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Langrell: Drop mayor title, stay on as councilor


Baker City Mayor Richard Langrell, who is demanding the city reimburse him almost $15,000 in water and sewer bills he paid over the past nine years, should give up his title.

But he also should continue to serve as a city councilor, representing the people who elected him in November 2012.

In the council-manager form of government that Baker City adopted more than half a century ago, the title of mayor carries no special powers. The mayor can’t, for instance, veto a decision by his colleagues.

Basically, the mayor’s duties, beyond that of a regular councilor, are to preside over meetings and sign ordinances and other documents.


Conflict and Coles


Baker City Councilor Roger Coles should have publicly announced during the Council’s Jan. 14 meeting that his wife, Dawn, works for the Baker County YMCA.

During that meeting Roger Coles criticized City Manager Mike Kee and other city staff for failing to work with the YMCA to plan for needed repairs at Sam-O Swim Center. The city owns the swimming pool and the YMCA manages it.

To be clear, we don’t believe Councilor Coles has an actual conflict of interest in this matter.


A waste of $6.1 million


Government’s ability to obscure simple matters in the impenetrable foliage of jargon is infamous, yet even our cynical eyes can still be surprised.

This would be an amusing trait if it weren’t also so often an expensive one, with tax dollars footing the bill.

As reported in a story in Monday’s issue of the Herald, Oregon is among nine states that have received $6.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to.....

Well, here’s where that jargon jungle gets in the way.


The GOP challenge


Baker County Republicans had a great chance Wednesday to talk with five people who will be seeking their vote in the May primary, and it was heartening to see a meeting room at the Sunridge Inn filled.

The county’s Republican Party put together the forum that brought to Baker City the five candidates who want to replace Democrat Jeff Merkley as U.S. senator. Although only registered Republicans will get to decide which of the five will challenge Merkley in the general election — Jason Conger, Tim Crawley, Mark Callahan, Monica Wehby and Jo Rae Perkins — the event was a valuable chance for all residents to hear from the group, one of whom might be representing us at the Capitol a year from now.


City staff is sufficient


The Baker City Council last week revived a debate that councilors started last spring.

The issue is whether the city has enough employees to do all the tasks residents expect.

Councilor Mike Downing contends the city workforce is too small. 

He believes the city needs more firefighters, police officers and public works employees.

Mayor Richard Langrell and Councilor Roger Coles disagree.


Consider open primaries


A Union County group thinks all voters in that county should be able to choose among county commission candidates in primary elections.

This is an idea worth considering in Baker County as well.

Both Baker and Union counties are among a minority of Oregon counties — 16 of 36 — where county commissioners are partisan offices.

We don’t mind that, per se.


Events should continue


It would seem at first glance that it’s been a tough run these past several months for Baker City events.

Last August the Chamber of Commerce announced that it would no longer sponsor Miners Jubilee.

And now Historic Baker City Inc., which puts on the Taste of Baker, the Christmas parlor tour and the Christmas parade, is set to lose about half of its revenue through the downtown Economic Improvement District.

Yet we remain confident that there are those among Baker’s business community and volunteers who are numerous and energetic enough to ensure that those events which residents truly value will continue to happen, even if the names of the organizers and sponsors change.


Wise to look at pot stores


We’ve not seen evidence that anyone plans to try to open a medical marijuana store in Baker County.

But we agree with Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner that local elected officials should start thinking about the issue, and in particular about whether they want to restrict or outright ban such businesses.

Whether such prohibitions would survive legal challenges is an open question, but that hasn’t discouraged other Oregon cities from taking action.

Since Aug. 14, when Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law House Bill 3460, which legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries, several cities, including Medford and Gresham, have enacted ordinances that in effect ban such businesses.

The basis for these bans is that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which does not recognize the Oregon statute, and that cities and counties have the legal right to prohibit businesses that violate federal law.


Beef up public records law


If every action government agencies take on our behalf, and with our money, happened during a public meeting, there wouldn’t be much need for a public records law.

Obviously this isn’t the case.

Indeed, much of the government action, so to speak, happens outside the public’s purview. These actions almost always produce records, though — emails, memos and the like.

The notion that the public should be able to have a look at these records — “our” records, as we like to think of them — is hardly new. Oregon’s Public Records and Public Meetings laws were passed in 1973.

Yet over the ensuing four decades the trend has been to make it more difficult for people to see public records.


Sage grouse plan: Long, important


In the grand tradition of federal government documents, the BLM’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) outlining possible strategies for managing sage grouse habitat in Oregon is of daunting length.

At 900 pages or so, it requires strong arms to heft the paper copy, and a muscled microprocessor to open the pdf version.

But also in common with some other federal treatises of even greater mass — the Affordable Care Act, for instance — the sage grouse plan could have significant effects that aren’t obvious from a cursory reading.

Which, let’s be honest, is about all most people have the time and inclination to invest.


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