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