Press Talk: M&M and other stupid stuff

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor.

The M&M boys and Benton

In a way, it was kind of bemusing watching the M&M boys and Boss Hog Benton admit just how wrong they were.

Of course, we’re talking about County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke and their sidekick, Environmental Services Director Don Benton.

And we’re also talking about their bone-headed proposal to charge The Columbian a fee because we’re polluters.

That fee is dead for now, but here’s the background:

The county government has a money problem. (Have you heard that one before?) The amount it collects to clean up our stormwater runoff is not enough. Truth is, the county hasn’t raised rates in more than a decade, and the fee does need to be raised.

But then an idea was hatched. Why not identify the big polluters and charge them extra so homeowners and small businesses don’t have to pick up the entire expense?

Again, this idea makes sense. But who did they single out as the worst of the worst polluters?

You guessed it. The Columbian.

Now, they all swear on their reputations that targeting us has nothing to do with The Columbian holding them accountable, and this column — well — regularly beating them upside the head for the stupid stuff they’re always doing.

They swear!

And to prove it, they altered the original proposal to include all newspapers. Of course, we’re the big dog newspaper in Clark County, so we’d still pay almost all of this proposed fee.

As soon as they concocted this illegal proposal months ago, I made note of it to our owner and publisher, Scott Campbell. But I quickly added the commissioners would eventually back away from it. Why? Because even this trio isn’t that stupid. To take them seriously would mean getting the lawyers involved early, and, well … attorneys drive nice cars and take long vacations to their summer homes.

So we waited for them to slink away and say “never mind.”

Months later, we fast forward to Monday. County reporter Tyler Graf came to me and said the dang thing would be up for a vote on Tuesday. What the … was I that wrong? Were these guys that stupid after all?

With hours to go, they still hadn’t slinked away. We finally called our attorneys.

Part of me actually was looking forward to seeing these guys embarrassed in court. I had written more than a few columns on this, including speaking with state stormwater experts who said they never heard of newspapers being a major stormwater polluter.

And we had reported that the county had nothing to go on to support its claim. Nothing! Oh wait, Benton said he didn’t need no stinkin’ study. He’s eyeballed a few sewers, he said, and by golly those newspapers were mucking up everything.

And after all, Benton is an expert in this environmental stuff, even though he couldn’t tell the difference between stormwater runoff and Noodles Romanoff.

So thanks, Don, for the expert observation. But are you sure those aren’t your leftover political signs mucking up the environment? You know we found a few out there, right?

So I was gearing up for the courtroom fun when the M&M boys backed away at the last second. They proposed an amendment. Kill The Columbian polluter tax for now. It was all planned some time ago, mind you; the amendment was ready to go as soon as they mentioned it.

Let’s do a study, they suggested, so the county actually knows what it’s talking about before it proposes something stupid. Then, if it can actually support beating us up with a fee, they’ll go for it in a year.

Hey guys, thanks. By the way, how much will that study cost? Maybe you could pay for the study by charging a fee on everyone who does stupid stuff. And I expect you three to be the first in line.

Why didn’t we know?

It was a touching ceremony, and I suspect there wasn’t a dry eye in the joint.

Earlene “Sam” Anderson and James Bridger were honored for their lifesaving efforts after Vancouver police Officer Dustin Goudschaal was shot several times.

Nice words were spoken and gifts were exchanged at a Vancouver City Council meeting Monday night.

What? You would have loved to have been there to also show your appreciation? But you had no idea it was happening?

Welcome to the club.

You see, Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle wanted to do something special for the above two heroes. But she had a problem.

“Realizing that I was going to be gone next week, I asked for a quick addition to tonight’s agenda,” she would say later.

Hold on, hold on. What’s more important here, the councilor’s schedule or giving the community a chance to say thanks?

The answer was clear: The councilor’s schedule.

The councilor did ask a few friends to send out a few emails to try to gather some people for the hastily called event.

But that reaches only the usual suspects and leaves us serfs in the dark.

Later The Columbian was told there was just no time to give us a heads up so we could give the community a heads up.

Yeah, right. If you believe that you’d believe councilors would give the city manager a $30,000-a-year raise. Oh wait. Never mind.

Of course if Mayor Tim Leavitt had stepped up and told the councilor no, it was a great idea but let’s take our time so the community could be involved, this wouldn’t have happened.

Gavel down, Mr. Mayor, gavel down!

Eventually good politicians will learn this simple lesson: It’s not about them. It’s about the rest of us.

I believe McEnerny-Ogle had good intentions here. But she lost sight of what’s most important. Keep your eye on the prize, councilor.

Regardless, thank you Earlene and James! We are all so proud of you.

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