Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Public Power, Thurston Chamber and our Community
A strong local economy is a hidden force behind this sense of community, people here are particularly proud and eager to support local businesses, part of what makes Olympia and Thurston County thrive. The downtown hardware store Olympia Supply has a placard hanging behind their cash register that says “The Good News: ‘A dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1.00 you create $5.00 to $14.00 in value within that community.’ The Bad News: ‘Spend $1.00 at a national chain store, and 80% of it leaves town immediately.’ Thank you for supporting local businesses and contributing to a sustainable economy within our community!” In this scenario the corporate chain store as more of an invasive species than a productive member of the community.
There is more to life than earning a dollar. A symbiotic relationship exists between these local establishments and not-for-profit businesses like the Washington Center for the Performing Arts and Olympia Farmer’s Market that drives the livability factor of the region. The public sector services we all enjoy are another hidden force that sustains our way of life. We take it for granted that a clean, abundant and reliable water supply is part of living in Thurston County (thanks,Thurston PUD!). There are parts of the world (including many areas in the U.S.) where the water supply is in private hands and local residents have no say in the price and availability of a necessity that is being treated as a commodity. Some things were never meant to be privatized.
Because the newspaper article was brief I visited the Thurston Chamber of Commerce website to seek further information. There was nothing on the website about the Chamber‘s decision to oppose Thurston County Proposition No. 1 (there still isn’t). A telephone call to their office elicited reassurances that it must be on there somewhere but after a few minutes the representative answering the telephone couldn’t find it and seemed as puzzled as I was that there was no mention of the Chamber‘s position on their website. After a brief exchange of emails and a couple telephone calls later, Chamber President David Schaffert forwarded me a document entitled “PUD Chamber Board Position”.
The most important economic decision facing local voters in recent memory is summarized in “PUD Chamber Board Position”, a single page, double spaced document that reads more like a press release (Thurston Chamber Opposes Proposition) than a Position Paper (a careful weighing of the issues from the perspective of the Chamber‘s priorities). It is unclear what criteria the Chamber used to make this decision. The document states “During deliberation the Chamber looked at 1) predictability, 2) oversight, 3) financial control and 4) employment.” There is no definition of “predictability” and “oversight”, or what the Chamber would find an acceptable gauge. Without understanding what standards a utility (public or private) is being judged by, we do not know how to evaluate the options before us (Mr. Schaffert was unresponsive to my attempts to clarify the Chamber‘s position on this matter).
The document goes on to site the Chamber‘s concerns that led to their urging a “no” vote, but refuting their statements against Proposition No. 1 is too easy. “Other public power initiatives in Washington State have not resulted in savings or increased service levels to communities”. This is untrue.