Saturday, April 14, 2018

Juliana v. U.S. Youth Addresses Climate Convention


Above: Aji Piper, 17, spoke at the South Sound Climate Action Convention held in Lacey on Saturday. Piper is one of 21 youth suing the United States government in a landmark federal climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“What are you going to do? You should know or at least figure it out. What are you going to do now to protect future generations?” Aji Piper, 17, Seattle, asked the audience.

As the keynote speaker at the day-long South Sound Climate Action Convention held in Lacey on Saturday, Piper posed the question to over 200 participants, including local officials and state legislators, but he wasn’t waiting around for an answer.

Piper is one of 21 youth suing the United States government in a landmark federal climate change related lawsuit, Juliana v. United States.

Following multiple rulings issued in favor of the youth plaintiffs and the organization supporting them, Our Children’s Trust, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon earlier this week set October 29 as the first day of the trial. 

The trial will be held in Eugene and is being billed as the “trial of the century.”

Piper learned about climate change, ocean acidification, wildfires, deadly public health outbreaks and coal trains when he moved from Port Orchard, Washington to Seattle.

He wanted to do something about it all so he started planting trees and getting active in local protests. He co-founded Future Voters for 350 ppm.

“I should be able to be a kid…I needed to feel a stronger impact from my actions. I needed a solid course of action...so, I took them to court,” he said, as he explained his journey as a young climate activist.

In 2011, Piper was also a plaintiff in another youth-driven lawsuit demanding that the Washington State Department of Ecology update its emission regulations based on the latest climate science, saying the agency was required to do so through the Public Trust Doctrine, which says the government has a duty to protect natural resources for future generations.

Technically, he is the future, and while a strong ruling favored his case, nothing has happened to enforce it and the case has been refiled.

The difference between the state and federal cases, he said, is that the federal government has known about the dangers of fossil fuel use and the destructive forces of climate change for about fifty years.

“By acting against that information, they have violated our rights and the Public Trust Doctrine.”

According to a press release from Our Children’s Trust, Juliana v. United States is not about the government’s failure to act on climate. Instead, the 21 young plaintiffs assert that the U.S. government, through its affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources.

The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.

Above: Averi Azar, a student in the Masters of Environmental Science program at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, staffs a table about the program during the South Sound Climate Action Convention. She is pursuing her masters thesis about sea star wasting disease.

Engaging Youth in Climate Change Conversations

The South Sound Climate Action Convention was held at the Lacey branch of South Puget Sound Community College and was organized by the Thurston Climate Action Team.

It featured a wide variety of speakers and presenters who geared their talks and workshops around climate change issues such as youth engagement, food sustainability, waste reduction, renewable energy technologies and options, carbon pricing initiatives and other legislative issues.

Aji Piper co-facilitated a morning workshop on how to engage youth in climate change conversations and related what actions and strategies work for him.

“Don’t make it boring, youth don’t want to sit in meetings…we sit enough at school. I didn’t get involved in climate change to stand outside of official buildings and shout....While those are tried and true approaches, and not to discredit those, but we’ve been doing those for years.”

Piper related a 2009 campaign he liked which encouraged the Royal Bank of Canada to divest from the Alberta tar sands projects. The strategy of banners and bumper sticker messages with the one ultimately unfurled on the side of the bank that said, “Please help us Mrs. Nixon.com,” created buzz.

His comment encouraged workshop participants to generate a range of actions and ideas that included die-ins, music, the creative arts, light projections on buildings, and the creation of large puppetry.

Olympia musician Holly Gwinn Graham strongly encouraged early childhood arts education in the school system.

“They are ready to be involved, to hear the truth. They’re ready to be creative and be part of something beautiful. It teaches kids to be politically active and use different forms of expression, encourages conversation, communication and intergenerational and non-familial connections with people,” she said.

Piper acknowledged that there is room for all kinds of artistic expression. 

I grew up playing outside in the forest with my little brother and there's a difference...it's why I dont do social media....I sing a lot. I get a song stuck in my head and start humming it, or my brother does. Singing and performing is different than speaking, just like poetry is different than an essay,” he said.

Above: Aji Piper received a standing ovation for his keynote speech addressing his involvement with climate change issues at the South Sound Climate Action Convention in Lacey on Saturday.

For more information about the South Sound Climate Action Convention and a list of participating organizations, go to southsoundclimateconvention.org

To learn more about the Thurston Climate Action Team, go to https:/janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2018/02/carbon-free-thurston-efforts-underway.html

Monday, March 26, 2018

Trails End Horse Arena, Stables to Be Demolished


Above: The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

- The Gopher in the Room
- Large Garry Oak Could Be Removed

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

In its heyday, there was no place like the Trails End arena and event center for horse shows, rodeos, 4-H activities, country western concerts, dancing, fine dining and good times.

Located in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport off Old Highway 99, the long vacant site is an integral piece of priceless memories for generations of South Sounders.

Horse culture runs deep in Thurston County and many children grew up there, riding and showing their animals and yes, mucking out horse stalls. Tens of horses were boarded there year round, and for many adults too, it was home away from home.

Now, as local 4-H groups and equestrian clubs struggle to find open space to meet and practice, the site that used to foster so much community is now covered with blackberry brambles.

The boarded-up building fronts look like a ghost town set in an old western, but you can almost smell sawdust and hear horses snort and whinny.

Above: The Trails End in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport.

Community Meeting

The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

Nearly 40 community members attended a meeting about the plan on Thursday evening in Tumwater’s new Warehouse District, an area near the Trails End that caters to small, startup craft brewing, distilling and cider industries.

Jay Eaton, Tumwater public works director, fielded questions and addressed the proposed project’s impacts on the environment and surrounding neighborhoods. Joining him were representatives of TCF Architecture who planned and designed Tumwater’s new Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School.

The city first put the new operations and maintenance facility into its capital facility plan in 2012. The city’s current facilities, which include 100 vehicles, are crammed into two locations: one behind city hall and the other at the corner of Israel Road and Capitol Boulevard in the old fire station.

Taking into consideration the future expansion of city hall, additional staff and parking and more urban amenities, city staff began looking for properties that would accommodate growth of the city and their needs.

Built in pieces between the 1960s and the 1990s, the Trails End property had fallen out of the bankrupt hands of housing developer Tri Vo and his company, Triway Enterprises.

In 2014, the City of Tumwater purchased the property for the purpose of creating a new operations and maintenance facility. The property is zoned light commercial. 

Eaton said vandals have stripped the property clean of plumbing, electrical wiring and other features of value. Structurally, he said the beams in the arena are failing.

“It’s kind of sad. It used to be a happening place and now it’s in poor condition. It’s not suitable for any purpose. It’s much easier to build new space much more efficiently than (keep) the existing buildings. If we were to bring it back…it really doesn’t function for the intended use we have,” he said.


Above: City of Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet welcomed community members to a meeting about the future of the Trails End property on Thursday evening. Many questions were asked and the meeting lasted over two hours.

Site Alternatives

The city presented a series of site alternatives, all ranging in cost from $30 to $46 million.

Trails End Road divides the former Trails End property between two parcels. Options include the possibility of realigning 79th Avenue around the entire property.

The road now leads to a housing development called Sterling Crossing. Increased Old Highway 99 traffic at 79th Avenue SE comes from new developments with streets named after equestrian terminology like Stable Court, Arab Drive, and Derby Lane and subdivisions like Bridlewood. 

The city also wants to designate an area that could be used for a permanent park. That aspect of the plan would be handled by the city’s parks and recreation staff.

Some community members of nearby subdivisions are eager to have the property cleaned up and used by the city. Others are concerned about noise associated with operations.

Dan Venable said he frequented Trails End for about 20 years and once operated the restaurant and lounge. Venable, owner of a residential demolition firm, agreed the city needed a new facility but wondered if the site was the most cost effective place to put it. Eaton said the city looked at different properties but preferred to have property that was in city ownership.

Doug Woolen asked about the liability of a fuel facility near a residential community. Eaton said that the city did examine that, but felt the city needed access to immediate fuel in order to respond to emergencies. He said the facilities would be state-of-the-art.

The Gopher in the Room

Addressing the gopher in the room, Eaton acknowledged that the site will be subject to environmental review as it is home to the federally protected and endangered Mazama pocket gopher.

Eaton said the city has built up “credits” to mitigate the impact of destroying the Mazama pocket gopher habitat, but will still have to address it in a habitat conservation plan.

“The gopher issue will be an issue no matter what happens on this property…it still doesn’t make it easy to get through the process.”

A large Garry Oak tree is also on the property. Garry Oaks, also known as Oregon white oaks, and its related prairie ecosystems are vanishing rapidly in the South Sound due to development pressure.

Asked later about the future of the oak, Eaton says it depends which site alternative is selected.

“Alternative A, with the development on the west parcel, wouldn’t impact the tree.  Alternative B, in its current configuration with the development on the east parcel, would impact the tree unless the site could be rearranged to avoid it, which would appear to be difficult. As the project progresses the alternatives could change.  The demolition project wouldn’t include removal of the tree,” he told Little Hollywood.

“It is still our intent to move forward with demolition this summer and construction a couple years from now… with the caveat that we’ll be dealing with the gopher and related environmental issues,” said Eaton.

Alicia Phillips boarded her horses there, participated with cattle events, and briefly ran a cafe at Trails End during weekend events.

Phillips attended the City of Tumwater’s council meeting on Tuesday evening to express her passionate feelings about the Trails End complex. She also attended Thursday night’s meeting.

“Why is there no consideration for the spirit for what this place has been? There is history here. The city is missing out on a huge opportunity to preserve history. When you say none of it is salvageable, I don’t believe it,” she said at Thursday's meeting.

Later, she spoke with Mayor Pete Kmet, who stayed for the entire meeting. She asked him to find a way for the existence of the Trails End to somehow be commemorated.

“I was more than a bit disheartened by everyones willingness to demolish and pave over its history. This site has a rich history and has housed thousands of events,” she told Little Hollywood.

Above: A tiny green space for the Sterling Crossing subdivision consists of a single piece of plastic playground equipment. It sits in stark contrast to the 22 acres of adjacent open space. A large outbuilding that used to board horses sits on the other side of the subdivision’s fence on the Trails End west parcel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring, Sun, and Bubbles


Above: In celebration of the first day of spring, students of Olympia School District’s Transition Academy joined in the fun at the 26th Annual Community Bubble Blow in downtown Olympia on Tuesday.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Sunny skies and warm temperatures made for excellent bubbles and great fun at the 26th Annual Community Bubble Blow on Tuesday.

Come wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, high tides, sea-level rise, or maybe even sun, the event is always held on the first day of spring from noon to 1:00 p.m. near “The Kiss” statue on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. 

Glorious batik windsocks are provided each year by Earthbound Productions.

This year, jump ropes were added to the festivities. When the children showed reluctance to try them out, the adults tied the two ropes together and played their own games. 

The event is sponsored by People-Who-Know-We-Live-In-A-Great-Place.

Above: Keatyn Cummings, 2 ½ , came with her mom, Jasmine, and Uncle Jesse to make some fantastic bubbles.

Above: The adults could not resist jumping rope. 

Above: Skye, 3, and her mom created amazing bubbles with the very special Romper Room wand. 

Above: EF International Language Campuses coordinators Kagan Yabas, left, and Deniz Kutluhan of Istanbul, Turkey also stopped by on Tuesday. Tomorrow, they leave for Santa Barbara, California. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rhododendron Death Mourned in Olympia Park


Above: A rhododendron grove in healthier times at Woodruff Park in Olympia. The grove became diseased and was recently cut down and removed. Photo taken in May, 2015.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A spectacular rhododendron grove standing 25 feet high has graced the corner of Woodruff Park on Olympia's westside near Thomas and Harrison Street since the 1950s.

The beauty of its lavender colored blossoms has provided decades of joy for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders, neighborhood residents, schoolchildren of Garfield School, nearby business patrons and members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

The grove, however, has not lived to see another Spring. 

After an expert reported its condition to city staff, the diseased grove was recently cut down and removed.

Above: A close up of the rhododendron grove in Woodruff Park on Olympia's westside. Photo taken in May, 2015.

Above: The diseased rhododendron grove in June, 2017. Rhododendrons are a large family of deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees with showy blossoms. In 1959, the Legislature designated the native species, Rhododendron macrophyllum, as the official flower of the state of Washington.

Before making the decision to remove the bushes, Olympia Parks and Recreation staff consulted with rhododendron expert Dr. Gary Becker, an Olympia chapter member of the American Rhododendron Society.

Becker has been involved with many rhododendron gardens in University Place and Gig Harbor and recently moved to Olympia. After inspecting the five large rhododendrons, he provided a report to the City of Olympia.

Becker suspected an infestation of phytophora, which spreads through the root system. One plant was dead and the others exhibited significant dieback of branch tips and an absence of new growth. He recommended the removal of the one plant and its root ball and not recycling or composting it. 

Two bushes appeared healthy “with normal flush and full green leaves with only sparse tip dieback,” while two others, he reported, could possibly survive with treatment.

“Fortunately rhododendrons have shallow roots and a fungicide may be successful, but that is not guaranteed. Despite the best efforts, all of the plants may become infected and die over the next few years,” wrote Becker in his report.

Above: Tags with handwritten messages expressing positive thoughts such as “Hope,” “Mend & Heal,” and “You are Beautiful,” dangled from the rhododendron grove’s branches.


Messages of Hope

The rhododendron grove’s ill health did not go unnoticed.

Messages of hope written on paper tags have been tied to its branches for at least a year. Little Hollywood first made an inquiry last June to city staff about its appearance. 

Seth Chance, the city’s landscape horticulturist, said the disease has been spreading throughout the grove, taking out one or two rhododendrons per year for the past couple of years.

“It’s a real tragedy that those rhododendrons had to be removed. We didn’t send in tissue samples for a definitive diagnosis, but phytophora is the suspected pathogen…and finally infected the last healthy ones this past year. 

“The plan is to plant grass and leave the area fallow for a few years so that hopefully the infection will die off. We opted against using pesticides in trying to combat the infestation, as Woodruff is a pesticide free park, and success would not have been guaranteed even with treatment,” said Chance.

Above: The rhododendron grove as seen this past week in Woodruff Park.    

Friday, March 9, 2018

Billy Frank Jr. Park Dedicated in Olympia


Above: A community member listens to Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, at the naming dedication ceremony of a park and trail for Native American fishing and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. on Friday morning in Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“It’s good medicine for all of us to be here today,” said Nisqually Tribal Council member Willie Frank III.

Under a sunny sky overlooking Budd Inlet at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, Frank acknowledged the beautiful day at the naming dedication of a half-acre park and trail for his father, Billy Frank Jr., on Friday morning.

The celebration was held on what would have been Frank’s 87th birthday. He passed away in 2014.


Following a public process and in collaboration with members of the Frank family, Port of Olympia commissioners recently approved the park renaming project.

The park, located on port property, is on Marine Drive near the KGY radio station and Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill Restaurant. Educational signs and native landscaping will be added to the site at a later date.

Above: Willie Frank III speaks at the dedication ceremony to name a piece of Port of Olympia property Billy Frank Jr. Park on Friday. 

Willie Frank III, members of the Frank family, Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribal council and members, local and state elected officials and community members were on hand at the event to remember Frank’s humor, tireless energy and fierce advocacy for Native fishing and treaty rights, environmental justice, and salmon recovery.

Acknowledging elders and members of the Nisqually Youth Council, a group formed just two weeks ago, Frank said the Tribe is carrying on for the next generation.

The best thing about his dad, he said, was his ability to bring everybody together.

“The purpose of this park is to serve as a…tool to educate the people of Thurston County, the State of Washington, and whoever comes to visit the area. We’ve been here since the beginning of time…and there’s just not enough history out there to educate people about the good things that our tribes bring to this area….

“I fully believe that he is with us here today, bringing our two tribes together, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Nisqually Tribe….I hope with this park that we can…work on this project and move forward for the betterment of this area and for the people of this area,” he said.


Above: The Billy Frank Jr. Park and trail along Budd Inlet in Olympia.

Several speakers brought up current events and issues, such as the dam on the Deschutes River at Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia.

“The Port of Olympia is honored to play a small role in celebrating Billy Frank Jr’s life and sharing this place with everyone….Let today be the start of our renewed commitment to restore this land and water to health, so that as the seas rise…salmon may run here again in great numbers and children may safely swim….Together we’ll work toward a better future for the grandchildren,” said Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita.

Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, a nonprofit Frank helped establish, wondered what Frank would have thought about current events.

“If Billy were here today, he wouldn’t be happy about the Hirst bill, he wouldn’t be happy about the culverts case….and Billy would be saying, “Why in the hell is there still a f-ing dam over there?!” The crowd burst into laughter.

Known as the Hirst decision, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that counties planning under the Growth Management Act must make their own determination on the availability of water before issuing a building permit for projects that use wells as a water source. In January, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that “fixes” the decision.

Also in January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it will hear a case in which the State of Washington could be required, at its own expense, to remove or repair hundreds of road culverts that block salmon from historic spawning habitat.

State Representative Laurie Dolan, 22nd District, Olympia, said that nothing is more important than the “right water policy” and she will work to stand strong with the tribes and collaborate with U.S. Congressman Denny Heck to obtain funding to replace the Nisqually bridge.

Senator John McCoy, 38th District, Tulalip, described a bill delivered to Governor Inslee earlier in the day in support of state-tribal education compact schools. The bill, SSB 6474, directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a pilot project for tribal compact schools that will accommodate cultural, fisheries, and agricultural events and replace graduation testing requirements with culturally relevant and community based standards.

“All of us elders need to be teaching our young…we have a lot of work to do…our work is never done – we just need to follow Billy’s example and we will get it done,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Chehalis tribal member Bonnie Bush, a grants administrator and basket weaver, is a great-niece of Billy Frank Jr. 

After the ceremony, she said she really never knew her great uncle, but the event reconnected her with family and friends and rejuvenated her spirit. 

Above: An intricate brooch made of beads and corn husks on the cedar hat of Chehalis Tribal member Bonnie Bush glimmered in the sunlight Friday morning.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

‘Oly Mountain Boy’ Attorney Announces Race for County Commission


Above: Tye Menser is a candidate for Thurston County Commission District 3. Little Hollywood interviewed Menser and covered law and justice issues, growth and the environment, county public health issues, and the need for a new county courthouse complex.

The county has to be right there knee-deep with the cities in solving the county’s problems,” said Menser.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Tye Menser announced his candidacy for Thurston County Commission District 3 on Saturday.

Menser, 47, is a bluegrass, banjo-playing member of the acclaimed Oly Mountain Boys and a Harvard and University of California-Berkeley educated public defense and criminal law attorney.

Menser made his announcement at the Thurston County Democrats’ annual Champagne Brunch at the Rivers Edge Restaurant in Tumwater.

The seat is currently held by Commissioner Bud Blake, a self-described independent. Blake unseated Karen Valenzuela, a Democrat, in 2014.

Menser says he is running to improve the county’s financial management and partner with cities to work on solutions to regional problems such as affordable housing, poverty, addiction and mental health services. 

He also wants this partnership to create sustainable land use policies.

Interview with Little Hollywood

Menser sat down with Little Hollywood earlier this week to discuss his journey to Thurston County and approach to the issues.

We covered a lot of ground: the budget, growth, housing, environmental issues, the proposed new county courthouse, the proposed expansion of the county jail, and law and restorative justice issues.

Born in Southern California and raised by public school teachers, Menser is married to a public school teacher and father of two children. 

While a law student, he studied in Mexico, Argentina and Chile, learned Spanish, and served three years in large law firms. He traveled around the world in between jobs and met his wife while traveling in Bulgaria.

Menser is a ten-year singing and songwriting member of the Oly Mountain Boys. In a Northwest Music Scene reader poll, the band’s album, “White Horse” was voted as one of the top ten Pacific Northwest albums of 2014.

Set in Grays Harbor, the album, written by Menser, tells a life story from beginning to end, centering on Washington’s frontier past. One song is called, “They Cut Down the Trees.”

Menser first discovered his appreciation for environmental issues while living in Alaska nearly 15 years ago. 

“I went to Alaska in 2001, after three years in big-law firm private practice. Those three years showed me that I would only survive as a lawyer if I was in a more public service type of practice. At the same time, I became interested in environmental issues….I combined the two goals and joined the Alaska Public Defender Agency, representing the interests of indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle and throughout interior Alaska. I stayed for nearly seven years.

“I traveled all over the Alaskan wilderness, and developed an abiding appreciation for wild places and a deep understanding the value of pristine natural landscapes,” he said.

Coming to Olympia in 2007, Menser served on Thurston County’s Water Conservancy Board from 2010 to 2013. He has extensive training in Washington State’s complex water law.

With that knowledge, Menser pledges to enhance Thurston County’s unique features and preserve water quality, county farmlands and open spaces.

“I appreciate how smart, sustainable land use planning provides security for people and our irreplaceable lands as we continue to grow. We must provide for both prosperity and preservation. We have to be mindful of how we grow, and our current commissioners are trying to roll back protections for our prairies, groundwater and shorelines. We’re in a sweet spot here and need to retain its character. We need county commissioners who are going to fiercely protect that character,” he said.

Digging deep into the details of the county’s Habitat Conservation Plan currently under review, Menser wants to remind voters that all three current commissioners ran their election campaigns saying the Plan was unnecessary.

“The Habitat Conservation Plan is a way to help our landowners and property owners not run afoul of the law…Now the commissioners realize it’s needed, but they are questioning the science behind the need to protect endangered species and questioning the acreage for mitigation, so we’re pretty far back in the process. They have taken an obstructionist approach and I don’t think that is responsible leadership for the county. They are not asking the right questions.

“They are also looking at a reduction of protections in low impact development standards and the critical areas ordinance and considering the reduction of buffers,” he said.

Highlighting the interconnectedness of the county’s challenges, Menser says the county budget is in trouble and “it is time for the county to take a stronger role in joining the cities to work on regional issues.”

The county’s criminal justice system, including the courts, prosecution and defense, policing and the jail, currently consumes 76 percent of the county’s general fund.

“The commission has squandered two-thirds of our budget reserve with no plan to replenish it –that’s not responsible financial planning. We’re one emergency away from financial insolvency. A long term financial plan is key,” he said.

“Thurston County faces increasingly complicated problems with fewer and fewer financial resources to solve them. The anticipated population growth that we can see all around us is only going to further strain our ability to provide services and protect natural resources. The voters need someone who can safely lead the county through these challenges and I believe I’m the person for the job.”

With the commissioners also acting as the Board of Health, Menser says he will provide greater county leadership on issues on issues such as affordable housing and homelessness.

“The recent Point-in-Time count indicates that the number of unsheltered homeless on the street has spiked. Partnerships with the cities on these issues with a collaborative approach may be slow, but produces more solid, long-term solutions. Nearly a third of people in the county are under rent pressure, struggling to just meet their basic housing costs. The county has to be right there knee-deep with the cities in solving the county’s problems,” said Menser.

Menser’s practice includes court-appointed work with Thurston County Public Defense.

Despite the drop in crime, the population in the county jail is increasing, particularly those with special needs.

“We have 45 percent of the people in our jail with diagnosed mental health issues and 75-80 percent with addiction and substance abuse, so, to me, that statistic jumps off the page. If we’re concerned about why our jail is full and we’re housing people believing there’s going to be some rehabilitation, we are accomplishing a lot less incarcerating someone when they really are in need of mental health and addiction treatment.

“So, if we’re looking at the gap between revenue cap and the rising cost of government, we have to look at these issues. I’m well positioned to do that with my background. The plan to expand the jail is not the best use of our money….We could be looking at investing in other parts of the system that will have a better effect,” said Menser.

“The interconnectedness of these issues is one of my themes….You have to think of all our main issues - economic development, the environment, the budget, and law and justice. You have to see the whole system in terms of how to spend your money. I will work to implement reforms, find efficiencies and cost savings, reduce criminal recidivism, and make our communities safer and healthier,” said Menser.

Regarding the needs of the current county courthouse complex which was built in 1978, Menser agrees it needs to be replaced and says all the reasons presented are valid.

“The case that the courthouse is in disrepair is pretty clear. To me, the space concerns are the tipping factor. Three times the amount of space is needed to deal with the anticipated population growth. The space issue is acute. We have to figure out as a community how to make this project work. The judges have given a number of presentations. They are mindful of the fact that this very large expenditure needs to have corollary benefits to the community. That’s why the thought of having it downtown could be another way to revitalize our community.

“The downtown concept is good but the financial possibilities that have been presented are going to eat up capital expenditures. Whether it can it be done on a smaller scale is the challenge. Even the current commissioners are acknowledging the need. The location is the next big decision that needs to be made,” said Menser.

After covering a lot of ground on serious issues, it was time for Little Hollywood to ask Menser if he would be offended by closing out the interview with a carefully chosen banjo joke. Menser laughed and braced himself.

Little Hollywood: So why is banjo playing like a courtroom trial?

Menser put his head in his hands, and thought for what seemed like half a minute. He was stumped. What? Had he not heard this one? He gave up.

Answer: Everyone is relieved when the case is finally closed.

But Menser was quick with a challenge:

Menser: Why do some people hate banjo players instantly?

Answer: It saves time.

Menser is hoping voters will like this one.