Baker City’s recent debate about modest salary raises for a dozen or so employees, and questions raised during the primary election campaign about whether Baker County is holding on to too much cash at the end of the fiscal year, seem quaint in comparison to the financial debacle that’s been plaguing Multnomah County for a decade.
We’re referring to the infamous Wapato Jail in Oregon’s most populous county.
In a case of government ineptitude that surely surprises even cynics, Multnomah County spent $58 million to build a jail that has never housed an inmate.
And the county continues to shell out $300,000 per year to maintain the building.
The explanation for what seems inexplicable is that county officials overestimated the number of jail cells that would be needed.
We don’t mean to suggest that salary raises for city workers, or Baker County’s budgeting strategy, are topics unworthy of public discussion. Of course they are.
But as we debate these issues, we as taxpayers ought to feel better knowing that at least we’re not paying for an empty building.
The issue of genetically modified organisms in food — GMOs — has become a major political topic in Oregon.
Last week voters in Josephine and Jackson counties in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley voted to ban GMO crops.
And it’s likely that in November voters statewide will decide whether to require food containing GMO ingredients to be labeled as such.
We see no reason for consumers to worry about GMO foods. Americans have been eating them, in products containing soybeans, corn and wheat, among others, for more than 20 years, and the consensus among scientists who have studied GMOs is that these foods pose no unique health risks. That consensus is about as strong as the conclusion that climate change is happening.
The 2012 withdrawal of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s widely reviled Travel Management Plan (TMP) pleased many ATV riders who enjoy the forest’s network of open roads, but it turns out that in one sense the decision might not have been good for loggers and Boise Cascade’s sawmills.
In a curious reversal, environmental groups that criticized the TMP in 2012 because it didn’t ban motor vehicles from enough roads, now are wielding that abandoned plan as a cudgel against Snow Basin, the largest logging project on the Wallowa-Whitman in almost a quarter century.
The plaintiffs in a 2012 lawsuit challenging the Snow Basin project in eastern Baker County are the Hells Canyon Preservation Council and the League of Wilderness Defenders/Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.
They argue that because the Wallowa-Whitman withdrew the TMP, the mileage of roads in the Snow Basin area open to motor vehicles poses a threat to elk that the forest has failed to adequately address.
You can sense it when you stroll among the graves in the veterans section at Mount Hope Cemetery, and watch the rows of American flags flutter in the May breeze.
But perhaps the most poignant reminder of what Memorial Day means comes when you stand in front of the monument on the east lawn of the Baker County Courthouse, on Third Street between Court and Washington avenues, and you read the names rendered there in metal.
These are the men and women from Baker County who died while serving in uniform during a war.
And although the letters that make up their names are small, their contributions are so great as to defy measurement.
Each name represents not just one life lost, but a long roster of family and friends whose own lives were forever changed by a death on a foreign battlefield.
We do what we can to remember and to honor them, with monuments and avenues of flags and speeches, though we know these are, and can ever only be, tokens.
But still these gestures matter, however minor they might seem compared with the magnitude of the sacrifices they are intended to recognize.
This day, which is their day and theirs alone, matters.
The wave of court rulings giving same sex couples the legal right to get married has finally, perhaps inevitably, reached Oregon’s shores.
On Monday federal Judge Michael McShane, as expected, overturned the state’s ban on same sex marriage. In 2004 Oregon voters, with 56.7 percent in favor, approved Measure 36, which added to the state’s Constitution a definition of marriage as “between one man and one woman.”
Oregon is the 14th state to have its gay marriage ban invalidated since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
We support McShane’s ruling.
And we expect that were the matter put to Oregon voters today, the outcome would be different than it was a decade ago.
If you haven’t put your ballot for today's primary election in the mail, don’t.
It’s too late.
If you want your vote to count, you’ll need to bring your ballot to the Courthouse, 1995 Third St. in Baker City, or slip the envelope into one of the county’s other ballot drop boxes, by 8 p.m.
• County Clerk’s office, Suite 150 in the Courthouse, open today until 5 p.m., and Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Drive-up drop box on the west side (Fourth Street) of the Courthouse, open 24 hours
• Community Connection of Baker County Senior Center, 2810 Cedar St. in Baker City, open today until 5 p.m., and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Halfway City Hall, open today until 4 p.m., and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Huntington City Hall, open today until 4 p.m., and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Richland City Hall, open today until 3 p.m., and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Baker City Herald’s endorsements for Tuesday’s primary:
• Baker County Commission Chairman: Fred Warner Jr.
• Baker County Commission Position 2: Mark Bennett
The Herald has not endorsed a candidate in the three-person race for Baker County Clerk because it’s likely that two of the three candidates — Marcy Osborn, Cindy Carpenter and Lara Petitclerc — will advance to November’s general election.
That will happen unless one of the three candidates gets more than 50 percent of the total votes cast Tuesday.
Although this year’s primary has been one of the most competitive — and expensive — local races in years, in particular the contest between incumbent Fred Warner Jr. and Bill Harvey for Baker County Commission chairman, voter turnout as of this morning was just 32.8 percent.
We hope that percentage is substantially higher by the time the final ballot is tallied Tuesday night.
The new playground equipment at Geiser-Pollman park will be installed this week.
The Playground Improvement Project was the brainchild of two Baker City moms, Lisa Britton Jacoby and Megan Fisher, who thought it would be a good idea to have upgraded, safer playground structures at Geiser-Pollman Park. After asking about how to make that happen, they found that there was no money in the Baker City parks budget for the equipment.
So instead of shrugging their shoulders and walking away, they started doing some research and created a plan for the playground, and researched ways to raise the money and community support needed to buy new play structures.
Last week was a tribute to how Baker County residents strive to make something positive from tragedies.
Both examples happened at Baker High School.
On Wednesday, April 30, BHS students and others brought their cars to the school for the annual Brian Sorensen Car Rally.
The event honors Sorensen, a 2000 BHS graduate who died from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, on June 30, 2000.
The car rally that bears Brian’s name raises money for the Ronald McDonald House in Boise, where Brian’s family stayed while he was undergoing treatment.
The Supreme Court weighed in more than a decade too late to have much influence on Baker City’s controversy, but the nation’s highest court has finally endorsed, albeit by the narrowest margin, the City Council’s longtime practice of opening its meetings with a Christian invocation.
In a 5-4 ruling Monday on a case from Greece, N.Y., the Court decided that invocations made during local meetings, including prayers that are explicitly Christian, are constitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, concluded that “the inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledged religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.”
We agree with Kennedy’s conclusion.
Mark Bennett is the incumbent in his campaign against his fellow Republican challengers Gene Stackle and Dick Fleming for Position 2 on the Baker County Board of Commissioners.
But incumbency isn’t Bennett’s major advantage, and it’s not the main reason we urge registered Republicans to vote for him in the May 20 primary.
What distinguishes Bennett is his experience in helping to run Baker County, and the knowledge he’s gained during more than 20 years as a county employee.
Bennett’s career includes stints in two jobs that give him a depth of expertise about issues that matter to county residents, a depth that few candidates for his position have boasted.