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End Knight’s censure, but without a recall


Baker School Board Chair Lynne Burroughs and board member Mark Henderson made a major mistake in April when they voted to censure their colleague, Kyle Knight.

More specifically, they erred in making the censure not merely a public condemnation of Knight, which is the typical approach in such cases, but by also imposing punitive measures.

With the support of Superintendent Walt Wegener, Henderson and Burroughs have withheld information from Knight, excluded him from subcommittee meetings and prohibited him from meeting with district officials. By doing so they have in effect partially disenfranchised the nearly 1,600 district patrons who voted for Knight in May 2011.

The board members’ and Wegener’s claims — that Knight violated a host of state and federal laws, as well as the U.S. Constitution itself, by telling the media that a district employee was suspected of (and later convicted of) trying to steal money from the district — are wrong.

Knight’s censure should be revoked.

There are two ways this could potentially happen.

The first is that voters could recall Henderson and Burroughs in the Dec. 11 special election. Their replacements, who would be appointed by the remaining board members — Knight, Andrew Bryan and Jim Longwell — probably would join Knight and Longwell in voting to cancel the censure (Bryan voted with Burroughs and Henderson in favor of the censure; Longwell voted no, as, naturally, did Knight).

The second option is that Knight, who in September filed a $700,000 civil rights lawsuit against the district, Henderson, Burroughs and Wegener, will convince a judge to revoke the censure. 

We think it’s likely that a judge will do so, considering the weakness of the case Burroughs, Henderson and Bryan made to justify censuring Knight.

We hope this latter, legal, route is how the school board dispute is resolved.

Recalling Henderson and Burroughs next month would no doubt be satisfying to some of their critics. We understand, and share, the critics’ frustration.

We opposed the censure vote this spring.

We have criticized Burroughs, Henderson and Wegener for acting as though Oregon’s public records and public meetings laws were intended to exclude the public when in fact the laws’ actual purpose is to ensure the public can keep track of what its elected officials and public agencies are up to.

Advocating for grown-up ways to settle this dispute have gone unheeded.

In late September we suggested a return to the status quo ante — the board withdraws Knight’s censure, Knight drops the lawsuit and the recall proponents suspend their campaign.

None of those things has happened.

To be clear, our preference for ending Knight’s censure by way of his lawsuit — and with no monetary award — rather than through a recall should not be construed in any way as an endorsement of Burroughs and Henderson.

But a recall simply removes board members without either correcting their actions, or blocking the board or another public body from repeating their mistake.

In the best interests of Baker County, the overriding goal should be revoking the censure, the aspect of this controversy that has had the most direct, and troubling, effect on the district’s patrons now, and could have in the future if punitive censures remain possible.

If this goal can be accomplished without removing elected officials from office — itself a form of disenfranchisement, as Burroughs and Henderson have supporters as well — and without saddling the school district or, more likely, its insurance provider, with a bill exceeding half a million dollars, then so much the better.

Moreover, a judge’s ruling would serve as a legal precedent that should prevent the Baker School Board, as well as other public bodies statewide, from enacting punitive censures against elected officials on trumped up charges that, as in Knight’s case, have no merit.

 

Our votes do matter


It’s natural for some Baker County voters to feel a trifle disenchanted in the aftermath of last week’s election.

Slightly more than two-thirds of us — 67.5 percent — cast our votes in the presidential race for Republican Mitt Romney.

President Barack Obama, who handily won a second term, polled just 28 percent here.

Baker County is hardly unique in this regard, of course.

Geopolitically, Oregon looks like a sea of Republican red with scattered islands of Democratic blue — 25 of the state’s 36 counties went for Romney.

Four of those 25 counties were even more pro-Romney than Baker County — Lake, 75.7 percent; Grant, 74.8 percent; Harney, 72.7 percent; and Malheur, 69 percent.

The national map shows a similar colorscape.

But lest any local voters lament that their opinions were rendered moot, consider Congress. For the eighth straight election, voters in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of the state east of the Cascades, elected Republican Greg Walden to a two-year term.

A compelling case can be made that Walden’s position more directly affects Baker County than whoever is living in the White House. When a flood wrecks irrigation ditches, for instance,  it’s Walden who’s likely to be the most vocal and influential advocate for local needs and concerns. Our majority voice still rings clearly in the House of Representatives.

 

Letters strike a civil tone

Politics has earned its reputation as a nasty business.

National campaigns that include the quadrennial presidential election — only one more day of the current iteration, fortunately — tend to get particularly fractious.


Read more...
 

No need to salt roads


We can’t fault the Oregon Department of Transportation for striving to make the state’s highways safer.

But the recent revelation that ODOT plans to reverse, albeit in a limited sense, the state’s long-standing aversion to spreading salt on its roads seems to us an unnecessary expenditure of time and money.

We use the word “revelation” intentionally.

ODOT didn’t ask the public, or even the state Transportation Commission, what it thinks before setting up the five-year pilot project.

The Oregonian reported last week that ODOT plans to experiment with rock salt, which melts snow and ice, on an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 5 near the California border, and the 120-mile section of U.S. Highway 95 in the state’s southeastern corner between Idaho and Nevada.

ODOT officials chose those highways because the three bordering states all salt their highways, creating the potential for drivers entering Oregon to almost immediately go from wet pavement to ice or packed snow.

ODOT didn’t offer The Oregonian any proof that this transition is responsible for highway crashes.

The evidence is overwhelming, though, that spreading salt on highways accelerates the growth of rust on cars.

Salt also can pollute streams and groundwater sources.

It’s not as if ODOT is powerless to deal with slippery highways.

The agency already uses deicing liquids that aren’t as likely as salt to damage cars or the environment.

Moreover, the prevalence of technological advances — key among them better studless snow tires and electronic stability-control systems, the latter mandatory on all new cars starting with the 2012 model year — has contributed to an unprecedented decline in highway deaths in Oregon. 

In 2010, a total of 292 people died in highway crashes in the state, the fewest in more than 60 years.

The death toll rose slightly in 2011, to 310, but the rate is down 3 percent from last year so far in 2012.

Oregon’s roads, based on the volume of traffic, have never been safer. Salt might not make things safer, but they’ll definitely introduce new problems.

 

Elect Romney as president


The crux of the presidential race is this question: Have President Barack Obama’s policies failed to revive the U.S. economy because they are flawed, or because they haven’t had sufficient time to take effect?

We believe the former is true.

That tops the list of reasons why we hope voters will elect Republican Mitt Romney to replace Obama.

To be clear, “flawed” is not synonymous with “wrong.”

The president’s faith in the federal government’s ability to cure macroeconomic ills is not implausible.

Yet the prescriptions he has offered during his term, most notably the 2009 stimulus bill, simply haven’t paid off as the president and his supporters in Congress insisted they would.

Despite recent hints of improvement — a relatively robust stock market, a modest decline in unemployment rates — we’re not willing to take the risk that four more years of similar approaches will reverse the nation’s troubling course.

Although Obama and Romney sometimes sound similar on the campaign trail in touting their plans to “get America working again,” the differences in their philosophies are significant.

As his maneuvering on the stimulus bill and on Obamacare showed, the president sees Washington, D.C., as the origin of an economic revival, regardless of what the people who have run successful companies believe.

Romney, for instance.

He makes the compelling argument that businesses are more likely to prosper when they face fewer impediments from the capital, whether those be taxes or regulations.

Although we’re not so naivé as to believe that Romney’s election will mark a new era of bipartisanship in Congress, his ability as the Republican governor of Massachusetts to work closely, and effectively, with a Democrat-dominated legislature is telling.

President Obama is a good and earnest man. But his record is one of failure. We urge Americans to give Mitt Romney a chance to do better.

 

Re-elect Southwick as sheriff


Mitch Southwick has earned a third term as Baker County’s top law enforcement official.

Southwick has been an effective administrator — one so respected by his peers that they elected him as president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association in 2008.

Southwick has not been content, though, to manage from his office.

We appreciate his willingness to get involved in search and rescue efforts, to regularly visit outlying cities, and to be an active member of his community through the Lions Club and other outlets.

In addition to overseeing the sheriff’s office, Southwick is responsible for the Baker County Jail and the Parole and Probation Department.

We also find Southwick’s no-nonsense attitude refreshing.

Although he has maintained a good working relationship with the county commissioners, Southwick points out, and rightly so, that “my boss is the people of Baker County. I don’t work for the commissioners — I can oppose them if I want.”

Southwick’s opponent, Dee Gorrell, has impressive law enforcement credentials, including experience with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.

But Southwick’s resumé is longer still — including 28 years with the Oregon State Police, 18 of those years as a supervisor or manager, before he “retired” and was elected in 2004 as sheriff.

More importantly, though, Southwick has proved his ability to perform his current job at a high level, and expressed his eagerness to continue doing so for four more years.

 

Elect Knute Buehler as Secretary of State


Knute Buehler has taken an interesting approach to the inherent challenges of his candidacy for Oregon Secretary of State.

One of those is to convince voters that Secretary of State is a vital job, and that choosing the right person for the post can have wide-ranging effects on residents across the state.

Buehler, who already bears the considerable burden of being a Republican in a state that has elected few candidates from his party to statewide office in the past 30 years, has emphasized — correctly — that the Secretary of State can have a major influence on important issues.

More to the point, he makes a compelling argument that his challenger, incumbent Democrat Kate Brown, has not wielded that influence with much vigor.

Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), for instance, is not, strictly speaking, under the Secretary of State’s bailiwick.

Yet PERS’ exorbitant, and growing, appetite for tax dollars not only at the state level, but for cities, counties and school districts statewide, is a looming fiscal disaster, and Buehler, unlike Brown, has proposed a series of reforms that could help ease the PERS threat.

That’s what we expect from an elected official, regardless of what their official job description says.

We also like Buehler’s enthusiasm for taking a more active role as a member of the State Land Board, and questioning the status quo. The Secretary of State is one of three members of that board, which among other things sets policy for how state forests are managed.

Finally, we believe Buehler will be more aggressive than Brown has been in using the state’s audits division, which the Secretary of State oversees, to find frivolous spending in state agencies.

Oregon voters should elect Buehler and give him a chance to make good on his plan to turn the Secretary of State into something more than another office in Salem.

 

No on Measure 85


When someone suggests the government should get to keep more money earned by individuals or businesses, our first question is always: “What’s the government going to do with it?”

Proponents of Measure 85 on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would end Oregon’s corporate tax “kicker” system, answer our query with the predictable: “It’s for the kids.”

Except it might not be for the kids.

The money could, in fact, be used for pretty much whatever the Legislature decides.

That uncertainty is why we urge a “no” vote on Measure 85.

To be clear, the measure has nothing to do with the other leg of Oregon’s unusual income tax kicker system. The personal kicker, which gives rebates to people and families when income tax revenue exceeds the state’s projects by more than 2 percent, wouldn’t be affected by Measure 85.

The measure instead targets the corporate kicker, which works the same way but is by far the smaller, in dollars, of the two legs. Since the kicker system started in the late 1970s, the state has “kicked back” $2.6 billion in personal taxes, and $527 million to corporations.

Measure 85 would divert any future corporate kickers — there have been just three in the past 20 years — to the state’s general fund.

The measure’s backers say that money is destined to prop up Oregon’s financially ailing public schools.

But there’s a lot more to the general fund than schools. And Measure 85 doesn’t require the Legislature to spend corporate kicker dollars on schools.

Ultimately the measure isn’t necessary anyway.

The Legislature already can vote to keep the corporate kicker — and it has, most recently in 2007.

On that occasion lawmakers put the money into a rainy day fund that can’t be tapped except with the support of two-thirds of the Legislature.

That at least put a level of restraint on how the money is spent.

Measure 85, by contrast, would simply dump the dollars into the maw of the general fund. If we’re going to stamp out the corporate kicker we need more assurance that the money will be spent wisely.

 

Our picks for City Council


Baker City voters have a long list of qualified candidates to choose from as they sit down with their ballots and pick four people to represent them on the seven-member City Council.

Each of the nine candidates has qualities that would be valuable at City Hall.

We believe the quartet of Mike Downing, Barbara Johnson, Kim Mosier and Milo Pope combines the best mixture of experience and perspective.

Pope, a retired judge who presided over the Baker County Circuit Court, is the only incumbent on the ballot.

We have at times disagreed with Pope.

In particular we chastised him for intentionally missing a City Council meeting in August 2010 and attending a private gathering instead.

That said, Pope has been an effective councilor who frequently asks good questions about the city’s budget. He has also been a consistent advocate for finding a new source of revenue to maintain our streets, which have been degrading for more than a decade.

As an incumbent, Pope won’t need to familiarize himself with major city issues.

The continuity he would bring is especially important in 2013 as the Council deals with the effects of a rising PERS bill, and negotiations with all three of the city’s labor unions, whose contracts expire at the end of June.

Downing is a Baker City native who has already shown his commitment to public service. He served as a pro tem Justice of the Peace and was a candidate for that position earlier this year, and he has worked as a reserve dispatcher at the Baker County Consolidated Dispatch Center for the past five years.

Like Downing, Mosier has young children, and one of her goals it to work to make sure Baker City continues to be an excellent place to raise a family.

As a former deputy district attorney in Baker County and former assistant attorney general in the Oregon Attorney General’s office, Mosier has considerable experience in analyzing complex issues and making decisions based on a thorough consideration.

Johnson brings a different, but equally vital, perspective.

Like Pope she is a senior citizen who understands the unique concerns that older residents have. This is no minor matter in Baker City, where 20.5 percent of the population is 65 or older — well above the Oregon (13.9 percent) and national (13.3 percent) averages.

We were also impressed with Johnson’s enthusiasm for working on behalf of Baker City, a community where, in her own words, she moved “in 2004, not knowing a soul.”

Three other candidates — Jack Turner, R. Mack Augenfeld and Terry Schumacher — are also seniors.

Turner has been a major player in economic development, and we like his ideas about demanding results from the city’s investment in trying to attract new businesses. Turner lacks experience as an elected official, however.

That’s not the case with Schumacher and Richard Langrell. Both are former councilors with considerable experience in city government.

But unlike Pope, neither Schumacher nor Langrell has worked with the current city manager, Mike Kee.

Kyle Knight has shown a propensity for scrutinizing the spending of tax dollars as a member of the Baker School Board, a desirable trait in any elected official.

But the school board position is a major commitment. Moreover, Knight recently filed a civil lawsuit against the school district.  The current controversy in which the school board is embroiled seems to us too great a distraction, even for an energetic candidate such as Knight.

 

Voters should ignore sleazy mailer


‘Tis the season for slimy political tricks, but the example that a local resident brought to the Herald office on Thursday is particularly disturbing.

The package, which was sent by regular mail, attempts, in a pathetic and clumsy way, to besmirch the reputation of Steve Bogart, one of two candidates for Baker Justice of the Peace.

It’s based on a 1995 incident in which current Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, at that time a deputy D.A., was arrested for drunken driving in Union County.

Bogart was at that time Baker County Judge — not an actual legal judge, but the position we now call chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners. Bogart did not fire Shirtcliff, who completed an alcohol treatment program and probation, and who has gone on to a successful career as district attorney.

The person who sent the mailer lacked the fortitude to attach a name to the missive.

But under the cloak of anonymity the person levels a blizzard of nasty-sounding charges against Bogart, suggesting that he is unqualified because he lacks a “true moral anchor,” “possesses a foul sense of justice” and, egads, he used to work in a lumber mill.

We hope few people received this insulting compilation in their maibox. 

Moreover, we hope no voter is influenced by this affront to reasonable political debate.

We believe both Bogart and his challenger, Don Williams — who we’re confident had nothing to do with the mailer — are eminently capable of serving as Justice of the Peace.

In fact we’re so confident in both candidates’ abilities, and in the similarity of their qualifications, that we’ve chosen not to endorse either in the election.

We feel this is a reasonable position, given that Williams and Bogart themselves, when we asked each if his opponent was qualified to serve as Justice of the Peace, both showed great honesty and civility by saying yes, the opposing candidate was qualified to do the job.

 
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