Secrets of a secret shopper

May 1st, 2020 by Ken

For more than 40 years, I had a secret identity.  I was a secret shopper.  I entered businesses – not to buy – – but to spy.

It started very easily.  One day I received a call from Gene Dolan, the executive director of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce.  “I got the perfect job for you Balsley,” he said.  “All you’ve got to do is drink coffee and eat doughnuts.  And, they’ll pay you for it.”  How could I refuse.  It was then I entered the world of secret shoppers.

I made a phone call.  Answered a few questions and got my first assignment.  A local doughnut chain had three stores in Southwest Washington.  Every quarter I was to visit the stores, observe the cleanliness, the courtesy of the clerks and their competence.  I was to buy a cup of coffee and a doughnut.  Eat it on the premises and then buy a dozen doughnuts to go.  When I got home, I filled out a form and mailed it in.  I had two boys living at home and they always loved doughnut days.  With proper documentation I was reimbursed for my expenses and paid for travel.  My salary was $2.50 a visit.

I had that job for years until the chain went out of business.   But I had other jobs as well.  A small local shoe chain used me to investigate its return policy.  I was to buy a pair of boots, wear them out of the store and return them the next day for a refund.  They were checking to see if the store followed its return policy.  When a small restaurant chain opened a store, I was to visit the day after the grand-opening to see if everyone working there were following company policy regrading uniforms and other requirements.

When private post offices became a fixture, I was hired to go into the store, buy some stamps and leave.  The purpose was to determine if the owner tried to up-sell me to buy other items available – even a private mailbox.

Major chains have their own in-house secret shoppers, but small franchises and small firms often contract with businesses which specialize in that service.

It’s been four years since I was last asked to be a secret shopper so I’m assuming that my ID number has been retired.   But, if you see me in your place of business looking suspicious – – don’t worry,  I’m probably just confused.

(All of the business mentioned above are no longer in business in this area.)

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Don’t piss off the fishermen

April 19th, 2020 by Ken

Around the country, particularly in the west and midwest, American citizens have become upset with the stay in place and isolation orders issued by state governors.  In Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and even here in Washington, crowds of people, protesting the draconian laws have been demonstrating and expressing their anger over their right to peaceably assembly, practice their religion and go fishing.

You heard me right.  To go fishing.  Sports fisherman have been complaining about restrictions placed on their right to fish.  Here, in our state, those complaints started on March 23, when Governor Jay Inslee closed down boat launching facilities, state parks and other state areas.  They also banned fishing in any waters in the state.

Fishing enthusiasts took to Facebook, Twitter and other social media and the protests began to erupt.   They were the first organized group to question the rules put in place to distance us from each other and to stop us from partaking in one of the world’s greatest pleasure – to feel that tug on your line.

The governor of Michigan won’t even let fisherman out of their homes with their boats.  Michigan has the largest lake in the world named after a state.  Minnesota has 10,000 lakes and also a ban on fishing.  Washington state has more boats per capita than any other state.  We also have lakes, Puget Sound, sloughs, rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Governor Inslee has said he understands the frustration of the people over the rules.  That may be so.  But he doesn’t understand the frustration of the fishermen.  It may not take a Boston Tea Party to get his attention.  Maybe it will just be a statewide Fish Day and Fry.

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Business will suffer for years

April 16th, 2020 by Ken

I’m no expert on communicable diseases and I’m not an economist.  But I have been on this planet for more than three-quarters of a century and I have been active and involved in history, politics and media for a good portion of that time.

Hindsight is always easy.  I’m the best football coach there ever was after the game is over.  But, I do have some thoughts about the future.

The economy is not going to bounce back anytime soon.  Many businesses have already thrown in the towel and will not re-open.  Those that do, will find their customers aren’t coming back in large numbers.  Here’s why.

For the last three months we have been warned that going out is a death penalty.  That being with groups of more than a handful is the same as signing your death warrant.  People are carriers of a a virus that will kill you.  For many people, that stigma will remain with them for years.  Don’t be around other people is the new normal.

Its that idea that people are dangerous which will stymie a return to normal.

How can a business operate if people are hesitant to be around other people.  It can’t.  The economy won’t bounce back anytime soon because people will remember the words of our experts – being around people can kill you.

Large group events like graduations, conventions, sporting events and weddings and funerals will be the most impacted.  But restaurants and other food establishments will also suffer.  I can’t see myself taking a airplane flight, a cruise or a vacation in the near future.

Our government officials hope the money they’re throwing at the public will help the economy.  It won’t do much.  I can see unemployment in the double digits for three or four years.   Whoever becomes president, governor or mayor in the next election cycle will be blamed for the actions taken this year.  No one is going to thank them for the high unemployment and the number of business failures they will have to address.  And, everyone will remember what they’ve been forced to believe – – being around people can kill you.

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Greater good – or granny state?

April 14th, 2020 by Ken

One of my biggest pet peeves are toasters that don’t get hot enough to toast.  I was thinking about that today when I began my third week of isolation and distancing.  When are our actions done for the greater good of humanity and when are we following grandma’s advice to “wear a jacket.  It’s cold out there?”

That followed with this question.  Did we over-react?  Did the actions taken by government to throw nearly 20 million Americans out of work and put thousands of small businesses out of business, justify saving the potential deaths of 100,000 other American?  Or did our federal and state governments decide they were our grandmothers and wanted to protect us from ourselves?

This urge to protect us for the greater good isn’t new.  It’s been around for nearly seven decades.  This urge to make us safer, to protect our children, to save us from ourselves, is found in the everyday things we do.  Like making toast.

Those of us who have been around awhile can point to hundreds of changes in our lifestyle brought about by government rules and regulations that were put in place for “the greater good.”

These rules, regulations and “guidelines” are so prevalent in today’s society that we forget they were put in place by government for the common good.  We’ve learned to accept them.These rules range from toasters that don’t get hot enough to toast bread, toilets that have to be flushed twice,  gasoline cans that are impossible to pour out of – – to safer cars, safer houses and safer schools.

Doctors operate under a code that says “Do no harm” – yet often we say, “We had to cut off the arm to save the body.”

The same holds true for our actions against the corona virus.  But, we’ll soon see.   In fighting this “pandemic” did we cut off the head and kill the patient?



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Lacey’s emergency grant money making a difference

April 11th, 2020 by Ken

The City of Lacey’s emergency monetary grants to local businesses is starting to have an impact.  To date, 162 businesses have applied for financial assistance and 28 have been awarded grants of up to $10,000.

One local business owner said that the money has been a “Godsend.”  “I’ve been able to pay my rent and keep two employees busy.  I’m just glad I have my business in Lacey where we have a city council that understands business.”

Some 24 businesses were denied help for various reasons.  Some were not within the city limits and some did not  have a city business license to operate.  Another 32 were being held up for additional information while 82 are in the process of being approved.

To further help local business, the city has complied a list of restaurants and food establishments which are still open and operating as either pickup or delivery service.  That list is posted on the city’s web page.  City staff are working to complete a list of other businesses open during the shutdown.

Lacey businesses which have not already applied for financial assistance can still do so.   Information on how to apply is available through the Thurston County Economic Development Council’s web page.  The EDC is doing the processing of all applications.

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I love my wife – 24 hours a day

April 6th, 2020 by Ken

I love my wife.  Jan and I have been married for nearly 30 years.  I also enjoy spending 24-hours a day with her.

But, some people I have been with longer than my marriage to Jan.   I have a poker group.  I’ve been playing with the group since 1974,  Some have died, and new ones have taken their place.  We play once a month and take turns hosting the event.  There’s no better way to understand a person than to take their money every month.  (OK, I don’t always take their money.  But the idea’s the same.)

I know their politics.  I know their religious leanings.  I know about their wives, their children, their jobs and their retirement activities.  I know how they hold their hands, when they bet, how they deal.  I know all of their tells, and they know all of mine.  It’s an intimate gathering of friends.  I miss them.

I have a breakfast group.  We’ve been meeting for more than 40 years.  We discuss politics, religion, money, relationships and the latest gossip.  And, except for the gossip, I know everything they’re going to say and what their solution is to the world’s problems. It’s the continuity and consistency that makes my Thursday morning breakfast comfortable and safe.  I miss it.

I belong to a writer’s group.  We meet once a week at the Dancing Goats.  We’ve only been meeting for a few years, but everyone in the group is an old friend of mine dating back decades.  We do talk writing.  We review each others work and we criticize when necessary and encourage when needed.  But, most of the time we talk politics.  I miss them.

I try to have lunch with my son Brad every Friday.  Sometimes I’m busy and sometimes he’s busy, but we get together fairly regularly.  I’ve talked with him by phone several times, but I miss the lunch we had almost every week at Dirty Daves.

I belong to the Lacey Rotary Club.  I’ve been a member for 46 years.  We meet once a week to network, learn, converse and serve.  We’ve had some ZOOM meeting, but it’s not the same.  I miss them.

I belong to the Lacey South Sound Chamber of Commerce.  While their monthly forums conflict with my Coffee With Ken radio show, I do belong to two of their committees which both meet monthly.

Is it wrong to miss your friends when you have the opportunity to spend 24 hours a day with the woman you love?


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Lacey’s infamous poker game

April 2nd, 2020 by Ken

There weren’t many places to play poker in Lacey back in the 1970’s.  The only card room operating openly was on the floor atop Casey’s tavern.  They were low stakes and open to everyone.

But, the game we all wanted to play in took place every Thursday night in a meeting room above the Red Bull Restaurant.   There restaurant owner Ron McWain held a high stakes invitation only poker game.   On more than one occasion, I asked Ron to let me into the game.   “You can’t afford it,” he said.   And I never got a seat at the table.

The names of all those who did get a seat aren’t all known, but the name of some of them are.  Those names go to a story that made the rounds of local poker players for years.

It took place one Thursday night at the Red Bull.  Playing in that game were many local businessmen, but the two who took the spotlight that night were Lee Bensley and Tony Swatsky.  Lee owned Lee’s Restaurant on Martin Way, and a couple of apartment complexes.  Swatsky owned Tony’s Jewelry.

The story goes that Lee and Tony had been going at it all evening, with one taking a hand and then another.   Until that fateful moment.

The ante was $100.  Lee raised the pot.   Tony re-raised.   Lee raised back.   Tony responded in kind.   Lee put all of his money into the pot.   Some said it was close to $10,000.   Tony called  – and raised $10,000 of his own.

Lee had no more money, and no way to get access to it that evening.   So, as the story goes, he put up his restaurant.   Now Lee’s Restaurant wasn’t just any restaurant.   Lee’s had been the first restaurant in the state to have a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and people came from all over  just to eat this new chicken treat.

Lee put up his restaurant and signed a note giving it to Tony.  With the bet covered,  Tony turned over his hand.  Those there that night said he had three jack’s.  Lee folded and mixed his losing hand with the discards.

The next morning, after the banks opened, Lee went to Tony’s store and gave him $10,000 in cash.

Now, I don’t know if that story’s true or not.  Both Lee Bensley and Tony Swatsky have passed away.   The house man Ron McWain, sold the Red Bull and moved to Nevada.

But, it makes a good story and Lacey is filled with good stories.

(Editors note:  This story is just one of many in my “Personal History of Lacey.”  If you’re interested in getting a copy, let me know.)




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City grant money popular request

April 1st, 2020 by Ken

More than 80 Lacey businesses have applied for monetary relief from the money provided by the City of Lacey for those impacted by the public health emergency related to Covid-19.

The city has contracted with the Economic Development Council and its Center for Business and Innovation to review those applications and award grants of $10,000 to qualifying businesses.  According to Rick Walk, the Director of Community and Economic Development, the grants will be awarded on a “First Come, First Served” basis for those who meet the qualifications.

While the city currently has $500,000 budgeted for the Small Business Grant Program, it’s anticipated that up to $500,000 additional monies may be available if the demand is there, according to Walk.

To qualify for the program, a business must have a physical presence within the city limits for at least a year, have a City of Lacey business license and have no more than 25 employees, with priority given to those with ten or fewer employees.

Grant money can be used for payment of rent or monthly loan payments, payments of essential wages, normal benefits for employees and normal operating costs.    The money cannot be used for bonuses, wages to family members unless a bona fide employee or political or charitable contributions.

Full details are available by emailing


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The worst impact of all

March 30th, 2020 by Ken

As I enter my 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th day of physical and social isolation, they run into each other and I’m not certain I even know what day of the week it is.  I do know that I have a hard time thinking of much else than how  Covid-19 is impacting me.  I have been hesitant to write about that because it seemed so petty when held against the mirror which holds my knowledge of the greater world.

Well-respected Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan had a similar problem.  Her weekend column was primarily about how the virus was impacting her and her normal routine of life.  Knowing that she is facing the same problem as I – –  she went ahead and wrote anyway.  That left me free to do the same.

Then – I decided not to write about how I was coping.  Instead of writing about how the virus is impacting our daily lives, I decided to try and picture how it will change our lives.

The events of 9-11 changed the way we travel.  The technological revolution of a decade ago transformed the way we communicate.  I think Covid-19 will change forever how we socialize.

When this whole thing fades into the background.  When the television network stop running daily totals of how many have it  and how many died, we’ll be forced to re-enter the world.  But, our reintegration into this new and strange social world will have changed.  Small things, like shaking hands or hugging, will cause us to think for a second before we do it.  Larger things, like a cough from someone in a group, will cause us to make a determination if we want to continue with the group or isolate ourselves to a smaller crowd.

Will we have as many social contacts as in the past?  Will we worry that the virus will come back next year or the year after?  Even if scientists develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, will it be effective?  Even the current flu vaccine is only a certain percentage effective.

If and when the virus returns will we automatically return ourselves to self-isolation and depend on technology  for our communication?

But, more importantly, will those 75 million of us in the United States continue to think of ourselves as a “vulnerable population group?”   That would be the worst impact of all.

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City of Lacey to give monetary grants to local businesses

March 25th, 2020 by Ken

The City of Lacey has been known to be a supporter of business.  It has developed an Economic Development Fund to help business who want to locate in Lacey.  But recently the city determined that helping its own existing businesses is a good use of that fund.

To that end, the Lacey City Council will take up a measure Thursday evening to give grants of money to small businesses in the city to help them survive the current business shutdown.

“I can’t think of anything more important for economic development than to help keep our existing businesses,” said Mayor Andy Ryder.

The city’s development fund has approximately $2.2 million.  The proposal the council will undertake will tap $500,000 of that money and give it in $10,000 grants to Lacey businesses.  “It’s not much,” the mayor said, “but it will help in the short term.”  If it’s successful, it might be continued with another $500,000.

Ryder said that he has been contacted by several banks who want to help.  “Perhaps we can get them to help with the next round.”

All Lacey businesses can apply for the grants.  The city is working through the EDC which will administer the program.  Go the the Thurston EDC web page to apply.  The cities of Olympia and Tumwater are also currently considering such a program for businesses in their cities.

(Editors note:  It helps to have several business-oriented members on the Lacey City Council.)


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Politics has entered the Corona Virus fight

March 23rd, 2020 by Ken

I’m not as concerned about the Corona virus Pandemic as I probably should be.

I’ve lived through dozens if not scores of scares brought about by my leaders and our media.

In the last 20 years we’ve lived through Y2K. Sars, Ebola, Swine Flu. 9-11 and the election of Donald Trump.  In the previous century we had Nuclear War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, AIDs,  drug abuse, the assassination of President Kennedy the civil rights movement, Black Power and White Power.  We always have some major event that will cause the end of society as we know it.

It’s been pointed out that 20,000 to 30,000 people die every year in the United States through the various “ordinary” flu we have.

Covid-19 has become a major issue for one reason – – 24-hour media.  Every minute of every day the cable news networks have to have a major story.  This is it.  Listen to the news coverage for any period of time and the tone is one of doom for our civilization.  To top it off, this is an election year.  Not only is the president up for re-election, but our governor is up as well.  Being seen doing something is a great plus towards re-election.

Now, before you bring the torches and blast me for thinking this pandemic is all political – – it is.  Look at the battle currently being waged in Congress over where 2 Trillion dollars should go.  Do we bail out the big international corporations, do we absolve student with college debt, do we help small business or implement the “Green New Deal.”   Do we give the money to government to dole out through unemployment offices, or do we send checks to everyone.

This pandemic isn’t the end of civilization even if we never find a cure.  But, the economic impact on the actions of our leaders, will and has created vast hurt to millions of low income workers.  It will lead to a recession and greater problems for those trying to make a living.

Talk about politics – – a recession would severely hurt President Trump’s re-election (unless he can blame it on the Democrats.)

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Playboy gave us a glimpse into life

March 19th, 2020 by Ken

After 70 years Playboy is packing up its centerfold and heading to the antique and collectible shops.  The magazine will not be published again, although you can still get some of its content on-line.

For those of us who grew up with Playboy and learned about life from its pages, losing this icon of the American Century is like losing an old uncle who taught us the facts of life.

Its pages were filled with news and information.  Award-winning authors like Arthur Clarke, Ian Fleming and Saul Bellows were regular contributors.  I liked its racy cartoons, particularly those drawn by Shel Silverstein.

OK – I like the pictures too.  A teenage boy growing up the 50’s and early 60’s, we had little access to sexual information.  If we were able to get a copy of Playboy it was passed around from kid to kid until there was little of left.  It was through the pictures that we learned about girls.  Granted, it was exploitative, erroneous, lecherous and oh so much fun.

We marveled at the beauty of the woman.  Ogled their bare breasts and yearned for a little more of their private parts, which Playboy eventually unveiled although long after our teenage years.  And, while it may have sent us off with a wrong understanding of women, it did get us through those rough teen years.  I doubt that teenage girls had anything to help them on the way to womanhood.

Now, porn is rampant through the internet, on television and in what few magazines still exist.  Teenagers have so many outlets that something like Playboy is dying along with those of us who first learned about life from its pages.

Do I miss it?  No.  I just miss the idea of it.



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Commissioners came, they saw and they blinked

March 17th, 2020 by Ken

Something good came out of the Coronavirus scare.  It gave the Thurston County Commissioners an excuse to cancel an election they knew they were going to lose.

Commissioners determined not to go ahead with a major tax increase measure for voter approval using the Corona scare as an excuse.  Vote by mail wouldn’t have been significantly impacted by the quarantine, but it made a good scape goat.

Commissioners read the “writing on the wall” or rather, the scorn of the internet, and determined the ballot measure wouldn’t pass and if it were to be defeated, voters wouldn’t approve on a second try either.  It was just too much and they punted.  Besides, they may very well have lost a court case that would have forced the measure off the ballot anyway.

It’s unlikely the commissioners will place the same measure back on the August ballot.  That’s the first time they can do so.  In all likelihood, they’ll wait until next year and come back with a smaller tax increase, and hopefully spelling out a better deal for the taxpayers.

Don’t get me wrong.  The commissioners have not given up on the idea of building a new courthouse.  They’ve been wanting to do so since 2008.  They still haven’t learned that taxpayers don’t want a $250,000,000 new building and definitely not in downtown Olympia.  They might be willing to approve $50 million for remodeling the existing courthouse.  Even that might be too much.  They would be better off to spend money for maintenance, something they have been negligent in doing for the past decade assuming they would be building a new courthouse.  And maybe building a parking garage on property they currently own next to the courthouse.

I’m not an expert.  They have their own experts.  I just know that organized opposition to the measure, significant increases in our current property tax rates, problems with the ballot title and the Internet were all deciding factors.  The Coronavirus just gave them an opportunity to save face.  And, two of them are up for election this year.

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An open letter to the governor

March 16th, 2020 by Ken

When you closed the restaurants and bars, I know it was for the betterment of our entire state.

But, when you did that, did you ever think of Melissa at Sharis, Jan at Dennys, Margaret at O’Blarneys, Kristen at The Dancing Goats or Kathy at the Martin Way Diner.  These are all waitresses who make their living off tips.  Some are single moms with kids, some are the prime wage-earner in their family, some are taking care of disabled husbands or ailing mothers.   And they all depend on tips.

Minimum wage is fine, but tips are the primary way these women and thousands of others like them make a living and take care of their families.  Filling To-Go orders doesn’t provide these women with tips.  It’s the regular customers who do that.

Many of the restaurants had already made changes in the way they operate in response to the virus.  Some have done away with dishes and use disposable paper products.  All clean more often, usually after a customer leaves.  Stopping these women from making a living is a shame.

Offers of government assistance is welcome, but it will be delayed.  By the time state and federal officials get the money in the chain and establish criteria and eligibility it will be too late for many.  Service providers such as waitresses will be the largest group of sacrificial workers.  Will anyone but their regulars care?

(Editors note:  Some names have been changed above.  I wrote the following story years ago.  I thought it might bring some clarity to how important waitresses are in this society.)


The first time I saw Carol she was pouring coffee.  The last time I saw Carol she was pouring coffee.  It never occurred to her that someone would come into her small diner and not want coffee.

It was early morning and I had a job interview.  I thought I should have something to eat before going so I stopped in at the Trails End. a diner in Tumwater.

I was surprised at how small it was.  Two small tables and six seats at the counter.  I could see two men occupying two of the seats.  Carol came over carrying an empty white cup and a pot of coffee.  She put the cup down filled it, looked at me and said “What’ll you have?”   That was the last time I would hear that phrase.  “A short stack and sausage,” I replied.  She turned her head slightly and said “A short stack and sausage, Sam.”  I hadn’t noticed the short order cook behind the grill.

Other customers began coming in.  All men and all regulars.  Carol greeted each one by name, asked about their sick wife, their grandkids and their schedule for the day.  All the time pouring coffee and giving their order to Sam without once asking them “What’ll you have?”

I watched her go about her job, engaging in conversation with the men, bantering back and forth, telling jokes and making them smile.  As the men were leaving, not once did I see her place a bill on the counter, but each man pulled out his money and left it on the table.

I began to understand.  Carol was the mother, the wife, the friendly next door neighbor.  She was more than a waitress to these men, she was a friend who they could count on to know them and care about them.

I didn’t ask for a bill either.  I put $10 on the counter, got up and left.  When I looked back, Carol had picked up the money and was pouring coffee for her next regular.

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Coronavirus hits my personality

March 15th, 2020 by Ken

I’m an extrovert.  I have to be around people.  I prefer people I like, but in a pinch, any person will do.  I’m also in a vulnerable group as designated by health care professionals.

For me, nothing is worse than being quarantined.  Without the constant stimulation of people, I’m bored stiff and unable to function properly.  I can read, watch television, play on my computer and keep in contact with people through this blog and my Facebook page.  But, it’s not the same.

I belong to five social groups which meet every week.  I belong to other business and professional organizations that meet at least once a month.  I cultivate friendships on a regular basis through coffee, or lunch or breakfast, fairly often.

What am I to do know?

My family thinks I’m too vulnerable for my age to venture out for these social contacts.  (The ones that haven’t been cancelled.)    I think my mental health is also important.  What to do?  What to do?

Is six weeks of little contact with fellow humans important enough for my health and that of others, to stay in my house and contemplate what nature has thrown at me.   Or, should I venture out, knowing that my chances of contacting the coronavirus is slim – but if I do, it may be very harmful to my health.

Thee’s got to be some middle ground.  I just have to find it.

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Hey Greeners. Have I got a new school for your kids

March 6th, 2020 by Ken

Hey Greeners.

Yeah, you, some of the 30,000 Evergreen graduates who call Thurston County home.   Have I got a school for you – actually for your kids and grandkids.

North Thurston Public Schools has started a new high school that echoes the Evergreen learning style.  Except, instead of teaching left-wing politics, it teaches science and technology using some of the teaching principles that once made the Mud Bay college the envy of teachers and professors everywhere.

It’s called the Envision Career Academy and its replacing South Sound High School.

As currently designed, students at the Academy will major in math and the social sciences while also completing the other high school requirements of the state.  While concentrating on the sciences is new, its the teaching styles the school embraces.

Playbooks, right out of the Evergreen experiment.

For example:  Students will be taught by team-teaching teachers every school day, all school day, for six weeks, focusing on a particular course.  At the end of that period, students will move on to another course which will also run for six weeks.

Here are some more particulars that make this a copy of Evergreen’s learning style.  As spelled out in the informational brochure “Instead of traditional classrooms, each learning space is designed for a purpose:  design lab, discussion den, quiet learning nooks, computer lab, greenhouse, school garden and CTE-focused spaces for manufacturing, biomedical science, business and marketing.”

Want still more.  Direct from the informational brochure -” There are limited bells.  Teachers and staff will go by their first names.  Students are not 9th graders or freshman.  They are 101s.  Students in their second year of high school are 201s.”

As a Greener myself, I enjoyed and appreciated Evergreen’s unique (at that time) learning style.   If this Lacey school can pull it off it may also set itself as an example of how to teach in the 21st Century.


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Do you need empathy to be a leader?

February 29th, 2020 by Ken

I recently attended a retreat by the Lacey City Council and senior city staff.  As a relationship building exercise, the attendees were asked to list the traits they saw, or desired in their fellow members of the council.  They were to rank those qualities on a board where several types of qualities were listed.

Traits on the board included: integrity, innovative, professional, leadership, collaboration, diversity, productivity, accountability, stewardship and empathy.

When the final accounting was done, integrity, collaboration and accountability were ranked the highest.   The lowest – – empathy.

The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to project oneself into another persons personality in order to share in another’s emotions or feelings.   In other words, the ability to understand the feelings of another person. (My reading of the word.)

I want those in leadership positions to understand my feelings, but more importantly I want them to FEEL what I feel.  By so doing, they can better grasp how the actions they take impact me.

So my question – – Is empathy necessary to be a good leader?

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Electric vehicles dangerous to pedestrians

February 27th, 2020 by Ken

Pedestrian deaths in the United States reached a 30-year high in 2019. As many as 6500 pedestrians have died after being hit by a vehicle. Many factors have contributed to the increase.  The biggest culprit seems to be smartphone use by both pedestrians and drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration see other reasons such as poorly designed walkways at intersections.  Large SUV’s which have a difficult time seeing out of.  And alcohol use.

I’d like to suggest another culprit – – Electric Cars.  These vehicles run quietly and can’t be heard, even in a quiet situation.  Hearing them on a city street is even more difficult.  I had a run-in with a Tesla in a supermarket parking lot recently and was almost hit.

I suggest that some type of noise should be generated by electric cars to warn pedestrians, bicyclists and others.  I don’t want to become a statistic.

(I know – What was a Tesla doing in a supermarket parking lot?)

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Buyer Beware

February 23rd, 2020 by Ken

By John Drebick

When we vote for additional taxes we are buying something of value as determined by our elected officials.  The current issue is for a “New Courthouse”.  We voters need to be aware of the very expensive plan to relocate the Courthouse to the outskirts of downtown Olympia in an area that has soggy soil conditions which need to be mitigated by expensive procedures and the site having the potential of flooding with sea level rising.  Or such other place the commissioners decide.

The needs of Thurston County residents have been met in the existing buildings over the years since it was built in approximately 1978.  Some space challenges have occurred with lack of courtrooms.  This needs to be fixed but not a brand new courthouse.

The argument being used is that the existing buildings are in bad shape, therefor replace them.

It is better to proceed with a plan to repair and upgrade.

It is suspected we will be asked to pay for a new facility for 25 years with a construction cost of approximately $250 million.  Payable at $0.47 per thousand of assessed valuation ($141) per year.  This includes debt service on the bonds to be issued so the $250 million courthouse is really $428 million.

The cost of upgrading the existing courthouse along with the cost of a new high rise structure at the current site would be substantially less than what is being proposed.  Courtrooms would be built as a part of a parking structure along with support staff and facilities. Perhaps it could have additional floors for leasing out until the county would need them.

The regulatory and administrative staff would remain in the existing building.

The county already owns adjoining real estate appropriately zoned that it can be built on.  They should stop planning and start building,

We do not need a fancy courthouse, just one that provides a safe and healthy environment for county workers to provide the services that the county residents need and are entitled to.

(Editors note:  The above letter has some merit.  I posted it to begin discussion on a new tax prior to the election)

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A modest proposal on housing

February 14th, 2020 by Ken

The City of Lacey’s efforts to build more affordable housing by streamlining Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in the city is a good start.  The problem, has been spelled out on my Facebook Page – – the affordable housing is too expensive to build.

City staff estimate that a 400 sq ft unit can run from $70,000 to $100,000 to construct.  Larger units of 600 sq ft are even more expensive.

I think I have a solution that may have some merit.

The City of Lacey should give a grant of $30,000 to every property owner willing to build a city-approved ADU.  In exchange, the property owner would be limited in the amount of rent they could charge for a period of time.  Affordable housing is too expensive.  Only by subsidizing housing can we build more affordable units.

Many cities already subsidize new housing apartments through various grants.  Why can’t the City of Lacey do the same?  A private-public endeavor.  Start out small – – maybe 10 units at a cost of $300,000.  See how it works out.  There will be other costs such as administration, and they will be unexpected setbacks.  But it’s worth an effort to explore.

The city already subsidizes some property owners.  They just gave residents of Capitol City Golf Club Estates new sewer hookups for free under the justification as in the public interest.  Subsidizing more affordable housing is also in the public interest.

This is just an idea.  City staff could come up with more concrete proposals.  We just have to continue the start the city has already begun.

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