On hiring a new reporter or editor, I typically sit them down and give a short talk about how we approach the news in our corner of the world. I always ask them to treat elected and non-elected community leaders with respect. You may not agree with their opinions or political viewpoint, I say, but they are contributing and giving back to the community and usually for little or no pay.
On December 31, Patrick Alesse completed his last term as commissioner for the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District, a position he held since he was appointed in 1997. Patrick may speak quietly but his words are forceful, thoughtful and intelligent. A former teacher, he and his wife Patricia founded and ran The C Shop, an ice cream, candy and childhood summer memory-making emporium just steps from the shores of Birch Bay. Twice a month, for 22 years, Patrick has attended board meetings, deliberated with fellow commissioners and steered policy for this critical part of community utility infrastructure.
This is not exciting work for most people. One day as I covered a district meeting, the sound of my pen slipping from my hand and hitting the floor was the only thing that prevented me from falling into full-blown unconsciousness. Those meetings could be deadly and yet those meetings represented just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the work that the commissioners had to do in preparation.
And while that ongoing, humdrum stuff drew no attention from the community, let a new tax be proposed to replace aging infrastructure or a sewer line back-up and you could be assured the shite would hit the fan.
Patrick is not alone in his public service. Carl Reichhardt was a district commissioner for 39 years until he retired in 2017. Don Montfort is still a commissioner and going on his 26th year. On Blaine City Council, Bonnie Onyon and Charlie Hawkins have been going strong for many years as have Charles Gibson and the recently retired Mike Dodd at the Blaine school board and Barbara Brenner on Whatcom County Council. There are plenty more who come to mind, too many to list here. Just think about our volunteer firefighters who commit countless hours to protect our homes and businesses.
It’s not easy to get people to commit to these positions. Try to get someone who’s still kicking and screaming to serve on a cemetery board and you’ll see what I mean. Our county auditor had to schedule a special filing period last election due to the number of races where no names were put forward.
In this country, we very appropriately thank members of our armed forces for their service whether they are the tip of the spear or a line cook in the canteen. Arguably, people like Patrick Alesse and the others named here make as significant a contribution to keeping our democracy strong and vital. There should be a national holiday called Unsung Heroes Day or Service to America Day where their contribution would be celebrated and honored. In the meantime, Patrick and all the other ones like you, thank you for your service. Job well done!
Patrick Grubb is publisher of The Northern Light and president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.