"We know the people around here trust us and are glad when we raise their taxes. Especially when the money is used for something as successful as [the Gang Free Initiative]."

Yakima Valley Business Times, April Fools Day Edition

That was a quote attributed jokingly to me (as Dave Metal) by the editors of the Yakima Valley Business Times. The joke is this: People here don't love taxes, and the Gang Free Initiative hasn't been successful.

The first part of that joke is true, but the second part is not. More on all that in a moment but first I question whether or not this should even be a joking matter.

The full (pseudo-satire?) article is headlined -Yakima City Officials Deny Local Crime Problem Exists.   Given Yakima’s poor self image, I wonder why the funny folks at the Business Times would choose to perpetuate the problem with an April Fool’s article about crime. I like a good laugh as much as the next guy comma but there is a serious lingering perception that Yakima’s crime problem is worse than it is. The truth is that overall crime stats are down and have been going down for some time. The author knows this. He’s read the studies and has been in on the official conversations. He knows better. Yes, we have gangs with guns. While we work to combat that, the total crime picture improves.

The author is inspired by his heartburn over the council's decision, 17 months ago, to raise the utility tax. Every time the subject comes up, the council is painted as a tax and spend operation with little to show for the effort. That, as I will go on to explain, is simply not true.

“After three years of hard work and almost a half million dollars of taxpayer funding we are pleased to announce that GFI has hired a consultant, developed an organizational chart and opened an office…next year we hope to purchase a fax.”

Really? That is some funny stuff right there... a real knee slapper.

Truth is, comma the GFI, or Gang Free Initiative, took a considerable amount of time to pull together properly. Doing it right was more important than doing it fast... even if that didn’t match with the Business Times' timetable.

Here is what we have done in that timetable:

• We have leveraged our 140-thousand dollar $140,000 initial investment into 600-thousand dollars $600,000 worth of community partnership services.
• We are on the state for a possible $500,000 in the next two year budget and we are on the federal radar for future funding based on our approach and accomplishments so far.
• The GFI outreach to just one school alone has generated more than 70 potential gang referrals. The expectation was 40.
• Mentoring, education services, mental health and family reunification efforts are all underway.

The slow but vitally important process of trying to turn young lives around and away from gangs is underway. That deserves community cheers, not Business Times jeers.

If the Business Times can laugh at the honest efforts of scores of people trying to improve Yakima’s quality of life, can they laugh at themselves? Do they chuckle when it’s pointed out that none of the critical articles or comments mention the fact that at the time council raised the utility tax, the city budget was also cut by $2 million? Is that a mistake or is that omission for comedic effect?

To this day none of the councilors has heard words about the tax increase because it was all geared toward public safety. It outfitted and grew the police force, added to the prosecutor’s office and set aside money to pay for police when federal grants expire and more. “Funny” how that never gets mentioned. Is that the equivalent of a journalistic whoopee cushion?

C’mon Dave. Where’s your sense of humor Dave? I‘ll tell you where it isn’t. I have no sense of humor when good people, working hard, giving their time, trying their best to improve their town, get ridiculed in the name of someone else’s idea of a joke because a difficult council decision to provide for an increased level of public safety didn’t fall their way. What a joke indeed.