Well, well, well. Our county commissioners are seeking more than $650,000 from the city of Toppenish, known to many of us as the town "Where the West Still Lives." The commissioners apparently think Toppenish officials misled them on the availability of water the county needed to operate a new jail on a small parcel of land the commissioners purchased in Toppenish nearly two years ago.
If memory serves me correctly, the City of Toppenish was processing the county's application to build a new jail in that small community. Everything was rolling along fine, I do recall, until the Yakama Indian Nation...a slumbering bear that often awakens at the most inopportune times...began taking notice of the county's intentions to construct this jail. Actually, with the number of prisoners our county commissioners were planning to house in this new facility, it would have more closely resembled a prison as opposed to a county jail. Anyway, the sleeping bear awoke and began questioning the finer points of this project. Among the tribe's concerns was the lack of available water, or so interpreted by our Native American friends. At that point in time, again if my memory holds true, Toppenish relinquished the proceedings of the land-use review and asked the county to take over that end of the business deal.
The ball, so to speak, was in the county's court.
Things get a little fuzzy at this point in time, but I do remember city officials warning the county that the property in question was outside the city limits, and that there was a question to the availability of water rights.
The end result was the county purchased this small parcel of land, about 30 acres, from the Parrish family for more than half a million dollars. The money was paid, but then lo and behold, our lumbering bear began making noise. Like most of those who have had to go up against the Yakama's on any land use issue, our county leaders...and I use the word leaders very loosely...realized that battling the tribe could be very expensive and very time consuming. The Toppenish project was scrapped and the county had to eat the deal they struck with the Parrish family.
Undoubtedly, this whole sordid mess will probably end up in the court system. There, we'll have a judge who picks a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, common sense is often times thrown out in these kinds of cases. It seems our elected judges are more concerned with which side of their bread is buttered.
In looking back on this whole fiasco, and having been raised in Toppenish and knowing many of the people who are running things in that fair city, I have a difficult time believing anyone in Toppenish attempted to deceive the county. I truly believe the people of Toppenish only saw the new county prison...oops, I mean jail...as a means to generate more paychecks in the community. From all the scuttlebutt I heard at the time, everyone was excited about the new jobs the new jail would create, and everything was being done to accomodate the county to make the project successful.
Think about it. What would Toppenish have to gain if the plan had been to deceive the county into buying the Parrish property, intentionally hiding the fact that there weren't water rights for the land in question? Most in Toppenish like the Parrish family, but not enough to commit fraud so the Parrishes could personally benefit.
Our county commissioners-Jim Lewis, Jesse Palacios and Ron Gamache-are looking for a scapegoat for the nearly three-quarter's of a million dollars they've spent so far on this Toppenish plan of their's. They've taken so much heat on this, that now they're trying to cover their...well, you know what they're trying to protect. Instead of wasting more taxpayers' dollars and time on trying to recover money they foolishly threw Toppenish's way, the three commissioners should fess up and admit their mistakes, and accept responsibility for the ineptitude they displayed.
If justice is to truly prevail, the taxpayers need to rally and collectively oust the three county commissioners from office, for misfeasance. This white elephant of their's, once targeted for Toppenish but now being constructed at the Yakima fairgrounds, is a losing proposition. Not only is it a loser in terms of generating revenue for the county, it is highly unpopular and unwanted by many of the county's taxpayers.
If the trio opts to continue with their ill-thwarted plans to recoup the $650,000-plus from Toppenish, take heed. The city "Where the West Still Lives" didn't pick up that catchy slogan because all of the cowboys in town wear white hats.
. Bob Story,can be contacted at
(509) 837-4500, or e-mail him