BELLINGHAM TheNewsTribune - A candidate forum on growth and the environment was canceled because none of the four conservative Whatcom County Council hopefuls were going to participate. The organizers, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Futurewise, announced the cancelation Wednesday, July 31, one day before the forum was to be held. They hope to reschedule it before the election on Nov. 5.
"The goal of this forum was to question all the candidates about critical growth and environmental issues," RE Sources Executive Director Crina Hoyer said. "We would love to give the community the opportunity to have their opinions."
RE Sources would go ahead with the forum if it could get "the majority of candidates represented," Hoyer said, which means that one of the conservative candidates would need to join incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer; Rud Browne, who is challenging Bill Knutzen; and Barry Buchanan, who opposes Kathy Kershner.
It was unclear late Wednesday whether the organizers would ever get that majority.
Knutzen had said earlier this week that he didn't want to take part in a forum hosted by Futurewise. The anti-sprawl group has filed challenges to what it perceives as the county's overly permissive rural-growth rules.
"It seems if they don't get their way, they litigate everything," Knutzen said on Wednesday, reaffirming his stance. "It's frustrating, and it's not the kind of behavior I want to support."
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Ben Elenbaas, a planning commissioner and farmer who is challenging Mann, remained opposed on Wednesday to the tactics of both Futurewise and RE Sources. Like Knutzen, he doesn't approve of Futurewise's proclivity for filing challenges to county rules. He also took issue with RE Sources' practice of patrolling farms and other properties for water-pollution violations. Kershner and Michelle Luke, who is running against Weimer, were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
The four conservative candidates were accused Wednesday on blogs and social media of shirking the forum because they were afraid to state their positions on growth and the environment.
Elenbaas said he was "very well versed" in environmental issues and would welcome a forum on that topic.
"Growth and the environment are incredibly important. If the forum was put on by another group, say somebody that didn't have ongoing litigation with the county ... with the same topics, I would be more happy to go," Elenbaas said.
Knutzen said he would let his environmental record speak for itself, but he also would be willing to discuss the issues - just not at a Futurewise forum.