by Sandy Robson
On October 22, 2012, during the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping period for Gateway Pacific Terminal, Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn sent an email to the Ferndale School Board summarizing a meeting she had earlier that day with SSA Marine’s public relations consultant for the GPT project, Craig Cole, along with three others who joined the meeting.
After that October 22 meeting, Superintendent Linda Quinn made it very clear in an email to the Ferndale School Board members that, “GPT is not going to cause an influx of money into Ferndale’s school system.”
It is important to note for clarification that the Ferndale School District has not taken a “pro” or “con” position on the actual GPT proposal, as the district stated in its November 24, 2012 EIS scoping comment.
In her October 22 email, Ms. Quinn said that the meeting had been initiated by Craig Cole, and its purpose was to provide them with information about the potential impact of the project on the tax base in Ferndale. She said, “According to Mr. Cole such impact has been estimated at about $1.4 million per year.”
Ms. Quinn went on to point out: “It is important to note, however, that our district will not receive any more money as a result of this project, certainly not $1.4 million more per year.” [bolded text within quote is Ms. Quinn’s]
Quinn explained, “As you know, all of our local funding (except for random donations) comes in the form of property taxes voted in by citizens of Ferndale. And you also know that the maximum amount of property taxes we can ask for is determined by a state-dictated formula.”
Quinn further explained in her email, “The presence of Gateway Pacific in our district will enhance our tax base and reduce the amount of taxes each property owner has to pay (x divided by a larger number equals a smaller y); but it isn’t going to cause an influx of money into our school system.” [bolded text within quote is Ms. Quinn’s]
In her email, Quinn also warned the school board that if they are not clear on that point, they may find it harder (rather than easier) to pass levies and bonds in the future. As it turned out, a little over a year after Quinn’s email, ballots for a $125 million school bond were sent out in January 2014 to Ferndale voters, and on February 11, 2014, the $125 million Ferndale school bond was rejected by Ferndale voters.
The others in attendance at the October 22 meeting with Quinn and Craig Cole, were Ferndale School District President Lee Ann Riddle, Ferndale School District Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services Mark Deebach, and Ferndale School District Board member Hugh Foulke.
Ferndale School Board member Hugh Foulke was a guest on KGMI’s Saturday Morning Live (SML) radio program hosted by Kris Halterman, which aired on February 1, 2014. Halterman interviewed Foulke about the $125 million Ferndale School bond. In the interview, Foulke was not supportive of the school bond, and said, “I could not support the $125 million bond levy out of conscience, it was not the right thing to do.”
Foulke’s stance against the $125 million school bond was in contrast to his public comments advocating for GPT, such as when he talked about the need for school facility renovations, and possibly even a new school in the Ferndale School District during his pro-GPT testimony at the November 29, 2012 EIS scoping hearing for GPT. In his testimony to the public and the agencies assigned to the EIS, Foulke announced he was a school board member in Ferndale, stated a dollar figure reflecting the debt amount in the United States, and said his concern was, “what’s gonna happen to the kids in the schools in Ferndale.”
Foulke’s apparent remedy for his worry about U.S. debt negatively affecting Ferndale school children was: GPT to the rescue.
He went on to say, “If the project goes through, our new neighbor [GPT], will contribute in excess of one and a half million dollars per year.” He then expressed his concern for two schools; one in North Bellingham and one in Custer which are in “considerable disrepair” and “need renovation or replacement,” and concluded his testimony by saying, “And it would be nice for all of us taxpayers here if we had one great big taxpayer to help us pay for all of that.”
Foulke also travelled to Seattle to the EIS scoping hearing for GPT held there on December 13, 2012. Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen and Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis joined him there and they all addressed the media.
Speaking to the media in Seattle, Foulke gave a statement in which he identified himself as a Ferndale School Board member as he spoke in support of GPT. Foulke’s statement below was published online on Reuters, Yahoo Finance, and Wall Street Journal MarketWatch.
“As a school board member from the area next to the Gateway project, I urge the decision makers to consider Whatcom County students and the unemployed as an important part of our environment. The Gateway terminal will be one of the highest taxpayers in Whatcom County, contributing millions of dollars in tax revenues to local services, including one and a half million dollars to the Ferndale school budget each year.”
Advertisements for the GPT project touted the property tax monies the project would generate from which the Ferndale School District would supposedly benefit. In tandem with that, Foulke perpetuated the idea to the public that tax monies from GPT would contribute $1.5 million to the Ferndale schools budget when he would publicly advocate for the GPT project. And when he advocated for the project, Foulke identified himself as a School Board member, potentially giving the impression that the Ferndale School Board was also in support of GPT.
Foulke has allowed photos of himself, video, and written statements of his to be used in advertisements to promote the GPT project. An example of one of those, is a video published on YouTube by Gateway Pacific Terminal on Nov 10, 2012, which features Foulke promoting GPT after first introducing himself as a “school board member now in the Ferndale School district.” Excerpts below are taken from that video:
“I’m happy to make or give a comment about the Gateway Pacific project. As we saw last night in the debates, the United States has a great debt and it’s in economic trouble, and we need jobs, and we need to create wealth. The Gateway project, as I understand it, will help us ship natural resources overseas to markets in India and China–and that’s got to help us economically. So, the project is good for the United States in general, our economy, and it certainly helps, or will help, Whatcom County economy with jobs and an increase in tax base. The tax base increase is very important for schools, but I’ll get into that in a minute. But schools depend, and public services depend, on that tax base.”
“My major point for being very interested in the Gateway project is what I see it may do for Ferndale schools. If the project comes through, in about 4 years, uh, I mean after the approval process, and after construction is completed, the Gateway project will add about one and a half million dollars to the Ferndale school budget each year. And the impact of that represents, uh, I’m gonna guess somewhere between 3 and 5 percent of Ferndale schools’ annual budget, uh, operating budget, uh, not school construction, but the operating budget.”
Foulke also pointed out what he sees as “a very big issue,” that in the future, Ferndale schools will have to do something about North Bellingham Elementary School and Custer Elementary School, as he feels those definitely need major improvement, or renovation, or perhaps even a brand new school.
He follows that by saying, “So, from a narrow point of view, as a school board member, I’m excited to contemplate with my fellow board members, the possibility of having a better shot at improving those schools.”
This writer contacted Superintendent Quinn on January 8, 2013, School Board President Lee Anne Riddle on January 15, 2013, and also gave a public comment during a January 31, 2013 Ferndale School District Board meeting, challenging Foulke’s inappropriate use of his school board elected position to promote GPT. The objection this writer raised to the school board was that by stating he is a school board member when promoting GPT, Foulke could easily give the impression to the public that he was speaking for the Ferndale School Board.
Foulke’s actions also seemed to be in violation of two of Ferndale School District’s Code of Ethics: (J) “…make no personal promises nor take any private action which may compromise the board”; and (K) “Refuse to surrender independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or the gain of friends.”
Ms. Quinn, however, informed this writer that the school district’s Code of Ethics was a “gentleman’s agreement.” Now, according to the Ferndale School District website documents, the Code of Ethics policy is no longer in effect. School District personnel said the policy was deleted by action of the school board on April 29, 2014.
Public records obtained from the school district showed that Foulke’s actions caused the district to seek advice from the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA).
WSSDA Director of Policy and Legal Services, Heidi Maynard, responded in a January 15, 2013 email to School Board President Lee Anne Riddle’s email requesting advice on the matter. Ms. Maynard wrote that when speaking on a controversial issue and representing himself as a member of the board, it would not be good for the school board member to imply or represent that he is speaking on the board’s behalf. She warned, “That would be misrepresentation unless or until the board votes to take a stance on this project. So he has to be careful.”
Maynard also added, “If the board believes that the board member is wrongly implying he speaks for the entire board, they can simply issue a statement clarifying their stance or non-stance on this issue.” That action was not taken. Keep in mind that the EIS scoping period for the GPT project was still ongoing during this time, so it might have been significant for the public to have heard such a statement.
Ferndale School Board member and GPT promoter Hugh Foulke declared to the public that, if built, GPT would be contributing $1.5 million annually to the Ferndale School District budget. He even did this at the November 29, 2012 EIS scoping hearing for GPT held in Ferndale, which was one month after he had attended the October 22, 2012 meeting with Craig Cole and Superintendent Quinn, and after receiving Quinn’s email dated that same day, in which she made it abundantly clear that the Ferndale School District is not going to reap a direct monetary benefit from GPT.
While Quinn said in her email that the lowered tax rates, and possible new jobs and boost to the economy could all be potentially positive for the Ferndale community, she emphatically brought home the point to the school board about the potential impact of the GPT project on the tax base in Ferndale:
“I just think it will be very important during the discussion process for us to remain very clear about the fact that the school district is not going to reap a direct monetary benefit from it.” [bolded text within quote is Ms. Quinn’s]