"A lot of good my handicapped placard does me since nine times out of 10 times, I can't find an unoccupied handicapped-parking spot," says Thorsen. "And when I hang around waiting for someone to leave, I see obviously non-handicapped persons get in their cars and drive away."
Thorsen promises to start a campaign, in the time he has remaining, "to marshal volunteer forces to shame these scofflaws. I'm smart enough to mount a statewide enforcement strategy to curtail these selfish actions."
There is a growing irritation at what is seen as "as tremendous amount of abuse" of handicapped placards issued by the state and the sense that the increasing cost of parking in downtown Seattle is leading to illegal use of the placards.
Thorsen sent me an email last week after running across a column on the Internet that I did in early 2011 that was aimed at highlighting what actions have been taken, and what hasn't been done, to address the placard-abuse problem..
And reaction of those like Thorsen, as well as ordinary citizens who are merely irritated on behalf of the handicapped, has led to efforts on the part of the City of Seattle to consider seeking action by the Legislature. As yet the City Council hasn't been able to reach accord with various stakeholders on what form the suggested legislation should take.
But a key step toward agreement on a proposal to the Legislature may come Monday when Seattle City Council representatives meet with the head of the Governor's Commission on Disability Issues and Employment, an entity Seattle officials view as an essential partner in any effort to get tougher legislation.
Toby Olson, executive secretary of the commission, says he began meetings with Seattle officials earlier this year on finding solutions to reduce the abuse of disability parking placards and strengthen enforcement for disability parking violations.
Seattle officials say they are confident about an agreement that will lead to a bill in the 2013 legislature, but that any proposal must take cognizance of state budget constraints.
Disabled citizens are entitled to park at not only parking spots reserved for the handicapped, but also city-operated paid parking spots without charge. City officials estimate that 40 percent of downtown and First Hill parking spaces are occupied by vehicles displaying handicapped-parking placards.
"The police department and state transportation people "estimate that as many as 50 percent of the placards are being illegally used," City Councilman Tim Burgess told me for the 2011 column, noting that amounts to 20 percent of the total parking spots in those areas.
State law makes it illegal for anyone but the person to whom the state permit and placard are issued to use placard, tabs, or license plates if the disabled person is not in the vehicle. "You can't let your friends or family borrow them for their own use," advises the state website.
Over the past year, the Seattle Department of Transportation has been working with stakeholders, including the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, on putting together a plan that could be submitted to the 2013 Legislature for action.
SDOT and the DisAbilities Commission agree on most steps to address the problem, though the commission disagrees with shortening to four hours the time a vehicle using a handicapped placard can park downtown.
Interestingly, one of the issues both the city agency and the commission agree on is that the law needs to be more strict with physicians who issue the placards.
The Seattle Police Department says that many physicians distribute parking placards "for reasons that may not comply with state criteria" and a key suggestion is adding the name of the issuing physician on each placard.
Another person who ran across my column on the Internet sent me an email some months ago saying he did a test with his own doctor following knee surgery from which he explained he is "now walking without discomfort."
"I asked my doctor if I could get one of those permits for disability parking. She smiled wryly and said 'well..hmmmm...I suppose you qualify'. WHAT! I can walk without trouble and it is that easy to get a permit for phantom knee pain that was corrected months ago?"
City of Seattle, in fact, is apparently asking the King County Medical Association to admonish members about the integrity role in issuing handicapped permits.
Interestingly, ala Dick Thorsen's suggestion of mustering volunteers, the use of volunteers to patrol downtown areas in search of handicapped-parking abusers is already legal as a result of legislation a few years ago. Cities in nearly two dozen other states have already adopted a version of using volunteers to help address the problem.
In some places, trained volunteers are authorized to issue citations for infractions. But the commission also suggested the volunteers could record the license plate numbers of cars displaying expired placards, or operated by obviously non-handicapped drivers.
The idea of using volunteers and authorizing them to issue citations for illegal use of handicapped placards was discussed last fall, but City Council representatives were advised by the city's legal department that further legislation would first be necessary.
For sure the commission and City Department of Transportation agree increased enforcement and higher penalties are essential to curbing abuse, and imposition of harsher penalties, particularly for those caught using a placard issued to someone who has since died.
Noting that Seattle police report that finding placards being used that are registered to a person who is deceased is "one of the top methods of abuse," the commission says unequivocally the cars of such drivers should be impounded.
The Seattle City Council obviously has much on its plate, including budget issues and things like the proposed new Sodo arena. But the issue of stealing handicapped-parking spots, which is of course what cheaters are doing, deserves to be looked at long enough to frame a legislative proposal since the legislators will only act if they think it's important enough for Seattle to ask.
They are an unlikely band of evangelists for the free enterprise system, a group of mostly Hispanic college students whose resumes almost inevitably include the phrase "first in (his or her) family to attend college."
Yet the students who participate in the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage University in Toppenish, and close the year competing against college teams from across the country, prove themselves not only believers in, but practitioners of, free enterprise.
Year after year, the students from Heritage distinguish themselves as among the top student teams at the regional and national SIFE competition, including this year in Kansas City when they finished fourth runner-up in the semi-final round of the national competition among 160 schools who participated.
"To see the transformation of these kids when they get a chance to believe in themselves is amazing," says Leonard Black, who created and has run the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage for almost a dozen years. "They go from shy, insecure and self-conscious to very outgoing and confident."
"These are kids from farmworker or immigrant backgrounds," notes Black. "Their dinner-table conversations at home focus on survival skills and paying bills." In fact, 97 percent of Heritage's 1,500 students qualify for some sort of federal or state financial aide, including most of the 55 percent of the students who already have children.
They not only believe in the message conveyed in the projects in which SIFE involves them, but they become teachers of free enterprise among entrepreneurial hopefuls in the Hispanic-dominated Yakima Valley.
Black spent his career as a corporate executive, finally as Duracell vice president of operations for Asia-Pacific before becoming a volunteer chair of the business program at Heritage.
Black recalls that it was Sr. Kathleen Ross, the Holy Names nun from Spokane who helped found Heritage College in 1981 as an independent college and served as president for 30 years until her retirement in 2010, who first suggested he take a look at SIFE. She apparently felt the program fitted in with her focus on providing higher-education opportunity to the area's multicultural population.
SIFE is an international non-profit organization that works with leaders in business and higher education to teach students, through outreach projects in which they apply business concepts learned in the classroom, the skills to be socially responsible business leaders.
An annual series of regional and national competitions provides a forum for teams to present the results of their projects, and be evaluated by business leaders serving as judges.
It was those annual competitions to which Black aimed the attentions of the SIFE students at Heritage, even though he recalls that the first year in the regional competition "we were told that we were the worst team they'd ever seen."
Undeterred by that first SIFE experience, the students met with him and said: "Mr. Black, we're coming back next year and we're going to win."
"So they went out and rounded up other students and came up with additional projects," Black said. "The following year they were regional first runner-up, but they were still disappointed with that showing. So the third year, they won the regionals and went on to the national competition in Kansas City."
Heritage officials point to the team's ability to find a flow of new members as indicating that "while SIFE is an exceptional showcase for our students-and attracts many of the best students-they are by no means unique."
Two years after that first national-competition showing, they became the first team from the Seattle region to ever make it into the national semi-final competition, Black said. That meant they would have to be on stage before an audience of more than 3,000, including the 130 business executives who were judges.
"They had never spoken into microphones, so they used soda cans to simulate microphones," Black noted. "They finished second in the nation."
Now it's routinely assumed that the Heritage kids will be in the forefront at the competition. In 11 years and 18 competitions, the Heritage teams have nine regional championships, seven national semi-final appearances, "final four" three times and recognition in 2011 as one of the nation's 10 top programs. And in May Black was inducted into the SIFE Hall of Fame.
As to their real-time involvements, Black said "We work with people in the community to help them realize their dreams" with the students touting the benefits of a free-market economy to the entrepreneur hopefuls..
Toppenish has a population of just under 9,000 residents, 82 percent of whom are Hispanic and 32 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It's to that population that the students bring hope, particularly since 51 percent of Heritage students are Hispanic and 85 percent are the first in their families to attend college.
The students recently did a survey of 4,000 households in the area and found that 180 residents want to start a business, but lack the resources to do so. So the students are putting together a training program and hope to pursue grants that will permit them to start a mini-loan fund for those entrepreneurial hopefuls.
Several years ago they helped Hispanic farmers form a cooperative to sell apples, including writing a business plan so the farmers could qualify for small-business loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They got a $325,000 loan, with training from the students written into the loan application, and the result is the cooperative called Washington Elite Growers.
Heritage alum Gary Pierce Jr., a native-American member of the Yakama Nation, turned down several Fortune 500 offers after he graduated in 2006 with a degree in business administration because he felt it was more important to remain in the community where he grew up.
Today he heads up marketing for Yakama Nation Land Enterprises (YNLE), a company charged with rebuilding the Yakama Nation landscape. The company purchases lost tribal lands and develops ways to make a profit from them so that more property can eventually be purchased.
Bob Betz, who as one of the state's most respected winemakers is co-chairing the 25th Auction of Washington Wines, recalls with a smile the first auction. "I bought two bottles for $60, and it was the live auction. And they were bottles of Oregon wine."
Much has transpired for both Betz, then already an established executive with Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and the industry itself since that launch event. What was initially, and for the first 10 years, called the Auction of Northwest Wines because it was held in partnership with the equally young Oregon wine industry, now sees live-auction items bring in an average of $10,000.
Betz' co-chair for the 2012 event is Stein Kruse, president and CEO of Holland America Line, whose cruise ships take Washington wines to ports of call around the world. So as Betz has perhaps the longest-term perspective on the industry he became a part of in 1976 when he joined Chateau Ste. Michelle as director of marketing, it might well be said of Kruse that his company gives Washington wines their most far-flung exposure.
Sherri Swingle, Auction of Washington Wines' executive director, says that first auction raised $20,000 and had 47 wineries participating. By last year, the auction raised $1.55 million, swelling the total the event has raised over the years to $26 million, with uncompensated care at Seattle Children's Hospital being the key beneficiary.
The auction organization came into existence in 1987, the same year as the Washington Wine Commission, the state agency created by the legislature to provide a voice for both wineries and grape growers in the state. The first wine auction was held the following year.
In a sense, the accomplishments of both the industry organization and the auction will be highlighted and honored at the August celebration when the three days of what is billed as the state's most prestigious charity wine event, for which Swingle is now finalizing details, unfold.
Swingle says more than 1,700 attendees are expected to be on hand for the auction gala on August 18 with about 500 at 10 winemaker dinners around the region the previous evening and about 1,000 at the picnic and barrel auction of limited-release wines on August 15.
But the role and contributions of what is now Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be especially highlighted at what has traditionally been an annual award to a vintner and a grower each year. This year the awards are being combined, at the insistence of CEO Ted Baseler, who originally had been intended for an individual honor.
Baseler made it clear that the honor could not single him out, but needed to honor the Chateau Ste. Michelle team, both past and present.
Nevertheless, Baseler's role in not just the success of Chateau Ste. Michelle, but also the industry that he has made equal in importance to the success of his own company, are bound to be noted as the company he has presided over since 2001 is honored.
Baseler's involvement with the industry stretches back almost as far as Betz'. He joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1982 but had already spent several years as an account executive for the advertising agency that handled the winery's account.
Today the business, acclaimed twice in the past year as "Winery of the Year," has international relationships and is among the largest and fastest-growing wine companies in the country.
Betz spent 28 years with Chateau Ste. Michelle in a variety of positions in communications, sales and operations, eventually as vice president for winemaking research, remaining as Baseler's right-hand man until 2003, even though he and his wife, Cathy, had opened their own winery in 1997.
Betz, his wife and daughters had built the Betz Family Winery over 15 years, until its sale last year, into one of the state's most successful and respected wineries. He prefers to call it a partnership with the new owners, rather than a sale, since he remains as winemaker and he and his wife will remain as part of the management team while finally having "the one thing that has eluded us - time."
Event co-chair Kruse says he has "a small wine collection" but added "we buy wine in large quantities for our ships around the world and feature Washington wines in the Pinnacle Grill on 15 of our ships."
"The growth of the industry in this state, both in the quality and value of the wines, has been amazing to watch," he said.
That growth Kruse refers to was pointed up in the results of an economic impact study from the Washington Wine Commission this spring, which was described as "the most comprehensive such report ever produced," that showed dramatic growth in the value of the industry since 2007 despite the woes of the economy.
The report indicated the value of the industry to the state has leaped from $3 billion five years ago to $8.6 billion now and that the value nationally has gone from $4.7 billion to $14.9 billion.
The personal quest for information on how best to deal with cancer inevitably leads to discovery of "the other medicine."
And in reaching out over a period of months for information to help me make the best decision on how to deal with a fortunately slow-growing cancer, I learned that some who practice traditional medicine have only a vague awareness of what's emerging in that other medicine.
The growing acceptance of nature's role in helping combat serious illness isn't surprising to those aware that an estimated 70 percent of new drugs originate from natural sources.
Two of nature's cancer fighters in particular got my attention in my search. One, mushrooms, are being seen in a new light. The other, something called artemisinin (to which I've introduced some of my healthcare providers) is just coming into the light, though known in China for decades, some suggest centuries.
First about artemisinin, a product of the ancient Chinese herb, Artemisia. It's only in the last half-dozen years that artemisinin has quickly become the worldwide treatment of choice for malaria. That's apparently because it becomes highly toxic in the presence of iron, which malaria parasites contain in abundance from the human red-blood cells they consume.
Because cancer cells consume lots of iron, that's led to testing and research, including at the University of Washington, focusing on artemisinin for treatment of cancer.
The scientific explanation about the "significant anticancer effects" artemisinin is suspected to have is that it contains peroxide and research suggests that when peroxide comes in contact with cells having high iron concentrations, it becomes toxic to those cells. Fortunately, normal cells don't contain a lot of iron.
I was introduced to artemisinin when a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr recommended it to me and I proceeded to research it to learn what I was getting into. The research proved to be fascinating.
I proceeded to tell each of several doctors I was working with, from primary care to surgeon, about artemisinin and each either went to their laptop to look it up or took notes. It was obvious that they were not letting their egos get in the way of being open to new information, even if from a patient, although one oncologist I told about artemisinin confided that he has prescribed it for one of his breast-cancer patients.
Much more will be heard of artemisinin and I found that the word is already spreading when I called the Bastyr dispensary to get a refill and was told "we just learned from the manufacturer that there won't be any more until the end of June." They did, however, get a special re-order for me.
Now to mushrooms, which gained fame and somewhat widespread use in certain circles as the late Dr. Timothy Leary promoted to the hippie counterculture the psychedelic experience of the Psilocybin mushrooms he'd discovered in Asia, thus providing many with entry into the psychedelic world.
The memory of those days of "magic mushrooms" lingers strongly enough for some who remember the era that when I mentioned to a friend that I was looking into mushrooms, she asked with a wink: "what kind of mushrooms are we talking about?"
Now their cancer-fighting potential, as well as a growing awareness about other benefits, is emerging into the mainstream such that the most respected cancer hospitals are testing them and entrepreneurs are looking to build new businesses around their appeal.
At City of Hope, the leading-edge cancer-care hospital in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, researchers are speeding findings about mushrooms' cancer-fighting properties from the lab to clinical trials. After showing that mushroom extract slows breast cancer growth in mice, the team will soon begin human clinical studies involving breast and prostate cancers.
Dr. Michael Friedman, City of Hope CEO whom I met with during my cancer-treatment explorations, says "Our data suggest that white button mushrooms may delay progression of biochemically recurrent prostate cancer in some men. Further studies to clarify the mechanism of action and benefit are warranted."
And a study funded by the National Institutes of Health's Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine recently concluded that turkey tail mushrooms improve the immune systems of breast cancer patients. The study was conducted jointly by the University of Washington, the respected naturopathic Bastyr University in the Seattle and the University of Minnesota.
Mushrooms as part of emerging health
consciousness lure Seattle entrepreneurs
Convinced that "medicinal mushrooms" will attract an ever-growing audience of health-conscious consumers, a fledgling Seattle company that launched a mushroom-based animal-products company a year ago is planning to expand the business to products for people.
Ryan Lentz, who was baseball star at University of Washington and professional ball player for four years before an injury ended his career, a year ago co-founded Noah's Nutritionals, first focused on horses then adding a mushroom product for dogs, as literally a "friends and family" company.
The friends and family who have now joined in co-founding a mushroom-product direct marketing company called myCELIA, are Pennie Pickering and Richard Roberts, husband and wife co-founders of marketing-and-communications firm Palazzo Creative, and Mark Wolf. Pickering is Lentz' aunt and Wolf, who will head international business development for the new company, was his former real-estate development partner.
As they head for a launch of myCELIA in the first quarter of next year, Pickering, who is the vice president of marketing, explained that the two animal products that are conventionally marketed will be rolled into a parent C-Corp., MPower, along with the people-focused subsidiary.
They have tapped as "chief scientist and medical spokesperson" Dr. Marvin Hausman, a Sherwood, OR-physician who is billed as a world expert in medicinal mushroom research and who holds a number of mushroom-related patents" in partnership with Penn State University.
The direct marketing of mushroom-supplements isn't yet a crowded field, but there are two heavyweight competitors, both Asia based, that have carved out substantial reputations as multi-level marketing companies focused on mushroom-based products.
One is the Malaysian-based Gano Excel, a $500 million business that sells one of their mushroom extracts in coffee and Pickering says she and Lentz believe that having a unique mushroom-based coffee will be an important product for myCELIA.
The founders view the tie to Hausman, who created mushroom supplements to help keep the horses owned by his equestrian-champion wife healthy, as a marketing leg up. His supplement apparently gained widespread visibility in the equine community when it was used by a group of veterinarians struggling to control an equine herpes outbreak in Florida.
His mushroom supplements gained additional attention when horse-trainer Carl Nafzger put his prize horse "Street Sense" and 35 other horses on the mushroom supplement and "Street Sense" wound up winning the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
Lentz, introduced to Hausman through a friend, says he soon began using the mushroom formula himself for his own injuries after seeing the effect in had on the diseased mouth of his dog, and that led him to form MPower.
All of those details, as well as the initial success of the animal-mushroom products that already have an agreement with a German distributor for $100,000 a year of product, will be part of the company's message to potential investors as they seek to launch their direct-rmarketing company, which Pickering refers to as "social sales." .
Cell Therapeutics Inc., the Seattle biotech firm that has alternately raised and dashed investor hopes over the past 20 years, has scored a triple play in recent weeks, gaining European approval for a new drug, buying a phase-three cancer drug at deep discount and finding a major new investor.
The spate of recent news, while drawing little attention from Seattle area media, has left influential national bloggers and websites musing over why CTI's developments haven't attracted more investor interest and movement in its stock price. The stock has stayed under $1 for some weeks and is down 40 percent from a year ago.
Attention for CTI has peaked following late May word that the company's cancer drug Pixantrone, with the brand name Pixuvri, has received conditional marketing approval from the European Commission, following February approval from the European Medicines Agency.
National websites have enthused about CTI's recent successes, with the influential market blog "Seeking Alpha" a few days ago offering the intriguing headline, both promising and pointed: "Cell Therapeutics' Pixantrone - Is Hope Coming For Patients And Patient Shareholders?"
And the respected "24/7 Wall St. Wire" asked, in a column noting the recent successes, "Can a European Approval of Pixantrone Save Cell Therapeutics?"
The Pixantrone approval will allow CTI to produce revenue from the drug in a market about equal in size to the U.S. market, and will also mean that it can accumulate additional data toward FDA approval from the use of Pixantrone in patients with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Just this week, CTI announced that it has completed the acquisition, first announced in April, of Pacritinib, a Phase III-ready drug that's part of a new class of targeting agents, known as JAK inhibitors, for treating myelofibrosis, a type of leukemia that affects bone marrow.
The Pacritinib purchase price of $15 million in cash and another $15 million in convertible stock was described by one national blogger as "a near steal" because, despite four competitors, CTI will be going after a piece of what the company views as a $7 billion market in the U.S. alone.
Finally, CTI announced a $40 million investment from New York-based Socius Capital, which analysts suggest paid about 10 percent above the CTI stock price for its passive-investment stake of just under 10 percent. That reflected, according to an analyst, "a high level of confidence" in the commercialization of Pixuvri and clinical development of Pacritinib.
But it's the Pixantrone success, enhancing the Pacritinib acquisition and spurring the cash infusion, that is most intriguing, particularly, since there are several sub-plots that come into play with the European announcement. Those include the politics surrounding FDA's handling of the pipeline for new potentially life-saving drugs, as well as the emerging controversy over high-priced drugs that offer only a few months of life expectancy for patients.
Then there's the on-going dynamic tension between CTI CEO Dr.James Bianco and Seattle-area media, which have frequently targeted the company and Bianco for the $1.74 billion he's raised and spent without much benefit to shareholders and the wide swings in the stock price over the years, as high as $72 and as low as 88-cents. Bianco's defenders brush aside media criticisms, contending that the only reason CTI is still alive after 20 years is because of Bianco's creativity and leadership.
As one Bianco supporter put it, "let's just say the media and Jim Bianco don't like each other very much," the tension possibly due in part to the fact Bianco enjoys the perks that go with the CEO role and is a competitive kind of guy who doesn't shrink from a fight.
The latter isn't surprising given his Bronx upbringing as a second-generation Italian kid in a household shared by up to 20 relatives at a time in an environment where
"you were okay as long as you didn't leave the few square blocks of our neighborhood."
Then he smiled as he remembered that his bus to high school made its closest stop 10 blocks from his home. "Every day I sprinted to the bus because if you couldn't get there faster than anyone else, you were a statistic."
He admits he didn't do very well academically in high school, but by the time he found himself at NYU, he recalls that a major disappointment was the lone "B" he received among his "A's."
Medical school, internship and residency in New York led to Seattle and an opportunity at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute, and eventually to the founding of CTI.
In addition to being high visibility in his business, he's also highly visible in fund-raising efforts for his special causes, including the Hope Heart Institute, where he and his wife, Sue, won the Wings of Hope award in 2002 and where he's helped revamp the key fund-raising event, and Gilda's Club, for whom he is planning the first capital campaign.
He's been involved with Gilda's Club for a dozen years, explaining that it "provides that other kind of Medicine, the kind you can't get in hospitals or clinics but that place where family, kids, friends etc have support. It's a great cause, but because they don't do research they're not sexy so funding in these times is tough. That's why I stay involved. It's in our (CTI's) DNA."
The manner in which the European Medicine agency's approach brought conditional approval for Pixontrone while the FDA dallied, eventually causing CTI to withdraw its application, represents another log on the fire of controversy that swirls around getting new drugs through the FDA to patients.
In Europe, 25 member states and five independent experts represent the review panel for an application and two-third of the 32 must give their okay. Critics of the FDA process of an office with a single final decision maker in each therapeutic category, from oncology to cardiovascular and rheumatologic, etc. call the European approach a more balanced review.
The critics contend that people are losing their lives while the FDA is holding things up and urge that Congress and the administration press for conditional approval as a more certain part of the FDA review process. For obvious political reasons, Bianco declines to join those criticisms, particularly since a new application to the FDA for Pixontrone is planned in a few months.
And since Pixontrone will cost, once the pricing is worked out with each of the European countries, somewhere between $33,000 and $38,000 to extend the lives of the target patients by less than a year, it will come to be part of the growing debate over end-of-life costs vs. benefit.
But over the longer term, it will be interesting to see how the developments of the past few weeks play out for Bianco and CTI, and to what extent the prediction of one of the national bloggers proves accurate: "It has been a long road for investors of CTIC, but it now looks as though the future is bright."
The nation's last fully operating news council is engaged in some soul searching about its future, including whether it has one, at a time when the proliferation of social and other forms of non-traditional media may make some sort of media "watchdog" more important than ever.
"We're in the middle of a process with a core group that I call my 'strategic transition possee' to look at our vision, mission and whether we're sustainable," says John Hamer, co-founder and executive director of the Washington News Council (WNC), which he helped create in 1998.
Meanwhile, as the Washington News Council (WNC) goes about its introspection, it's scheduled to hold a full-blown hearing in a few days on a complaint against the oft-offending but never-repentant major Seattle television station, KIRO.
That scheduled hearing points up the long-term importance of an organization like the News Council as a forum for public engagement with the media. But it also indicates the key challenge that has largely been beyond WNC's ability to overcome during most of its 14 years of existence.
The importance of such an organization is stated compelling by Ken Hatch, a founding board member and the influential former president of KIRO in the days when it was a TV-AM-FM titan owned by Bonneville Broadcasting.
"This mix of journalism and mass media compulsions, basically at the whim of anyone with an uncontrolled point of view, will not create a better world without some sort of 'point-counter point' forum like WNC," Hatch said.
The challenge has been the reluctance of the media to help any organization, including WNC, keep an eye on its performance, a reluctance put in perspective by Blaire Thompson, whose Washington Dairy Products Commission was among the entities that have come to WNC with complaints.
"The media readily arrogate to themselves the freedom, indeed, the right, to hold everyone in our society accountable to their scrutiny," said Thompson. "Unfortunately, what many media are reluctant to do is to allow themselves to be held accountable for their actions. The disinclination of most media to be held accountable can express itself in hostility to anyone who tries, and this has includes the Washington News Council."
Part of the challenge to "sustainable" is that WNC, which has operated on a relative financial shoestring and been run by a chief executive who has stayed committed more for love than money, saw its primary funding source come to an end last year.
That key funding for the past three years has been a $100,000 matching grant from the Gates Foundation, guided by Bill Gates Senior who has been a strong supporter of WNC and its role.
The end of the Gates challenge is part of the reason Hamer has guided the News Council to assess what he characterizes as "a crucial transition year."
The News Council's annual Gridiron Dinner, a roast of prominent political or business figures, has become the key fund-raising event for the organization. And this year's November roast of retiring Gov. Christine Gregoire and departing Congressman Norm Dicks has Hamer and WNC supporters enthused about the fund-raising such a special roast, attracting both Democrats and Republicans, may represent.
The WNC forum for public engagement with media has included a formal hearing in the event no accord was reached between a media entity and the aggrieved person or organization.
While the accused media have mostly always responded to the complaint in some manner, they frequently have boycotted the formal hearing when one has been held.
That was the case a few years ago when King County Sheriff Sue Rahr complained to the News Council about the unfairness of a Seattle P-I series. After a hearing in which WNC found for Rahr, with the P-I declining to be present, the Seattle Times did devote a full page to the hearing and its outcome damning the P-I.
But in most instances, the accused media knows that regardless of the outcome of a WNC hearing, other media will provide little public visibility on those proceedings. That removes much of the concern about being found "guilty."
So it is with CBS-affiliate KIRO TV, which has thumbed its nose in two previous complaints against it for reports by the same reporter, Chris Halsey, who is described by himself and the station, but by few who see his work, as an "investigative" reporter.
Without going into details of the complaints, all of which brought major outpouring of support for those wronged by KIRO, including Secretary of State Sam Reed, the fact is, as Hamer puts it, "KIRO has never given us even the courtesy of a response by phone, email or letter."
The latest complaint is from teachers and parents at Leschi School about a piece, more accurately a job, Halsey did for KIRO on the school's custodian.
Hatch, the former KIRO chief, said of one of the KIRO stories that drew a complaint: "It was a hurtful and stupid example of a bad performance by a reporter who carries the mantle of public trust. The reporter failed and so did the news director who must have been asleep at the wheel."
WNC was patterned after the respected Minnesota News Council, whose operation was supported by basically all newspapers and prominent broadcast outlets in the state. That included financial support from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.
During WNC's early days, it became the key to growth of the concept nationally, getting a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to sponsor a nationwide contest to start two more news councils. California, which has since closed its doors, and New England, which still exists but has metamorphosed out of a watchdog role, were launched by WNC.
The Minnesota News Council recently closed its doors, due to change in leadership and the financial travails of the state's largest daily newspaper, leaving the Washington News Council as the last in this country whose scope extends all the way to full-fledged hearings.
That's why WNC's discussions about its future are important. Again, quoting Hatch: "We are seeing media and journalism destroying some of the quality parts of our free speech process. Lies and slander must be challenged by good minds and good people for this country to truly have a freedom of speech fostered by people of integrity."
It was my new mantra of "do today what yesterday you might have put off until tomorrow" that guided my decision to compete in the 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games last October, four months after colon-cancer surgery.
The goal wasn't merely to prove that a 71-year-old guy can come back from major surgery and resume normal activity, even if the activity seems like a stretch to the sedentary of any age. It was also to acknowlege successful recovery from cancer while various friends are battling the Big-C, or have lost their battles.
There's a prescribed two-month "no strenuous exercise" recovery period following the kind of major surgery that was required for me last week of May last year.
I walked as much as possible during the weeks following surgery, but chafed at the fact my regular workouts on the treadmill and track, particularly the sprint portions, were on hold until the last week of July.
Just before the exercise-restraint period ended, I visited with my primary-care physician, Patrizia Showell, at Seattle's Polyclinic and asked: "So are you okay with my now working my tail off so I can run the 100 meters in the senior games first week of October?"
I could see the lady I refer to as my "super doc" mentally calculating the calendar before replying: "Go for it."
Putting on my workout shoes for the first time in two months brought an adrenalin rush but I knew I was going to have to be uncharacteristically cautious with my leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings that had always caused me trouble. The worst thing I could imagine at that point was that I would press too hard and pull or strain a hamstring and that would be the end of the goal.
The 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games had a special appeal to me because it was the 25th anniversary of the two-week event created by Jon Huntsman Sr., in 1986. What could make the competitive comeback more special than it being for a special milestone for the games themselves?
Jon Huntsman Sr.'s vision was that an event called the World Senior Games, even if held in a remote corner of Southwest Utah, would eventually draw thousands of what others might dismiss as "the elderly" for the chance to play and compete with their peers.
So it is that 25 years after their founding, the 2011 games attracted about 6,000 seniors who, over the two-week period, competed in everything from track and field to badminton, pickelball, lawn bowling, volleyball, square dancing and even bridge. Some of the competitors were in their 90s.
I've been drawn to the games because of the "world" name since I first heard of them in 2003 and made up my mind to compete in the 100 and 200 meters in my age group once I learned that you didn't have to be a "world class" athlete. That means some competitors really were world class while others like me, who weren't, could still compete, and that's always been the magic draw.
In that 2003 competition, I managed to finish sixth in both the 100 and 200 out of fields of 24 in each event. But the reality was that those at the front of the pack in both events were, in fact, world class and thus it was satisfying just to be in the same race in which I could see them in the distance.
Huntsman, 73, founded and was longtime CEO, now executive chairman, of what has become the publicly traded (as of 2005) $9 billion world's largest chemicals company with 12,000 employees. He and his wife, Karen, still open each year's Senior Games, where the participants now number in the thousands each October.
Huntsman, father of the former Utah governor, China ambassador and briefly a Republican presidential hopeful, Jon Huntsman Jr., evidenced his ultimate commitment to community following prostate cancer surgery 15 years ago.
He set out to establish a world-class cancer research and treatment center, a dream he's pleased to say is now realized with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Hospital in Salt Lake City.
The Huntsman family continues to serve as principal benefactors and fundraisers for the Huntsman Cancer Institute with what he describes as "the ultimate goal" of eradicating the most challenging forms of cancer.
And it's on that final note about the Huntsmans' commitment to community and overcoming as great a challenge as cancer that I sense a common thread in their commitments and the commitments of those who travel to St. George each year to participate and compete.
The producer of a recent movie on the senior games said: "What drew us to the senior games was the positivity. These people have an unparalleled zeal for life. When you're 90 and 100 years old and have endured life's challenges and still have such a positive attitude, it's beyond impressive. We felt it was worth a film."
In a sense the producer summed up in his way what's become my view: Life is a race to be appreciated for the joy of participation and whether world class -- or a bit slower --making in to the finish line ahead of cancer, or any other physical or mental obstacle, is really the sweetest race to win.
So in recent days a year-later clean bill of health on last year's cancer sets the stage for my few-days-hence prostate cancer surgery, as Jon Huntsman Sr. underwent those years ago. Then I can begin to tick off the "no strenuous exercise" weeks, which my surgeon tells me will be a shorter wait this time, before I can begin getting back into condition for the 2012 games.
When Gaylene Anderson decided on an entrepreneurial coming-out party from her tech-transfer role at the University of Idaho, she chose the biggest business-plan competition stage in the country and picked the quintessential symbol of Idaho to tout her fledgling company.
The result was a storybook debut in which she wowed the audience and the judges and is now gaining national attention for herself and Solanux Inc., whose academia-developed process turns the potato into a health food.
The next chapter in Anderson's emergence from the relative obscurity of her university technology transfer role of the last 10 years to a once-in-a-lifetime experience as triple honoree at the Rice University Business Plan Competition will be inclusion in a special section in Fortune magazine's May issue.
In the space of three days last month, she won the Rice competition's 60-second elevator pitch, was honored by a national women's entrepreneur organization, and her team took fifth in the competition.
"The 42 finalists from among 1,600 business-plan applicants included schools like MIT, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Purdue...and Idaho," she said with a smile. "When we said we were from Idaho, people kind of chuckled. I think they thought of us as cute, but not likely to be competitive, but the opinions changed after our first presentation."
By the time the competition ended two days later, the Idaho team had won $25,000, which included $1,000 for Anderson's winning 60-second pitch, $4,000 for the team's fifth-place finish and $20,000 for the Courageous Women Entrepreneur Award.
That award came from a national women's investment group called nCourage, which Anderson says has now offered to help raise the rest of the money for the Solanux start-up.
In addition, she has been advised by the Texas Angel network that they want her to present to one of their groups in July
Most of the initial funding of about $1.5 million has come from J.R. Simplot, the Boise-based potato-products giant. And while the goal of the initial fund-raising effort has been $2.5 million, she confides that the target is now likely to double.
"We'll likely be looking now to raise $5 million because Simplot wants to expand the pilot testing phase and we want to produce a potato chip with this process, go after our own product," she said.
Her first visibility following the Rice event was in early April on CNN Money's website, where the 60-second elevator pitches by Anderson and others were featured (and which you can see on YouTube, as she talks holding up the potato, which she says she "carried everywhere" in Houston).
It hadn't been Anderson's intent to steal the show, but rather to use the competition to take a key step toward attracting investor attention for Solanux, which uses enzymes and chemicals to turn dehydrated potatoes into a healthy food product rather than starch.
"Enzymes and chemicals are used to stabilize the cell walls around potato starch, which slows digesting of the starch and increases the fiber in potatoes," Anderson said in explaining the process. "The process is used when raw potatoes are being converted to dehydrated potato flakes, granules or flour and the dried ingredients have increased health benefits, like lowering glycemic response, aiding with weight reduction and acting like a natural probiotic."
"These products will benefit diabetics, people that have allergies to corn or wheat starch products (Solanux products will be gluten free), and people that simply want more healthy (and more variety) potato products," she added.
When the product was brought to Anderson's attention in the university's tech-transfer office, she put a team together that named the product ("Solanum is Latin for potato, but I figured if we substituted an 'x' for the 'm,' it would sound techie," she explained in an interview) and has been guiding its progress.
The process was perfected by U of I food scientist Kerry Huber, who is part of the Solanux team, as is Jacob Pierson, a third-year law student with a master's in bioinformatics, whom she credits with much of the success at the Rice competition.
Anderson will be staying with the company in a key-executive capacity as future progress develops under the watchful eyes of Simplot executives. Going along with Anderson will be her husband, currently the U of I swim coach, and their teen-age sons.
It was the swimming focus of her family (her 15 and 17-year-old sons are competitive swimmers) that actually guided Anderson's first entrepreneurial venture, a learn-to-swim video called Waterproof Kids, a CD available at Wal-Mart and through Amazon. Asked if they provide her an income, she said "A little, but not enough to quit my day job."
Anderson admits that Solanux is the first tech-transfer product that ever tempted her to leave academia for the private sector. But she says when she saw U of I president N. Dwayne Nellis at an event two weekends ago and advised him of her decision to leave, he convinced her to instead take a two-year entrepreneurial leave.
In what may be the makings of a marketing pitch for products that are eventually created from the Solanux process, Anderson enthuses: "This may be our best hope for eating French fries without self-hate."
When David LeClaire conceived and launched Wine World Warehouse in late 2010, his vision was to be the "big dog on the block" of wine stores in the Northwest. But 16 months later, he's hoping to map a strategy to keep his wine superstore successful in the face of the pending arrival of the 900-pounds gorillas of the business.
The "gorillas" are the two $1 billion players for whom Washington State held no interest because the state controlled the business of selling liquor, which is a key source of revenue for the multi-state operations of Total Wine & More, and BevMo!
That lack of interest by the biggest players was part of the impetus when LeClaire decided a couple of years ago to pursue his longtime goal of a wine superstore in Seattle and gathered a team of investors.
But the competitive world changed, of course, with overwhelming voter approval last November of Initiative 1183, which puts the state out of the liquor business on June 1. Grocery stores and others with over 10,000 square feet of space will begin legally selling spirits for the first time since the start of Prohibition.
The websites of both Concord, CA-based Total Wine and Connecticut-based BevMo! now tout that Washington residents will soon be able to take advantage of their discount prices of hundreds of brands of wine, beer and spirits.
LeClaire's Wine World is no small player, boasting more than 500 wines from Northwest wineries and over 6000 wines from all over the world in its 23,000 square feet of space in a location adjacent to and highly visible from I-5 just north of downtown.
And because of its size, it will be one of the few facilities other than grocery stores that will be permitted to sell liquor, as LeClaire intends to do come June 1. The facility will be devoting the back end of the store to a selection of premium and local spirits.
But Wine World's size is David vs. Total Wine's Goliath, with each of its stores carrying about 8,000 different types of wine, 3,000 types of spirits and 2,500 different beers. BevMo! Is slightly smaller but similar in its array of offerings.
LeClaire had spent more than a decade doing wine-related events around the county and building relationships in the industry with his Wine Events & Promotions company, as well as creating the two largest wine clubs in the Northwest, Seattle Uncorked and Portland Uncorked.
But LeClaire seems optimistic that his long-term relationships, as well as new-found ones generated by the type of events he's created, as well as the fact the giants have been suburban-based operations, will put him in a position to continue to have a successful niche.
"People in the suburbs are very chain friendly," LeClaire said, "But there's a lot of pushback from the inner cities, where no one really wants a Walmart. Neither has really ever cracked the inner city." In fact, residents of Santa Barbara, CA, put up such a fuss against a plan by Total Wine to locate there that the company cancelled that plan.
"We know that both have already signed three leases each with both being in South Center with other locations set for Silverdale, Tacoma, Bellevue and Spokane," LeClaire said.
"The challenge these big guys represent is that they will have large campaigns and they'll grind down the competition on price," he added. "We're not going to be able to compete on price. We'll have to continue to do events that make it fun to come to our store," noting that their wine club now has about 3,000 members.
"We get a lot of trade groups from around the country and the world," LeClaire said. "We had a collection of wineries from Argentina and have 30 winemakers from Italy next month."
He said the visiting wine groups use Wine World as a venue to display their wares for restaurants and other customers.
So how has business gone since the December, 2010, opening? "We had a huge surge at first but then things slowed a bit and we underperformed the first year vs. our plan," he said. "But then things started kicking in in October and people came in, and many told their friends about us."
So innovative events that attract wine lovers will become increasingly important for LeClaire and his business as the competition begins to heat up. And what kind of innovative new events are in the works?
"We have a dog food tasting event next month," he explained. "So while the owners are tasting wine, their dogs will be tasting various doggie offerings."
The Washington Legislature ensured that the controversy over charter schools will become a focus in the state's gubernatorial campaign by specifically rejecting charters as part of any education-reform efforts in a bill that creates a handful of what will be called "collaborative schools."
The manner in which the legislation was conceived and approved, at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire after she specifically warned that she would veto any bill authorizing charter schools, has "controversy" written all over it.
Passed in the midst of an extended session aimed at resolving the state's budget crisis, the bill is titled "collaborative schools for innovation and success pilot program." It calls for a five-year program involving six elementary schools, each of which will be operated by pairing to-be-determined school districts with colleges of education in the state.
The bill basically does two things that, for sure, won't make proponents of dramatic change in the state's education system very happy. It requires, basically, that all parts of the current schools infrastructure -- administrators, teachers unions and what's called "the professional education standards board" - must sign off on any innovative programs conceived for the handful of schools permitted to participate. And it ensures that no wholesale changes would be possible until the five years of testing for those few schools provided for in the bill have been fulfilled and evaluated.
One of those left unhappy is Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the respected African-American Democrat whose House district includes some of Seattle's at-risk neighborhoods and who had co-sponsored a bill to permit charter schools in Washington State.
"This bill isn't even close," Pettigrew told me in a telephone interview. "We have been doing things the same way for too long and accepting a certain failure rate and I don't think that's acceptable."
"Charter schools provide the flexibility to be nimble in seeking education changes," he added. "Probably the most frustrating thing about the entire experience is that discussion of what's best for the kids never seems to really conclude before it trails off into organizations that will need to be involved."
The comment frames the reason for controversy over charter schools in this state, one of the last nine in which charters are prohibited. Whether what's best for the kids is the unquestioned number one issue inevitably collides with many teachers and teacher advocates who will insist that even if kids' needs are the priority, what's good for teachers is also an issue. The stronger the teachers union in a state, the more that conflict comes into play.
The Seattle Times, in a January editorial on the bill proposed by Pettigrew and Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said: "Political courage is often lacking in Olympia, making Pettigrew's willingness to buck the Democratic Party's usual fidelity to the Washington Education Association all the more striking."
"Expect contentious debate," The Times editorial continued. "In particular, the teachers union sees charter schools as a threat. Yes, Washington state voters rejected charter-school proposals three times. But we know a lot more about these innovative public schools since the last failed measure in 2004."
Indicating that his "courage" isn't likely to wane in the coming months as likely Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer Jay Inslee picks up the education ball his party has crafted for him and runs with it, Pettigrew said "if the unions or even my fellow Democrats want to come after me, fine."
Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee who has promised to make education reform and funding a focal point of his campaign, says of the collaborative-schools idea "There is no evidence that they will actually work. Moreover, it will take years before we know if they do."
"I support trying new approaches to improve education for our children right now," he added. "And a smarter approach would be to adopt models that have a proven track record of success, like high-performing public charter schools that are working in 41 other states."
McKenna says both collaborative schools and charter schools should be "tools in the toolkit" for those seeking a new education model.
Inslee, in a wide-ranging blueprint for education reform to create "An innovative, accountable education system: building a better future for every child and a stronger economy for Washington," called for change in most aspects of the economy that might impact education funding.
Thus his plan for educational reform and adequate funding calls for "reinvigorating the economy..." "Reverse the trend of healthcare inflation eating into education spending..." "Sunset corporate tax loopholes that have outlived their purpose..." and "Expand a system of quality improvement to all government agencies..."
Inslee says his "vision for an education system by 2020" includes that "achievement and opportunity gaps among students are eliminated."
An ongoing challenge for Inslee and Democrats in rejecting the idea of even having charter schools on the education-reform table is that some prominent, long-time Democrat supporters appear reluctant to get aboard.
Perhaps most challenging for them is Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and avowed "lifelong Democrat and committed progressive," who views Republican positions on social issues and taxation as "misguided," but says "McKenna is on the right track and we are not" on school reform.
"We may be headed in the right direction, but we aren't in the right lane," Hanauer told the head of the state teachers' union in a February e-mail exchange. "It is not classroom teachers who are afraid of change and innovation, it is their union."
While charter schools are anathema to teachers' unions, they have gathered supporters from among some of those who toil in the classrooms, including Erin Gustafson, who grew up on Mercer Island but began her teaching career in one of California's poverty pockets.
"My path to supporting charters began 16 years ago when I taught fifth grade at a high-poverty school in Vallejo," Gustason told me. "I became disillusioned with the poor teaching, union rules that protected that, and the restrictions of operating in a large system."
Gustafson, now married and the mother of children 9 and 7 and a substitute teacher, became involved in a new teacher-created education-reform non-profit called Teachers United, born a year ago with the goal of "giving teachers a voice in policy debates."
She is now policy director for the group, which advocated last session for charter schools as one of the choices that need to be available in Washington State. She was among teachers from the organization who testified before the legislature's education committees on behalf of charter schools.
"After doing a lot of research and visiting several public charter schools in California, I have come to believe that successful public charters are an effective way of closing the achievement gap," she said. "We took teachers who were interested to visit high-performance charters across the country and, for those teachers, seeing was believing so they decided to advocate for charters."
John Ellis, who was a reluctant CEO looking forward to retirement when he was called on 20 years ago to help find local owners to save the Seattle Mariners' franchise, admits that he wasn't even a baseball fan when he undertook the almost-lost cause of saving baseball for Seattle
Then-Gov. Mike Lowry recalls
legislative solution to fund what
became Safeco Field
(See sidebar below)
"I didn't know much about baseball and wasn't really a baseball guy," Ellis admits, reflecting back on the events of late '91, early 1992. And he didn't really understand how deeply
embroiled he would become when he undertook the role that Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, and subsequently other business leaders, urged on him, a role in which he soon found how challenging saving the franchise would be.
"I'm not sure if, to this day, anyone really knows how close we were to losing this franchise," says Ellis, who eventually served as chief executive officer of the Seattle Mariners and remains, 13 years after retirement, the team's primary representative to major league baseball.
It's a tale that deserves to be retold at a time when, rather than preparing a celebratory anniversary event for the Mariners to applaud what was achieved two decades ago, community leaders and baseball fans seem intent on railing against the Mariners for a variety of perceived shortcomings.
It was in the midst of last week's outcry over the Mariners' push back on the idea of a new arena that they legitimately pointed out could bring a couple hundred more traffic-generating events a year to the Sodo neighborhood that I visited with Ellis over lunch. It was a visit scheduled several weeks ago so the controversy itself wasn't the topic of conversation, other than a brief, frustrated reference to it by Ellis.
I wanted his reflections on those tense days in late 1991, early '92, when an unlikely alliance of a dramatically wealthy Japanese businessman, a group of wealthy young local tech executives and a couple of senior community leaders was cobbled together to keep major league baseball in Seattle.
Ellis, as CEO of Bellevue-based Puget Sound Power & Light Co., had agreed to serve as an advisory board member to Mariner owner George Argyros, then to succeeding owner Jeff Smulyan, both commitments made as a community leader rather than baseball devotee. Thus he was logical member of a special advisory group Seattle's mayor turned to when it became clear Smulyan intended to sell the team.
"Norm's idea was for us to go out and find someone to buy the team, which at that point was appraised at $100 million," Ellis recalled. "After poking around for awhile looking for a possible buyer, we finally told the mayor we couldn't find anyone crazy enough to put up $100 million to buy a baseball team."
At that point, Ellis figured he could go ahead with his plan to retire as CEO of the region's largest investor-owned utility, get on his boat and set out on a leisurely cruise to Alaska, as he had long planned to do.
But over that late December of '91, Sen. Slade Gorton's own efforts on behalf of saving the Mariners uncovered, to his astonishment, in a visit with Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa, an interest by his father in law, Haricho Yamauchi, purported then to be the third richest man in Japan, to buy the Mariners.
Ellis was quickly sucked into a furious effort to figure out how to get major league baseball, whose antipathy to any foreign ownership but Japanese ownership most of all, to even consider Yamauchi's offer while averting a sale to someone else that would render meaningless any Seattle effort.
After an aborted effort by "a totally naïve local group, led by the most naïve guy of all (referring to himself)" to meet with commissioner of baseball, Ellis found himself summoned to a what he describes as "a secret meeting," a "cloak-and-dagger"-like, assumed-name visit in St. Petersburg, FL, with unnamed major league owners.
Ellis arrived at the designated hotel and checked in for a meeting that never occurred with a small group of owners whose identity he never learned. But what did occur told him how close Seattle was to having the team leave before the efforts to save the franchise could even gain traction.
"I looked at the hotel shop across from the front desk and saw they were selling Tampa Bay Mariners shirts and hats," he said. "That experience and a couple of others that followed made it clear that the deal to move the team to Tampa Bay was already in the works.
"the simple fact is that if we hadn't put this together when we did, beating Smulyan's contractual deadline to get out of his Kingdome lease, the team would have been gone," Ellis said.
So as the Seattle-ownership deal began to gain traction, both the group of owners who had been brought together to join Yamauchi and Arakawa, and later, major league baseball executives as their opposition eased, insisted that Ellis be a part of the leadership of the team.
"At the June meeting of the owners, after all their conditions for our ownership group had finally been met, they told me they had two remaining conditions," Ellis recalls. "First they said they wanted me to serve as the team's rep to major league baseball, the person each team has who is empowered to act without anyone else's approval.
"The other condition floored me," he said with a smile. "They said they expected the owners' rep to have a significant financial interest in the team. I replied 'can you tell me what you mean by significant?' and they all broke out laughing because they had gotten to know me and knew the extent to which I could be involved. My financial role ended up being not very substantial."
But his involvement as CEO, between then and his retirement at the age of 71 at the end of the '99 season, was extensive and, as he recalls, every time he thought he'd be able to hand over the reins and head out on that boat trip to Alaska, a new challenge emerged.
First task was finding a new manager who would represent a statement. So after convincing Chuck Armstrong to come aboard as president and retaining Woody Woodward as general manager, he asked the two of them who should be the new manager "The guy atop both their lists was Lou Pinella."
The events that unfolded between then and his retirement included the Kingdome roof collapsing, the players strike, the memorable end-of-season race to the league championship series in 1995, the struggle to get voter approval for a new stadium, legislative alternative when the vote failed.
Although he retired in 1999, the stage had been set with the players and team executives who would two years later set the American League record for victories in a season at 116.
Since 2000 he has been the franchise's chairman emeritus, but has remained on the executive committee of major league baseball and has continued to be the Mariners' representative to MLB and on the ownership committee.
He remains a one-of-a-kind in major league baseball: as the team's retired top executive who never had more than a tiny piece of ownership but who is still viewed by the other teams' owners as the most important voice of Seattle baseball.
Mike Lowry recalls '95 legislative pact that
cemented franchise with stadium funding
While John Ellis gets legitimate credit for his role in saving the Seattle Mariner franchise in 1992, of equal importance was Gov. Mike Lowry's role three years later when he brought the franchise back from the edge by getting the Legislature to agree on a new-stadium funding package.
A 1995 ballot measure to impose a sales-tax increase to fund construction of a new stadium was pushed from hopeless to near passage by the miraculous late-season dramatics of the Mariners that included a memorable victory over the New York Yankees before a championship-series loss to Cleveland.
"After that sales-tax ballot issue failed by the razor-thin margin of about one-tenth of a percent, I remember Ellis calling a news conference to say the team would be put up for sale because it was losing a lot of money in the Kingdome," Lowry told me Tuesday in an e-mail exchange.
Lowry recalled that he was approached by his longtime friends, public-relations executive Bob Gogerty and Boeing's chief of governmental affairs, Bud Coffey, as well as the mayor and county executive, asking him to call a special legislative session to find a stadium-funding solution.
"I frankly wanted to do that," Lowry said, "because they had run a great campaign in their narrow sales-tax ballot loss. It was a media campaign that featured tremendous commercials that had young kids who were playing baseball morphing into the actual Mariner players, like Ken Griffey with a tag line that I think went like 'Heroes need a place to grow and become real.'"
Lowry says he called Ellis to ask if the owners could hold off on seeking to sell the team until he had a chance to see if he could get the lawmakers to agree to a brief special session limited to the Mariners' issue.
"I frankly got a positive reaction from the legislative leaders," Lowry noted. "I guess they didn't want to lose the Mariners either."
Thus in something that could probably have only happened in the political environment of yesterday, Lowry was able to work out a deal with key Democrats and Republicans from both houses on what he remembers as "a totally new funding package that was importantly different from the sale-tax measure."
"It was composed of taxes that were mostly on the users and beneficiaries of the new stadium, like admission taxes and sports bar taxes," he said. "As I recall, the only new tax in the package that was a stretch to say it was a beneficiary of the stadium was on rental cars."
In recalling his feelings in undertaking the legislative initiative, Lowry said "I simply did not want Seattle and the state to have the image of losing that major sports franchise. That struck me as Rust Belt."
Now that the so-called crowd-funding measure has whipped through Congress with a speed and level of bipartisan support unheard of in recent years, the effort to make it fulfill its promise of creating new companies and jobs begins. And that may prove more challenging than its passage.
Before any entrepreneur with a can't-fail idea rushes to the Internet in hope of attracting a crowd of investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission must first set the rules on how provisions of the law will be permitted to play out. The agency has 180 days to fulfill those duties.
The legislation, called the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS) will dramatically expand the way new companies can raise money and the reduce the oversight for smaller companies doing initial public offerings.
After quick congressional approval last week, President Obama, who admits he first learned about the proposal in early March, will be signing the bill Thursday.
Supporters view it as a major breakthrough for funding entrepreneurial startups and thus eventually creating jobs. Critics are convinced it is a funding disaster in the making. Both will have to wait to see what the SEC comes up with.
That process that will draw its own critics as it unfolds and the fact it's now in the SEC's hands will likely create some apprehension for friends and opponents alike.
More than a few cynics have suggested that the bill's acronym, JOBS, is a key reason few in Congress dared oppose it despite a lot of whispered reservations.
What the bill seeks to achieve is the opportunity for people (crowds) to organize via internet websites to fund companies. Using the internet to raise money is a process that's long been utilized for charitable and entertainment purposes.
The crowd funding approach would open the way for people to invest as little as $500 and up to $10,000 in startups, eliminating the long-time steep financial requirement for investors, other than what's known as "friends and family" investors.
The kind of hype that has marked the rapid progress of this legislation through Congress is nowhere better displayed than on the website of Crowdfunding Offerings, which pitches its ability to provide an investment platform for "the crowd."
So here's the firm's pitch:
"Crowdfunding investing will allow start-ups and existing businesses to raise funds for their companies directly from the public who will invest small amounts of money in return for shares in the company. Americans will finally have the opportunity to invest in ways that have historically been reserved only for the wealthy. Together, America's entrepreneurs and investors will launch the next great ideas of our time!"
When I write occasionally about angel-investing issues, I turn to friends from Montana to California who are leaders among angel investors, with an occasional venture capitalist thrown in. Their collective insights inevitably create a better understanding of the issues, but disagreements among them frequently abound. And so it was with the crowd-funding measure.
The most vocal and opinionated among my angel friends on this issue is Bill Payne, who summers in the Flathead Valley of Montana and winters in the Las Vegas area. Payne, who gets to a conviction about his views because of the respect he receives from angel investors across the West and beyond, describes the bill as "a train wreck waiting to happen."
"Lots of investors will get scammed," Payne suggests. "Just give it a couple of years and Congress will be asking the SEC how they ever let this happen!".
Mike Elconin, San Diego-based leader of the major Southern California angel-investor organization Tech Coast Angels, sums up a concern that even some proponents share.
"The danger is that this new law will engender an expansion of boiler rooms in which slick sales people convince unsophisticated investors to put money into companies at highly inflated valuations," says Elconin. "Whether you think this is a problem for government to prevent, or a matter of buyer beware, depends on your political philosophy."
Dan Rosen, a respected Seattle attorney-investor and a policy director for the Angel Capital Association (ACA), is among those who supported the legislation and helped author an ACA internet post to help inform angels on the bill
Rosen, at the invitation of the White House, will be on hand at the bill signing Thursday.
Liz Marchi, who presides over the Kalispell-based Frontier Angel Network, frames why many supporters have looked beyond those concerns at what many perceive as the underlying importance of the legislation.
"While there will inevitably be some hiccups in the execution of crowd-funding, I think it's a major breakthrough for early stage seed capital," she said. "Congress has certainly allowed some risk with this bill, but it drives private capital down the food chain where it is desperately needed to seed innovation."
Tom Simpson, former venture-capital leader who now heads the Spokane Angel Alliance, sees the new law as "not perfect, but a step in the right direction."
"But I agree with Payne that the more investors a new company has, the more the likelihood for problems," he added.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who conceived the measure, offers perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of it.
He explained that the long-time practice of people funding their new businesses by mortgaging their homes is basically no longer possible. So a new source of start-up capital was necessary, particularly in the face of the disappearing hope of bank financing.
My own sense is that the typical congressional supporters of the bill went through the following conversation with themselves:
"Job creation is so politically important today that if it costs investors a few thousand dollars each down the road, it's worth it. Somebody has to pick up the tab for creating jobs and we certainly can't. Poor people buy lottery tickets all the time taking risk far greater than investing in a start-up company. So let's get on with it."
When the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame was created 25 years ago to recognize business leaders from the past who had contributed to the economic growth of the region, some quietly expressed concern that the event might soon run out of past leaders to honor.
A quarter century on, as Junior Achievement of Washington and Puget Sound Business Journal prepare to induct four new laureates into the Hall of Fame, it's become clear that the region had no shortage of business leaders to celebrate.
In fact, while the event retains the name "Puget Sound," it has grown in the past couple of years to include Eastern Washington business leaders among those eligible for selection.
Thus at a time when the quest for heroes in business is perhaps more important than it has ever been, the number of business leaders chosen over the years to be honored at this unique annual event passes 100 Thursday evening when the following four laureates are inducted:
Jim Douglas, who created Northgate as the nation's first shopping center designed as a mall, helped launch Seafair as part of the celebration of Seattle's 100th anniversary and and became the "pitchman" for the vision that became the Space Needle, symbol of Century 21.
Edie Hilliard, A radio pioneer as one of the first female general managers of a major market station, who then built one of the nation's largest independent radio networks.
Budd Gould, founder and principal owner, and still president, of Anthony's Restaurants, who brought the essence of waterfront dining to communities from Bellingham to Spokane and Richland to Bend.
William Ruckelshaus, perhaps the nation's leading environmental figure of the past half century. who served two presidents as administrator of the EPA and also fashioned a career in the private sector as CEO of Browning Ferris Industries and senior vice president of Weyerhaeuser Co. He now is strategic director at Madrona Venture Group.
It was the late Jack Ehrig, Seattle ad-agency head and a key supporter of Junior Achievement, who in 1986 approached me, as publisher of PSBJ, about creating a local event that would parallel the national Business Hall of Fame event for which FORTUNE Magazine was the partner of JA.
FORTUNE chose the laureates for JA to honor in those years, producing a special insert in the magazine to introduce them to its readers and JA honored the national laureates at a prestigious annual banquet that cities competed for because it attracted some of the biggest names in business nationally.
In a similar manner, laureate selection became the role for PSBJ and JA produced the first banquet to honor those selected in 1987.
FORTUNE's rule was that honorees had to be retired from day-to-day involvement with the companies where they had built their reputations. That sounded to me like a good way to ensure there wouldn't be any lobbying on behalf of a currently active CEO so that became our rule as well. That also has changed a few years ago with the induction of Eastside business leader and developer Kemper Freeman, still very much active in his business.
From the outset, I populated the selection committee with people who were not only business icons in their own right, but also understood far more about business history than I did. Thus each annual selection gathering became a lesson in local business lore.
And it was the insight of those members of the selection committee, including from the outset longtime community and business leader Jim Ellis, who personally knew more than half a century worth of the prospects, that brought forward well-known and not-so-well-known names from the past.
Because of the prominence of JA Seattle in the national organization, particularly because we had built what many viewed as the best local hall of fame program in JA, it became logical for the Seattle JA leadership to seek to have the national event in Seattle.
That finally occurred in 1992, which happened to be the year that Steve Jobs, then between jobs since he had been edged out of Apple a few years earlier, was a laureate. But Jobs, with typical unpredictability, apparently decided he didn't care to head up to Seattle from Silicon Valley for the event and the word spread the day of the banquet that he wouldn't be there.
But by late afternoon, to the relief of all, it was learned that Jobs had changed his mind and would, in fact, be on hand to accept his award. Only a few insiders were aware that FORTUNE publisher Jim Hayes, a high-visibility figure at the national banquet, had telephone Jobs to advise him that if he failed to show up, his name would never again appear in the magazine.
The business leaders of JA Washington in 2008, led by longtime venture capital executive Woody Howse and wine-industry leader Michael Towers, began building a case for the return of the national event to Seattle.
But it soon became clear, as the Great Recession got its grip on the nation's financial throat, that the world had changed. National gatherings of business leaders for something like a Hall of Fame banquet, and the significant corporate financial support necessary to carry it off, soon seemed unrealistic. None has been held since then.
But the JA Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame remains a viable and important reminder each year of the role successful business leaders can play in representing role models for the business leaders of today and the young people of JA who will be the business leaders of tomorrow.
If a company deserve to be judged by the leader it keeps and leaders by the companies they build, then Alaska Air Group and its chairman and CEO Bill Ayer should be judged well.
Ayer, 57, who steered the company for the past decade through an increasingly successful flight while for the rest of the "legacy" airlines the 10 years proved an image-scaring and scary ride, has announced that he is officially turning over the CEO reins to Alaska president Brad Tilden.
Ayer, who has spent more than 30 years in the industry since launching his own little start-up airline in his mid-20s, offered some reflections this week on his career from entrepreneur through leadership of the nation's seventh largest airline. And those reflections by its leader, shared in an e-mail exchange of questions and answers, indicate why Alaska has remained a favorite of investors, its customers and its communities.
Two of Ayer's convictions are that you learn from, rather than make fun of, your competitors and that a small-company feel makes it easier for employees to work together and be open to change, no matter how big the company.
The former is perhaps best exemplified by an email exchange we had several years ago after Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary suggested his lowest-cost Irish airline (frequently also referred to as the cheapest airline) might consider charging for use of airborne restrooms.
I suggested to Ayer that it might be time to revive the amusing television ads from years ago that showed the travails of a passenger who needs a 25-cent fee for entry to his plane's restroom and proceeds to try to obtain the quarter for an increasingly high price from passengers on the plane.
"You never want to make fun of competitors' actions because you never know what steps you might be required to take yourself," he e-mailed back.
I asked him this week about that exchange and his reluctance to criticize competitors.
"Sometimes what seems like a lousy idea from a competitor turns out to be pretty
Smart," he replied. "If we have a 'we're better than you' attitude, we won't take the time to evaluate it.
"Our focus has been on controlling what we can control and not simply hoping that something bad happens to a competitor to improve our situation," Ayer added. "We were surprised at how controllable our business was once we started to really focus on what we could do differently."
The fact that Ayer was an entrepreneur, then executive of a fast-growing start-up airline before joining Alaska in 1995 as vice president of marketing and planning has undoubtedly guided his belief in the need to retain a small-company feel.
He was in his mid-20s, a regional manager for Piper Aircraft Co., when he launched Air Olympia, a small commuter serving several Washington cities that operated for two years.
He jokes that "we didn't go broke, but probably would have if we had stuck with it."
Instead, he was lured to close up his little carrier and join the late Milt Kuolt and his team at the fledgling Horizon in 1982, the relationship that eventually led to Ayer's role atop the parent company of both airlines. Alaska acquired Horizon in 1987, along with Ayer.
Bruce McCaw, a Kuolt confidante and one of his key advisors, recalls that "Milt was quite impressed with Ayer, even though he was very young at the time. He knew Bill was smart and had a lot of good ideas."
"I liked Bill from the moment we met and we worked well together," McCaw recalled.
Ayer remembers Air Olympia as "a great place to start, although it felt like a leap into the
deep end of the pool. That experience convinced me that I had a passion for
this business which I should pursue."
He recalls the days with Horizon as "difficult. We were always worried about having enough cash to make payroll. But (it) shaped our conservative approach."
The shaping of that financially conservative approach undoubtedly helped guide Ayer's decisions as he steered Alaska basically unscathed through a decade of airline-industry turbulence that saw all of its legacy competitors go through bankruptcy.
So now Ayer turns the reins over to Tilden, expressing the conviction that "a CEO can overstay his or her welcome" and "there should be different leaders for different times."
He and the Alaska board, which Ayer says he's had involved over the past couple of years in the planning of the transition to Tilden, view him as "exactly the right leader to take us to the next level." The skills that Ayer and others see in Tilden may indicate that a company is also judged by the leadership-successor it picks.
The uncertain future course of national health care is retarding fledgling efforts to expand what's known as "compassionate care" for cancer patients as hospitals in Seattle and elsewhere are proving reluctant to launch new cancer programs that drain rather than enhance revenue.
Matt Loscalzo, who helped develop the concept of "psychosocial" programs as the underpinning of "compassionate care" for cancer patients and their families, laments that major hospitals around the country have been reluctant to incorporate it into their treatment programs.
But Loscalzo. executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at the respected City of Hope in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, is careful not to criticize the major hospitals, including those with highly touted cancer-care programs, for failing to move toward psychosocial treatment programs.
"All hospitals and institutions are holding their collective breath over the challenges they face," Loscalzo says. "These hospitals represent a lot of good people under a lot of stress. First they have to keep the lights on, then attract good people, then meet a tremendous amount of regulation, insurance challenges and Medicare cutbacks."
Loscalzo is a pioneer nationally in the development of psychosocial programs and he has guided development of a touchscreen tablet that allows cancer patients to deal with the mental and emotional issues beyond their medical problems.
The device, called SupportScreen, is a cornerstone of City of Hope's leading-edge focus on compassionate care. The device, which is programmed specifically for each patient, is designed to electronically record distress levels, through answers on touchpads, by asking cancer patients to identify and rate their practical, social and emotional problems along with medical information.
Patients reveal concerns that might otherwise go unrecognized, such as mental health imbalances, stresses over personal finances or insurance coverage concerns, or suicidal thoughts. The information, which the patient knows will be shared with the entire healthcare team, allows that team to immediately provide integrated treatments and crises interventions.
And because of the efforts of a philanthropic couple who maintain residences in both Los Angeles and Seattle, visibility for SupportScreen will be coming to Seattle and, with it, a heightened awareness of what compassionate care actually means to cancer patients' outcomes.
Loscalzo's other role at City of Hope is as administrative director of the Sheri and Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, created nearly four years ago through the vision and financial support of the Billers to create an international model of compassionate care. His psychosocial program, including, the touchscreen tablet, is a major part of the Biller Center's unique offerings.
The reach and influence of the Billers has given Loscalzo's efforts a major boost. Sheri is chair of the City of Hope board and Les is retired vice chair of Wells Fargo and current board chair for Spokane-based Sterling Savings.
Loscalzo's goal is to move the psychosocial program concept, complete with the SupportScreen, into the mainstream of cancer care, expanding its reach well beyond the handful of cancer hospitals where the program is now being introduced. The only other one in the West, in addition to the City of Hope, is the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, which Loscalzo describes as "a fairly new center that is really trying to get is program up and running."
"The number of cancer survivors nationally is nearing 12 million and for them, psychosocial is going to be a part of the rest of their lives," Loscalzo says. "There are humanistic and financial costs for ignoring the psychosocial needs of patients and their families, as well as of cancer survivors."
In the nearly four years since their philanthropy allowed the Biller Center to open, the Billers have made the City of Hope's focus on compassionate care, including the SupportScreen, their cause.
It was because of a friendship with the Billers and a personal interest in the cancer initiatives there that I was able to get a first-hand look late last year at the programs of City of Hope and its almost unique focus on compassionate care. thus I had a chance to meet key players there, including Dr. Michael Friedman, who is president an CEO, and Loscalzo.
Because the Billers are givers, they share the willingness of all practiced philanthropists to also be askers, tapping friends, colleagues and associates to support their cause with personal involvement and financial support.
For three years, Sheri Biller's "ask" has been on behalf of a team of what she calls "Resource Racers" in an all-women's half marathon in New York City to raise money to augment the basic support for the Biller Center at City of Hope that's provided by the Biller Family Foundation.
This year, the call has gone out from both Sheri and Les Biller for "generous" contributions to her Resource Racers, including men as participants for the first time, for the Rock 'n Roll Marathon/Half Marathon in Seattle in late June. The donations this year will go specifically to expand the use and the number of SupportScreens available to City of Hope's cancer patients.
That may well bring visibility for the first time to cancer-care supporters in the Northwest, who may legitimately ask "why not here," given the cancer-care reputations of major hospitals in Seattle and Portland.
Meanwhile, Loscalzo's vision is to develop a touchscreen specifically aimed at children suffering from cancer. But that may be a ways off.
"We want to incorporate things like animation into the software of the SupportScreens we develop for youngsters," Loscalzo says. "A rough estimate is that we'll need about $1 million for development of those children's screens."
There's nothing that could make residents of places like Washington, Oregon or Montana feel better about how their states are being run than to be plunked down for a few weeks in California and get an amusing and bemusing look at the dysfunctional workings of the nation's most populous state.
Everything about California is big, and that includes the massive budget deficit that has been the focus of governor-again Jerry Brown since he was sworn in a year ago as the literal political-comeback kid.
Now comes what may be the biggest challenge ever faced by local governments and economic-development entities in California. More than 400 redevelopment organizations around the Golden State are scheduled to go out of existence on Feb. 1 and some of their financial obligations will be absorbed into the general funds of local governments in those areas where the EDAs now exist.
Part of the predicted fallout will be that states like the aforementioned Northwest ones will be cranking up their California recruitment efforts looking to woo businesses away from a place where they don't seem to be wanted.
That would be an unfortunate misimpression about California because local communities and economic-development organizations across the state strive mightily to create jobs in their areas with innovative ideas and initiatives, despite the image the state policies have fostered.
Four of the largest redevelopment agencies in California are all in the job-hungry Coachella Valley. Those are La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert - communities well known to Northwesterners who trek south to the desert each winter in search of sun.
Redevelopment agencies provide funding for road, sewer, lighting and affordable-housing projects across the state under a 65-year-old law that allowed a city or county to create a redevelopment area to address urban blight. RDAs receive related property-tax revenue increases, known as tax increments.
All this chaos came about because a legislature-approved plan conceived and proposed by Brown sought to coerce the RDAs to give up $1.7 billion in increased property-tax funds if they wanted to continue to exist. It was branded the "pay-ransom-or-die redevelopment system" by the California Redevelopment Association.
Part of the reason that the governor and legislature viewed the RDAs as a good place from which to divert revenue is that for all the good works done by the RDAs in creating opportunities for developers to invest in communities and transform downtrodden areas, examples of excess and abuse occurred.
To be sure, there have been blatant instances of excess on the part of some RDAs as eminent domain was sometimes used to seize private property that was then transferred to developers along with cash subsidies.
But even if sometimes developers seemed to get deals that smacked of favoritism,
many local officials and economic-development leaders would contend that the RDAs usually fulfilled their promise of revitalizing decaying communities and creating jobs.
Billions were invested over the decades to dramatically rebuild dilapidated downtowns, creating millions of jobs for Californians and hundreds of thousands of low-income housing units for growing numbers of homeless families.
Defenders of the value of redevelopment might logically suggest that killing RDAs is a little like saying examples of Medicare excess or fraud mean that Medicare should be abandoned.
During his first stint as California chief executive, Brown's mantra involved a focus on creating lower expectations for his state's citizens. In this new era of spending realities, he's being forced to impose lowered expectations rather than just urge their acceptance.
Part of his implementing lower expectations by fiat was to have local development entities settle for less and divert their funds to education, roads and fire departments as he sought to balance priorities while dealing with the $20 billion deficit.
The California Supreme Court, in a two-part decision, ruled late last year that the state had the right to kill the agencies. But it didn't have the constitutional right to condition their continued existence on their agreement to pay the state an annual fee based on their portion of property tax revenues.
So, unless there's an unlikely 11th-hour reprieve by the legislature, which even the governor's allies say he doesn't seem interested in achieving since it was the RDA organization that took him to court, the RDAs close up next week.
So what happens then? The real estate assets of the RDAs need to be sold off. But some obligations of longer-term nature that must be satisfied will become the obligation of city general funds.
That's likely to be the start of an extended period of financial uncertainty for cities and counties, as well as for the real estate market that will be flooded with several thousand commercial properties that will need to be sold at fire-sale prices.
George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times' political columnist who joined the newspaper the same year Brown was first elected in 1974 and thus has the unusual perspective of having covered both Jerry Browns.
Skelton was a long-ago political-writing colleague at United Press International before he joined The Times so I emailed him last week to ask if we could visit about "the two Jerry Browns."
He followed up by writing a column on the subject following Brown's second State of the State address. Skelton recalled Brown's 1976 State of the State as "best remembered for one depressing, if prophetic, line: 'We are entering an era of limits.'
The state's current situation is clearly an immersion in an era of limits.
The now-73 year old Brown, during his 1974-82 tenure, was tagged as "Governor Moonbeam" for proposing that the state develop its own communications satellite.
Skelton says the old "Gov. Moonbeam" still exists. And Brown certainly proved that's true when, despite the financial travails of his state, he made it clear that reduced expectations don't apply to his unwavering support for a $100 billion bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Brown summed it up with: "government should pursue ambitious ventures even during times of economic strife."
Local economic-development leaders might well shake their heads in frustration, agreeing with the premise of a state that needs to be "ambitious" in times like these, but not in pursuit of a bullet train.
Nine years on from Michael P. Anderson's death on the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia, the fund-raising effort to ensure continuation of the annual program at Seattle's Museum of Flight aimed at inspiring at-risk children of color to dream big dreams is nearing its final stage.
In fact, the effort launched for a hometown hero by Spokane business leaders following the Feb. 1, 2003, shuttle disaster, along with the major assist from African-American pilots of Alaska Airlines and a financial commitment from the airline itself represents fulfillment of a big dream in its own right.
As the Museum of Flight prepares to host the third annual Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program on February 4, final selection is in progress for the group of 10-to-14 year olds who will receive support from a special fund to attend the day-long session.
The goal of the program has been to create an enduring memory of Anderson and to make his achievements an object of aspiration and inspiration for young people, particularly the African-American students who would seek to emulate him. It's intended to help inspire an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers.
Avista Corp. CEO Scott Morris, motivated in part by the fact Anderson's father was an Avista employee, assigned the firm's director of community development, Anne Marie Axworthy, and communications manager Jessie Wuerst lead roles in the project, with a goal of raising funds for a statue of Anderson in his hometown. That was soon after the shuttle disaster. But with completion of the larger-than-life bronze statue in Spokane in 2005, the vision expanded.
That meant doing something on the west side of the state and that led to a focus on a second statue at Seattle's Museum of Flight, which was dedicated in June of 2009, as well as a program to bring African-American children an awareness of Anderson and his accomplishments. That led to the creation of the Michael Anderson Memorial Aerospace Scholarship for Children of Color, which is administered by the Museum of Flight.
The campaign to raise the final $50,000 to ensure that the Museum of Flight program and the scholarships continue will also get a boost next month when the person credited with being the key figure in making the Seattle portion of the program a reality retires from the Air Force and returns to Seattle.
Maj. Gen. Harold L. "Mitch" Mitchell, Deputy Inspector General of the Air Force in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, retires this month after two years on active duty and will resume his role as an Alaska Airlines pilot, which is what he was doing when he was first approached about involvement.
"The goal has been to do more than merely put up a statue," Mitchell explained in an e-mail exchange this week. "It's important to leverage Anderson's legacy to help students have a chance to do similar things."
In an effort to put together a group to focus on the goal, Mitchell turned to other African-American pilots at Alaska, then realized "we needed some funding to make this happen so we thought it was an idea worthy of sharing with the company."
He says they didn't expect Alaska to be as supportive as it was, but the airline agreed to put up $100,000 as matching funds over four years.
"To be honest, we've struggled on our side of the match, but they have been outstanding," Mitchell said.
Wuerst of Avista said the campaign has raised $190,000 thus far and needs to raise a final $25,000 to get the last $25,000 of the Alaska match.
Anderson was 43 when he and the other six crew members of the Colujmbia crew perished as the shuttle broke apart on re-entry.
But in an interview from space earlier in the 16-day mission, Anderson expressed a thought that became the quote on the plaque on each statue: "This is what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. If you apply yourself, work hard to be persistent, and don't give up, you can achieve anything you want to achieve."
It's that commitment that supporters of the Museum of Flight program hope to bring to a growing number of children of color from all parts of Washington State.
To those who think that benefit auctions for charitable causes may be losing their appeal, Kip Toner, who for more than three decades has been in the business of getting folks to raise their paddles, has news for you.
Toner, who's KTBA, Inc. (Kip Toner Benefit Auctions) is 20 years old this year, says auctions have become an increasingly important part of charitable organizations' annual fund raising efforts. And he predicts that the importance and the number of auctions will continue to grow for those non-profits, perhaps even because of the current economic challenges.
"Because of what's happened in the economy over the past four years, auctions have become increasingly important for charities because other sources of revenue have declined significantly," Toner observed. "A number of those charities have come to us and said they simply need to have their auctions produce more than in the past."
It was in 1991, after 15 years learning all aspects of the auction business with the James G. Murphy Co., that Toner launched his own company in Seattle and proceeded to grow the enterprise into an auction company that does business across the country.
Toner sees two trends that he expects will dramatically increase the importance of benefit auctions in the future. One is the growing use of handheld devices for bidding. The other is the increasing presence of what he calls "consignment items" -- items for which the donor and the charitable organization split the amount of the winning bid.
Referring to the advent of bidding with handheld devices, Toner says: "The trend will increase the bidder pool against a fixed number of items and that will certainly increase the price for each item."
The emergence of handheld devices for bidding is part of what Toner sees as "the challenge auctions have in front of them to update their appeal to a new generation." He adds that the way handheld bidding fits into a more fun environment is that attendees don't have to pay as close attention to the front-of-the-room action when they can track bidding on their device.
Despite the challenges, the number of auctions is actually growing rather than declining, Toner notes.
"Some organizations have stopped doing auctions," he says. "But for every one that is dropped 10 emerge. There is almost an unlimited supply of items for auctions and coming up with new and unusual ones is merely a matter of creativity."
Toner's company did 105 auctions last year, with he doing at least one a weekend at auctions extending from New York and Washington, D.C., to Hawaii.
Asked about how much money his auctions generate for various charities, Toner said the last year they tried to calculate the total charity take was 2007 when "the auction revenue the charities actually took in was $16 million," he said. "That was the amount actually earned at the auctions from the live and silent segments, fund an item and other sales such as raffles."
As a result of the expected growth in auction numbers, Toner says more and more people are seeking to get into the auctioneer game. That has prompted the national auctioneers association to create a recognition of the formal title Benefit Auctioneer Specialist and ask Toner to write the curriculum and teach the classes for those who want to qualify for that ranking.
Toner credits the late Dick Friel, who with wife, Sharon, were the beloved team at many Seattle-area auctions, with bringing humor to the auctions.
"Dick was great because he taught us all about the importance of humor in the auction, he showed us how to be entertainers as auctioneers," Toner added.
Two items that Toner says are growing in popularity are parties at the local fire station and small-plane flights put up by the owners of the planes.
"Firefighters love to have people come to the station both because they inevitably get a few minutes to do a fire-safety talk and because those attending the party usually bring the food, and leave the leftovers behind," Toner said with a smile.
"The private-plane trips are frequently bought by people who want to take out-of-town guests up because it's a great way to see the Northwest in all its glory," He adds.
Asked about what makes a successful auctioneer, Toner emphasized: "you have to make it about the attendees, not about the auctioneer, and that includes thanking people by name.That isn't really difficult since I have a sheet with a name after each bid number," Toner pointed out.
He recalled doing a recent art auction in New York where all the attendees were Spanish, adding that he spent advance time learning how to pronounce each name. "I'm not positive I got each name right, but they appreciated the effort."
What's the largest pricetag he recalls for an item? Toner says it was likely the $650,000 paid by an auto dealer who outbid several other challengers for the opportunity take his customers on trip aboard the cruiser of a well-to-do North Idaho business person.
"In the end, the winning bidder decided instead to take all the competing bidders," Toner chuckled.
When the 68-year-old Toner was asked how long he might continue at his current pace, given continued good health and energy, he said he's done 23 years of auctions for Georgetown Prep in Washington, D.C., and 20 for Pilchuck Glass. "I'd like to reach 25 with each before I think about retiring."
Susan Preston, whose image as a leader in clean-energy investment has grown in her years overseeing the nation's first angel fund for seed and start-up clean energy companies, has reason to look toward 2012 with optimism. And she dismisses the criticism of those who would deter federal efforts to spur such investments as "purely political."
Preston, general partner in the nearly four-year-old California Clean Energy Angel Fund (CalCEF), acknowledges the high-profile bankruptcy of solar-power start-up Solyndra may suggest improvements are needed in federal energy-loan guarantee programs..
"But you don't throw the baby out with the bath water just because some politicians are using the bankruptcy to make political hay," Preston said.
"Overall, the government will show a nice profit on the loan-guarantee program," she says, moving on during an interview to things she'd rather talk about, like the successes of CalCEF and the likelihood that she'll focus next year on raising a new clean-energy fund.
And she enthuses about the possible resurrection of a tax-break for start-up investors that she conceived and that was gathering support in Congress before the economy went flat.
That "political hay" that Preston calls "purely political" has been made over the last couple of months by Congressional Republicans over the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a Fremont, CA, solar-panel maker. It was treated by the Obama Administration, including a visit by the President himself, as the poster child for investment in renewable energy.
Solyndra was the first beneficiary of the federal loan program and, as a company with new technology and support from a group of venture-capital firms, it seemed to be an ideal candidate for visibility.
Thus when the company went bankrupt this past September, defaulting on a $528 million federal loan, Republicans seized the opportunity to make it the poster child for what they viewed as excessive Obama enthusiasm for alternative energy.
"The loan guarantee program from which Solyndra received money has a number of other companies in the program, the vast majority of which are involved with project financing of large, utility-scale facilities with 20 to 25 year power purchase agreements," Preston said.
In fact. the U.S. Department of Energy web site indicates the federal agency has made $35 billion in loans and created almost 65,000 jobs as a result.
"If you want to talk about wasted money, let's look at the billions and billions of dollars spent on defense technology which completely fails," she added.
Preston, while a partner in a major Seattle law firm, helped guide the launch of the nation's first women's angel group, Seraph Capital, in Seattle in the late '90s. And in a six-year stint as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the entrepreneur-focused Kauffman Foundation, she became a widely recognized expert on angel financing, including authoring numerous articles, white papers and books on the topic.
It was that angel-financing expertise that resulted in her invitation in 2008 to guide the launch of the CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, for which she proceeded to raise $11 million to invest in early-stage clean-energy companies. The angel fund was launched by the California Clean Energy Fund, a non-profit that hired Preston to create the angel fund and then became a limited partner in the for-profit CalCEF.
Preston is confident the political flap won't have a negative impact on either the CalCEF angel fund, or in a new fund she expects to begin raising money for early next year.
At this point there has been no official announcement on plans for the second fund, which she says will be "much bigger" than the current fund's $11 million, adding that while "we have not come to complete agreement on the name, it will likely be CalCEF Clean Energy Ventures."
Despite the financial challenges that have prevailed almost since CalCEF was launched, it has produced a positive return on investment with its four fundings, which averaged about $750,000, Preston said.
Although Preston emphasizes that there are no geographic restrictions on investments by the CalCEF angel fund, "on a practical basis, and because of the strong prevalence of clean energy companies in the Bay Area, we have not made an investment outside this area."
But she notes that she and her partners "have been to several other places in California, and elsewhere in the country, to explore possible candidates for investmernt."
"Clean energy has seen a bounce back in the last 18 months and at a greater rate than some other technology sectors," Preston said, adding that "within clean energy, certain areas are performing better than others when you look at global indexes. For instance, wind is down, but smart grid related technologies are performing reasonably well."
Asked what kind of energy startups are likely to generate the most interest over the next couple of years, Preston responded: "Energy efficiency, smart grid and storage are my bets."
"Grid storage will be an interesting area to watch because the problem with wind power is that the wind blows more at night while most of the needs are during the day," she said. "We are really in need of storage technology."
Preston is enthused that a proposal she put together about four years ago for an income tax credit for investors in start-up companies, an idea that drew bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress before the economic chaos shunted it aside, has seen a revival of interest in recent months.
The Access to Entrepreneurs Act (ACE) may move forward this coming year, she says, but it will have to be without her assistance because the first priority will be launching the new fund while continuing to oversee administration of the CalCEF fund.
"Our goal is to do well while we are doing good." Preston says. "Our first priority is to make money for our LPs, but because we invest in clean energy, we get to do good at the same time."