeared in the original attachment.”

Consider the process, reader/taxpayer: I ask for emails; City Hall gathers the emails; City Hall prints the emails; City Hall scans the emails; City Hall emails the scanned emails to me.

And then, of course, City Hall whines about how time-consuming public records requests are!

Can anyone perhaps see a more efficient way that City Hall could have satisfied this request? Best answer gets 100 bonus points in your Ocean Shores Oligarchy board game.

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Questions to ask tonight

1) How much did you budget to pay the computer guy who is doing all kinds of work for the city without competitive bid, and how much have you paid him this year, to date?

2) Seriously, how much are you paying the computer guy?

3) . . . .Why won’t anyone say how much the computer guy is getting paid???!!!!

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Fairy Tales in O.S. tonight!

Hear Alice talk about how “our city government just keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller, but the property owners’ bills just keep getting bigger and bigger . . .” Watch her follow the White Rabbit so deep into your pocket they’ll need oxygen! 

Listen to Curley Howard explain the complexities of city government! (“Uh, can you explain that to me again, Mr. Finance Director?”) Watch Moe Howard pinch the noses of his fellow Stooges!

Here’s Snow White’s “the only real increase in revenue we are experiencing is the EMS utility” (which should be called the O.S. Salaries Utility) letter to the seven dwarfs. Just to switch metaphors . . . .

Will any peasants raise fears over how to pay for the balloon payments for the Magic Kingdom?

It all happens at the Castle of Debt, where that good-ol’-boy director’s idea of “promoting business” was to go so far into the hole (move over, Alice) that the good-ol’-taxpayers had to fund (another) multi-million dollar interfund loan.

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