Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Oregonian/OregonLive, Nov. 28, on the fine for Kitzhaber’s ethics violations needing to sting:
Over the past three years as Oregonians witnessed the spectacular fall of former Gov. John Kitzhaber, it was hard at times to identify moments of clarity in a vast sea of gray.
Last week brought one of those moments. After numerous, forceful denials that he’d done anything wrong, Kitzhaber admitted publicly that he broke state ethics laws when he failed to fully report the entities that paid his fiancée around $200,000 for private consulting work over a three-year period while he was governor.
In addressing the four violations of state ethics laws, Kitzhaber blamed most of the mistakes on his former general counsel and agreed to pay a proposed $1,000 fine.
Thankfully, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission took one of its strongest stances to date, voting 7-1 to reject the proposed settlement and its puny, pathetic fine. Members, including the relatively new vice chair, Alison Kean, asked important and pointed questions that led to a rich debate on the proposed settlement. And ultimately, led to the surprising vote.
In doing so, commission members delivered on their job to safeguard the trust that the public has in its leaders.
Oregonians must be able to rely on the government watchdog to detect these abuses, consider them in context and take appropriate measures to be sure they’re not repeated. A $1,000 fine - agreed upon by agency staff, Kitzhaber and his attorney — would have sent the wrong message to both current and future office holders and undermined the government watchdog’s credibility and mission.
We must not forget this was Oregon’s highest ranking public official who violated four ethics laws, transgressions that could result in a maximum fine of $20,000.
In a Nov. 15 Facebook post, published two days before the commission voted on the settlement, Kitzhaber wrote breaking the ethics law was “unintentional.” He didn’t perceive a conflict of interest in fiancée Cylvia Hayes’ work, he wrote, explaining he thought that she was simply trying to “educate people” rather than “to shape or influence state policy.”
But it was his job to know. That’s especially true considering Kitzhaber had opened his office to Hayes and named her an adviser, a role covering the very political issues on which her private consulting business focused.
Commission members will return to this issue at their next meeting in January. As they prepare, the commission’s nine members should recall how Kitzhaber claimed ignorance over these past problems. He seems to have forgotten that some of his highest-ranking aides voiced concerns at various points about Hayes’ involvement in policy work. At one point, his chief of staff pointedly argued that Hayes shouldn’t work on state policies addressing issues for which she was paid in her consulting work.
At the time, Kitzhaber simply disagreed.
The commission should also recall that while still serving as governor, Kitzhaber initially attempted to evade their scrutiny. Kitzhaber’s emails, which were leaked by a state employee, showed that he and his attorney intended to argue Hayes wasn’t a public official and therefore didn’t need to follow the rules that forbid her from personally benefiting from her public work. The courts have since established that Hayes was a public official.
Kitzhaber and his attorney also planned to argue that she wasn’t a member of his household, meaning he had no obligation to report her income on his ethics forms. Yet Kitzhaber had listed her for years on those very forms as a member of his household.
In the December 2014 email, Kitzhaber wrote about the ethics commission: “We will convey that we are willing to take this all the way and have a strong case for prevailing. But the end game is not actually to have the complaints dismissed but rather to negotiate a stipulated settlement agreement in which we might acknowledge some minor mistakes we may have made and have the matter resolved at the March meeting. Do I have that right?”
Thankfully for Oregonians, the current commission made sure he did not.
Corvallis Gazette Times, Nov. 27, on two reasons to buy locally this season:
Looks like you got through the first big weekend of the holiday shopping season. If you’re among those people who get their holiday “to-do” list done with a month or so to go before Christmas, well, nice work - but the rest of today’s editorial will be of no interest to you.
Most of us, however, are at that point in the holiday season when we’re just making our lists. After all, we tell ourselves, we’ve got weeks to go. No sweat, we tell ourselves, even as we break out into a light sweat.
So here’s a suggestion for this holiday shopping season that could pay off big for you - and certainly will have a payoff for the mid-valley’s economy:
Keep it local this holiday season. Not only will you be saving yourself considerable time and stress, you’ll be helping out your friends and neighbors who increasingly have found employment in the retail and restaurant sectors of the mid-valley’s economy.
A story in today’s paper by Kyle Odegard offers a timely reminder of how these areas of our economy have boomed as we recovered from the recession.
Figures compiled by the Oregon Employment Department suggest that Linn and Benton counties now have around 8,500 workers employed in the retail sector of the economy, and that number has grown by about 1,070 employees since 2009.
Growth has been even faster in the food-service sector of the economy, although it employs fewer people in both counties: The total is about 6,500 employees. But that sector has added some 1,400 jobs since 2009.
One happy result is that mid-valley shoppers have more options available to them as new retail outlets open their doors. And, if you want the perfect end to a busy day of shopping, you have more dining options available as well.
In past years, we’ve made the case about shopping locally during the holidays on purely economic grounds - and these employment numbers certainly bolster this case. The people working in stores and restaurants are your friends and neighbors. Giving back to their communities is part of their business plans. A successful holiday season often is the key to a successful year for many of these businesses.
All that remains true.
But there’s another compelling reason why you should keep it local during the holidays, and it’s all about you: It’s just better for you.
Sure, you could hop into the car and drive to Portland and Woodburn. But think about the time and aggravation you’ll save if you opt for a local retailer instead. You can sleep in a little later and head off to a local store, where you might meet your friends and neighbors. You might be able to spend a little time browsing in search of that perfect gift. And then you can end the excursion with a relaxing meal at an area eatery.
With online shopping booming, remember that many local retailers also have useful websites - and offer an additional benefit as well: If you see something interesting on the site, not only can you buy it, you can journey to the store and examine the item with your own eyes. Or you can call somebody at the store and talk to someone who actually lives in the mid-valley. If a local store doesn’t have a particular item in stock, it usually can order that item and have it ready in a couple of days. And then you can celebrate by grabbing a takeout meal from a local restaurant.
We know that, to some extent, we’re preaching to the converted: Many of you shop locally during the holidays to support the community. For that, we salute you. And if part of the reason why you shop and eat locally is because you know it’s better for you, well, that can be our little holiday secret.
Medford Mail Tribune, Nov. 26, on one answer to homelessness is shelter:
The problem of homelessness is now being talked about as a West Coast phenomenon. There are homeless everywhere, of course, but the problem is more pronounced in this part of the country, especially the issue of homeless people congregating in downtown areas. Medford is grappling with that problem now.
The crisis is complex. There are many reasons people wind up on the street, and not all individuals have the same needs. But the single most effective step - which has been demonstrated by cities that have done it - is to provide shelter and housing.
The Associated Press reported there are now 168,000 homeless people in Washington, Oregon and California, a figure derived from compiling data from every jurisdiction that reports numbers of homeless to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number is up 19,000 from two years ago, although weather and different counting methods may be factors in that increase.
But more striking than the total is this number: 105,000 of those are unsheltered. And that number also has increased. The biggest reason for the increase in homelessness is the soaring cost of housing.
Why is this being talked about as a West Coast problem? Because major cities on the East Coast, which have plenty of homeless people, manage to shelter far more of them.
According to The Associated Press, New York City has the nation’s largest number of homeless residents at 75,000. But only 4,000 of those were on the streets in a count last January. That’s 1 in 20. Contrast that with Los Angeles, where 15 in 20 homeless residents are camping out.
That’s because the city of New York provides shelters and dispatches an army of nonprofit workers under city contract who make contact with people on the street and work to get them into shelters. New York has as many people in shelters as all three West Coast states combined.
Yes, it’s expensive. New York spends $1.7 billion in city, state and federal money on services to the homeless. New York also has a “right to shelter” law that grew out of court rulings and state constitutional provisions aimed at making sure the poor got government help. Washington, D.C., has a right to shelter policy in winter, and Massachusetts extends that right to families with children.
Oregon has no such law, although the possibility has been discussed in Seattle. Oregon cities could, however, take steps to provide more shelter than they do. Some cities have had success with shelter and housing programs, including Fairbanks, Alaska, and Seattle.
So far, the city of Medford’s response has been to focus on exclusion zones and criminal behavior - treating symptoms rather than looking for a cure.
In a report last Sunday by Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann, local advocates said shelter and housing will do the most to reduce the number of homeless people congregating downtown and causing problems for city residents. More police officers, as suggested by Councilman Dick Gordon, wouldn’t do much good. The jail is already too small to house any but the most serious offenders, so arresting more people for drinking and urinating in public won’t keep them off the street.
Gordon noted that hiring six more police officers would cost about $1 million. Spending $1 million to provide shelter that would get people off the street would accomplish more than arresting them with no jail beds to put them in.
Chad McComas, of Rogue Retreat, says shelter for 100 people would go a long way toward reducing the number of people on the street.
Security and sanitation are big concerns, and it would cost some money to establish shelters, but compare that with the money local agencies spend now dealing with the homeless, and ask yourself whether it makes sense to keep treating symptoms rather than funding a solution.
East Oregonian, Nov. 24, on women across Eastern Oregon needing to demand, take their rightful power:
The latter half of 2017 will be remembered as the time that women all over the globe drew a line in the sand.
No longer will sexual harassment be endured silently. No longer will abusers operate with impunity. No longer will men dominate discussion and decision making in board rooms, capitol buildings and households across the country. And no longer will the people who hear these stories demean the accusers, and pick through their lives like vultures in search of rotten meat.
Everyone in this country remains innocent until proven guilty. But the onus is now on those who have been accused of heinous acts - accused by people with nothing to gain but to bring some sense of justice.
It’s an admirable, dangerous time.
Beware the court of public opinion. And beware a moral flattening - where years of predatory behavior require the same punishment as a poor choice of words or a momentary lapse. Or a thoroughly reported article is given the same weight as a Twitter accusation.
The sword is coming for people we admire for their art, or athletic prowess, or their control of a corporate board room, or for their political views that mesh so well with our own.
Beware then, too, the desire make sexual assault and harassment just another partisan division. Find no additional joy from the demise of an enemy, and do not give those who you admire unfair protection from claims of abuse. That’s how this issue became so prevalent and so powerful in the first place.
Politics certainly did play a part in the arrival of this moment. Donald Trump’s electoral victory, despite his deeply problematic relationships with women and his televised brags of sexual assault, helped usher in this age. Charlotte Alter of Time Magazine wrote during the campaign that “the 2016 election was a referendum on what women could achieve and what men could get away with.”
A majority of Americans will no longer stand by the results of that referendum, and want immediate action to remedy the situation. The 2.6 million-strong Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration put the pressure on.
That movement wasn’t just about sexual harassment and assault. It’s ultimately about a fair society in which all viewpoints are considered, and women are not held back when they choose not to play games with powerful men.
And that has made us look at our own backyard.
There is a noticeable dearth of female voices in Eastern Oregon, and Morrow and Umatilla counties in particular. Umatilla County commissioners are all men (and, as far as we can find, have always been men). Morrow County just added Melissa Lindsay to their three-person board, but men have always been a majority there, too.
There has never been a female mayor in the history of Pendleton or Hermiston. Neither city has had a woman city manager. We have found no evidence that its city councils have ever had a majority of women. No woman has ever represented Eastern Oregon in the statehouse. Oregon has only elected one female U.S. Senator in its history. And five of Oregon’s six current Representatives in the U.S. House are men.
These are deeply embarrassing, distressing statistics.
There are woman in positions of leadership in education and business in Eastern Oregon, but to have so many levers of power in the hands of men is dangerous and limiting. If we only include half of our population in important decisions, those decisions are bound to be half as good.
Eastern Oregon must do better. Women across the region should demand their rightful power and take it.
Baker City Herald, Nov. 22, on Brownfield program helping city, students:
It might sound contradictory, but environmental contamination is turning into a boon for Baker City.
Not only are some polluted buildings and properties being cleaned up, but the people doing the work include Baker High School students who are learning skills that could turn into lucrative careers.
This fortunate confluence started a few years ago when the owners of a contaminated property in Baker City donated it to the Baker School District.
The district received a $200,000 federal grant to clean up the property, which was the site of a former machine shop, then sold the land for $45,000.
The district has used the sales proceeds to pay Megan Alameda, who teaches environmental science at the high school and at Baker Technical Institute, and to take students on field trips to learn more about working on what are known as “brownfield” projects.
The newest project involves the Odd Fellows Building on Main Street, parts of which are contaminated with, among other things, lead and asbestos.
As with the Balm Street property, the school district’s plan is to clean up the property, sell it, and use the money for the next job.
This self-sustaining program is exciting.
Not only are potential hazards being eliminated, but properties that otherwise would probably be difficult if not impossible to sell could again contribute to the local economy.
At the same time, local students are gaining experience that might not be available otherwise - even on a college campus.
And considering the number of older buildings in the nation, and the ubiquity of substances such as lead and asbestos in such structures, it seems likely that people who know how to deal with those hazards will be able to find gainful employment.
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