By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

WGAPS' intractability does not serve Goldendale

 

February 7, 2018



Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP) believes it has secured a long-sought foothold in Goldendale, after effectively shutting down the Goldendale Food Bank (GFB), ending the latter’s 30-plus years of serving the Goldendale community. While the GFB still exists as an entity, it has ended its services for the time being and transferred them to WGAP. The transition occurred when WGAP said it would cut off its food supplies to the GFB because it said the latter was out of compliance with WGAP requirements.

The only productive effect of this development is that people in Goldendale who need food bank services are still able to get them, at least for now. But the cost of WGAP’s coup is dangerously high to this community and, ultimately, will be to WGAP itself as well, unless something changes.


As one Goldendale resident put it, “WGAP totally burned their bridges in Goldendale before they even got here.” The observation seems accurate. Goldendale and area residents who have spoken with The Sentinel about this matter have the following principal issues with WGAP. (None of them has expressed support to the newspaper for WGAP.)

There’s the mediation. Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter was asked by the GFB to serve as a mediator at a meeting between the food bank and WGAP. WGAP agreed to attend. Believing that the mediation was the beginning point of give-and-take with WGAP, the GFB subsequently sent emails to WGAP requesting certain concessions. WGAP refused them all. Some took that to indicate that WGAP never intended to have an open conversation going into the mediation. WGAP Executive Direc-tor Leslie Naramore says that’s not true. “Of course WGAP didn’t go into that mediation with our minds made up,” she states. “Why would we waste our time like that? It became clear after the mediation that the back and forth would never stop, nor [was the GFB] willing to allow WGAP into their facility to verify that they were meeting the standards.” But that statement is self-contradictory—it says WGAP went in willing to reach common ground, but it simultaneously suggests WGAP was never going to budge on its standards, precluding the possibility of reaching common ground. WGAP’s response to the mediation did nothing to instill confidence or credibility. Moreover, why would anyone put a limit on give and take so long as it was leading somewhere? Clearly this was simply WGAP growing impatient.

Naramore says the final straw was the GFB’s refusal to permit verification that it met WGAP standards, and it uses standards as an immutable defense. That argument is increasingly met with disbelief, making it another key point of contention. Naramore says, “WGAP is held to state and federal standards, and we are obligated under the contracts from those agencies to ensure our subcontractors meet these standards. We cannot and do not make exceptions to those standards.” But the GFB states it has been in complete compliance with state and federal standards, breaking those down to where they stand on their own apart from WGAP interpretation, and asserts that WGAP’s conditions for verification rest on its own arbitrary views.

There is also a perception among many that WGAP simply doesn’t care about preventing waste and fraud, sweeping such concerns away with its implacable “standards” defense. The central conflicts between WGAP and the GFB have been WGAP’s contention that anyone should get any food they want at any time for any reason, no questions asked; while the GFB’s view is that food distribution needs to be done in a way that prevents waste and fraud, which it says can happen all too easily when distribution is entirely indiscriminate. When the point was raised (more than once) by The Sentinel, WGAP did not address the question of fraudulent or wasteful distribution other than to insist it’s not its job to be the food police, thereby refusing the matter admittance for consideration.

Then there’s the money. The GFB operated for 30 years with no out-of-pocket expense to anyone. For WGAP to operate a food bank here would cost a lot of money, at least $60,000 a year just for personnel. WGAP wants to get that money from the city, the county, the state—anywhere it can. But in the wake of WGAP’s grating of nerves here, there are already steps underway to prevent WGAP from securing funding for a food bank in Goldendale from any source. Some of those steps have already succeeded, and that success is likely to continue as agencies check for support in Goldendale for WGAP. If funds come in for anything, they’re likely to be to enable the GFB to acquire food sources in any way that excludes WGAP; if a food bank is now going to cost out-of-pocket money, some feel, it should go to support the local cause.

There are conscientious people involved with WGAP, to be sure. As a whole, however, WGAP has handled this matter ham-handedly. An agency of its nature must be held accountable. The entire issue needs to be revisited in a public forum with outside experts on hand to help discern the truth behind all claims. Until something like that happens, the food bank matter will remain an open sore to be continually revisited.

 

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