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Another chance for Langrell

Five months ago we recommended Baker City Mayor Richard Langrell give up his largely ceremonial title but remain a city councilor.

Langrell has declined to do so.

But now it seems some of his colleagues might be willing to rescind their decision, made in January 2013, to elect Langrell as mayor.

(In Baker City the elected councilors, not the voters, choose the mayor.)

At the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilor Clair Button said he believes at least three of the seven councilors have asked Langrell to step down as mayor.

The Council might discuss the issue, and possibly vote on a measure to remove Langrell as mayor, at its next meeting, July 8.

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Feds: Slow down on ESA plan


The federal government can devote about as much time and money as it wants to writing rules and laws, yet bureaucrats seem to believe the citizens affected ought to be able to read reams of badly written jargon in a couple of months.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and 42 other lawmakers think citizens are being shortchanged.

We agree.

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should heed the legislators’ advice and give Americans more time to comment on three proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

These changes, which were unveiled on May 12, could result in more public and private land being designated as critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.

If enacted, those changes could have a major effect on the use of public and private land in Baker County and elsewhere in Oregon.

We’re thinking here in particular of the looming possibility of the sage grouse being listed as threatened or endangered, a decision the Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to make in 2015.

And yet with so much potentially at stake, the two federal agencies proposed to give the public just 60 days to comment on the changes to the ESA.

Walden and the other lawmakers suggest adding six months to the comment period.

That’s a reasonable request.

 

Merit pay better than COLA? Maybe


We endorsed Baker City Manager Mike Kee’s proposal to give the city’s 16 non-union employees a 1.5-percent cost-of-living raise, the first for that group since 2011.

The City Council disagreed.

The Council did craft a potential compromise, though, and one that could be an improvement over Kee’s plan.

Councilors recently voted 6-1, with Mayor Richard Langrell opposed, to give Kee authority to award raises of up to 2 percent to non-union staff who have done well on performance evaluations.

Our support for this idea is not without reservation because it’s possible that all of the city’s non-union staff will end up with a bigger raise than what Kee initially proposed — 2 percent compared with 1.5 percent.

That would be too generous.

It defies logic to believe that each non-union employee has performed at such a high level to warrant the maximum pay raise possible.

You won’t find that sort of unanimous excellence at any organization, public or private.

That caveat aside, we prefer giving raises based on merit rather than a spurious cost-of-living basis.

Ultimately, the Council’s decision has put the onus, and rightly so, on Kee.

If he decides to give each non-union employee the full 2-percent raise councilors allotted, then we expect he will explain in some detail, to the public and the Council, why the workers’ performance justified the maximum reward.

 

Bracing for fire season


The rain that doused Baker County earlier this week was no mirage.

But neither is the warm sunshine that quickly replaced the sodden clouds.

And sunshine, not downpours, has been the defining characteristic of this spring. Until Wednesday, in fact, this spring was the driest in the county since World War II.

With the whole of summer yet to come, the odds are high that the fire danger will escalate quickly as July progresses.

Which is not to say big wildfires are a near certainty in Baker County.

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Law can’t deal with all issues


One trait common among lawmakers is the confidence that they can solve every problem by passing a law.

The futility of this notion is of course obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of human history.

Murder, for instance, has been a crime in most parts of the world for centuries.

Yet people keep killing each other, and in pretty much every country.

Probably no type of tragedy prompts more proposals from lawmakers than a fatal shooting at a school.

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Tell us what’s on the rails


Firefighters and other emergency first responders in Oregon now know how much crude oil is rolling along the state’s railroads, including the Union Pacific tracks that run the length of Baker County and directly through Haines, Baker City and Huntington.

That’s good.

What’s not good is that we, the public, don’t have the same information.

Not yet, anyway.

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What do we get for the money?


We’re not opposed to the Baker County Compensation Board’s proposal to make Commissioner Mark Bennett’s position half-time instead of the current quarter-time, and to boost his annual salary from $16,000 to $32,000.

But we expect to see specific examples of how the taxpayers will benefit from the extra outlay of cash.

Bennett and Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. have laid out a compelling case for the change.

In particular, they point out that commissioners need to understand the complex relationships among state and federal agencies that have a direct effect on Baker County’s economy and its residents.

The federal government, after all, manages almost exactly half of Baker County’s 2 million acres.

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D-Day, 70 years later


June 6, 1944, was a terrible day.

But at least Americans had the meager solace of understanding exactly why 2,500 of their soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen died while taking the first step toward liberating France from the Nazis.

It was an awful sacrifice, but a necessary one.

Today, 70 years later, we not only honor those who fought, and those who died, on the beaches of Normandy.

We also reflect on how vastly different the perceptions, and the realities, of America’s military endeavors are now.

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What a real waste looks like


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.

 

Put labels on GMO foods


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.

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