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Candidates beware

There has been as yet scarce interest among Baker City residents in four openings on the seven-member City Council.

As of today, only one person — former councilor Terry Schumacher — has filed. A second, Mike Downing, is collecting signatures. And City Recorder Becky Fitzpatrick said she has given informational packets to two other people.

This apparent apathy doesn’t shock us. The deadline to file as a candidate is 4 p.m. on Aug. 27, and it’s common to have a flurry of late filings. Still and all, that’s less than three weeks away. And although the paperwork isn’t onerous, candidates must gather signatures from at least 40 people who are registered to vote in city elections. For information, go to www.bakercity.com, or call Fitzpatrick at 541-524-2033.

We think this is a particularly compelling time for residents to represent their neighbors and help to run the city. Rising costs for PERS could force the city to make difficult decisions in future years’ budgets. That’s the kind of challenge that we hope will prove irresistible to residents willing to devote their time, and abilities, to public service. It would be a pity if someone missed out on that chance just because he or she missed a deadline.

Starting toward a PERS fix?

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler is wading into the murky swamp of the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.

For taking the risk that he’ll step into a patch of political quicksand, Wheeler deserves credit.

As a Democrat in a state that elects Republicans to statewide offices about once a generation, Wheeler would be on perfectly stable ground by simply going about his duties and leaving PERS to the Legislature.

We don’t mean to imply, though, that Wheeler has discovered a PERS panacea.

In a recent letter to the PERS board of directors, Wheeler suggested a few modest changes that might at least curb the retirement system’s voracious appetite for public dollars that otherwise could keep police officers, firefighters and teachers, among other local, county and state employees, on the job.

Incremental changes might be the best we can hope for.

The truly insidious aspect of PERS is that some of its more expensive benefits — for instance, guaranteeing annual returns of 8 percent on pension accounts for PERS members hired before 1996 — were negotiated as parts of legally binding contracts.

The Legislature can’t simply say, “sorry, we changed our mind.” 

But as Wheeler noted in his letter, the Legislature could trim annual cost-of-living adjustments and do away with an overly generous benefit for retirees who move to another state.

With cities, counties and school districts facing another major increase in their PERS bills next July, Wheeler’s colleagues in Salem are obligated to support his effort to save as much money as possible.

Chicken chain's flap

Remember that innocent era when Chick-fil-A, the purveyor of rapidly delivered poultry, was best known for its clever TV commercials featuring beleaguered cows urging Americans to boost their consumption of chicken?

Today the fast food chain is a symbol in the nation’s debate over same-sex marriage.

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy precipitated this by publicly denouncing same-sex marriage.

We disagree with Cathy, but of course he is entitled to express his opinion in whatever forum he chooses.

And the people who are angry about Cathy’s comments are equally free to picket his restaurants or urge boycotts of the chicken chain.

So far, a fine example of how the First Amendment is supposed to work.

The troubling part of the Chick-fil-A episode happened, perhaps not surprisingly, when some politicians butted in.

The mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco say Chick-fil-A isn’t welcome in their cities. 

Although Mayors Tom Menino (Boston), Rahm Emanuel (Chicago) and Edwin Lee (San Francisco) clarified that they won’t marshal city resources to block Chick-fil-A franchises, we still think the trio went too far.

The First Amendment pretty clearly stands in the way of any city trying to legally restrict businesses from opening based on the political views of their owners. These three mayors should have stuck to criticizing Cathy’s words, rather than implying, however subtly, that his restaurants would be treated differently at City Hall than anyone else’s.

Summer of giving

The economy, according to the cold, hard statistics assembled by analysts, remains in the doldrums.

But there are other measurements, ones which warm the heart.

The generosity of Northeastern Oregon residents is as lively as ever.

Perhaps even more so.

Consider what has happened, or soon will happen, around here this summer.

Last weekend the local American Cancer Society Relay for Life, an event which is the product of hundreds of volunteers, raised more than $60,000 for cancer research.

Over the past eight years these annual relays have brought in more than $500,000.

This Saturday the East-West Shrine All-Star Football Game at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium will add more than $100,000 to the coffers of the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Portland.

Last year’s game raised $130,000.

But the extraordinary part of this story isn’t even those two traditional events.

We’re gratified too by how quickly the region has responded to the plight of Jason and Stacy Bingham, the Baker Valley couple who have already had one of their five children, daughter Sierra, undergo a heart transplant. Now Sierra’s younger sister, Lindsey, is awaiting a heart transplant. And the Binghams’ three other children have been diagnosed with heart problems that could also require life-saving surgery.

Even with insurance, which the Binghams have, the bills could easily surpass the million-dollar threshold.

And although the Binghams have never asked for help, a series of fundraisers in July, including auctions at the Haines Stampede Rodeo and the Baker City Bull and Bronc events, raised tens of thousands of dollars.

“I just cannot believe the generosity of people,” said Jeanette Thompson, who is helping to organize a fundraising auction for the Binghams on Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at the North Powder School.

Another Baker County girl, 9-year-old Tyalinn Harrison of Huntington, needs surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Organizers of a benefit auction and dinner set for Aug. 9 hope to raise $5,000 to help the Harrison family.

If the event — it starts at 5 p.m. at the Baker City Seventh-Day Adventist Church — brings in more than $5,000, the organizers will donate the surplus dollars to the Binghams.

The bottom line is that even when dollars are precious, local residents have responded to the extraordinary difficulties of their neighbors with generosity that’s equally extraordinary.

Best route for the power line

We’re encouraged by the latest news from the sluggish process that is Idaho Power Company’s Boardman-to-Hemingway project.

The latest map, to be specific.

The newest possible route for the Boise company’s 500-kilovolt transmission line looks as though it addresses the most significant of the local concerns about the line’s effects.

Learning from the flames

The wildfires that blackened huge swathes of sagebrush steppe in southeastern Oregon this month surely will rekindle the simmering debate over the effects of livestock grazing on the primarily public rangeland that was scorched.

This is a good thing.

The BLM, which manages the vast majority of those acres as well as quite similar land in eastern and southern Baker County, is obligated to try to find out why almost 750,000 acres, which includes vital habitat for the sage grouse, burned.

Moreover, the agency has a responsibility to revise its grazing rules should the post-fire probe show that such changes would likely reduce the risk of similar fires in the future.

Tapping our local energy

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., came to Baker County last week to talk up hydroelectric power.

We share the congressman’s enthusiasm for this rather humble source of megawatts.

We’ve been tapping the potential of flowing water around here for about as long as we’ve boasted electric lights.

Sandusky is the real monster

Quite a few people in addition to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky have had their reputations forever tarnished by the Penn State football abuse scandal.

And rightly so.

But amid the publicity that followed last week’s release of the report that is a scathing indictment of the Sandusky cover up, we were troubled by the focus shifting from Sandusky to his much more famous boss, the late Joe Paterno, Penn State’s head coach for more than 40 years.

Paterno deserves the scorn that has been heaped on him, to be sure. So do all the other Penn State officials who failed to stop a monster from preying on more victims.

But the monster — the only one who truly has earned that moniker in this whole awful mess — is Sandusky himself.

It would be a pity if the enormity of his crimes were diminished, in the public’s perception, by attention given to associates such as Paterno whose notoriety is greater but whose misdeeds, bad though they are, are minor compared to Sandusky’s.

Bye, bank. Hello home? Or a pub?

The news that Bank of America is closing its Baker City branch in October wasn’t exactly shocking.

Most of the nation’s major banks — B of A, based in Charlotte, N.C., ranks second in assets to JPMorgan Chase — have pared their operations since the financial meltdown four years ago.

But this inconvenience for the bank’s local customers also creates an opportunity for the community.

That’s because Bank of America’s Baker City branch is not the typical boring banking center, architecturally speaking.

It’s located in one of Baker City’s older — and to our eyes, one of the more interesting — Victorian homes.

The Ison House, at 1790 Washington Ave., was built in 1887. The Queen Anne-style home was built of brick brought from Portland. According to Historic Baker City Inc’s guide to local architecture, the home’s original owner, Luther B. Ison, deemed locally fired brick too soft for his tastes.

Not to disparage banks, and the potential loss of jobs from the bank’s closures is unfortunate, but we’d be pleased if the Ison House were sold and used for either of two purposes.

The most obvious would be that someone with a surfeit of money and patience buys the home and restores it for its original use: as a home.

The more intriguing idea, though, has to do with brew.

McMenamins of Portland is renowned for turning antique buildings into restaurants. Among the company’s locations is an old house in South Salem that’s not all that different from the Ison House.

Baker City already has two brewpubs, of course — Barley Brown’s and Bull Ridge. 

Adding a McMenamins could bolster our reputation as a destination for beer connoisseurs, and give a boost to the two existing businesses that serve a similar clientiele.

Studded tires get a reprieve

Your studded tires should be safe for at least one more winter.

A Portland man who wants to ban studded tires on Oregon roads failed to gather enough signatures to put a proposed ban on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Jeff Bernards didn’t even come close, in fact. He needed at least 80,000 signatures from registered voters. He collected about 10,000.

We’re happy about his failure.

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