Alcohol and summer festivals.
The combination can be a volatile one.
But this summer, in Baker City, it wasn’t.
On successive weekends we welcomed thousands of visitors, first for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally, then for Miners Jubilee.
A larger-than-usual contingent of local police patrolled during both events but the officers spent more time talking to people than putting on handcuffs.
The police presence is partly responsible for the relative tranquility, of course.
And in the case of the beer garden that’s part of the festivities surrounding the annual bull and bronc riding events, a series of protocols agreed upon by the organizers and Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner — including requiring a minimum number “alcohol monitors,” who try to ensure people don’t overindulge — no doubt helped to curb problems.
Ultimately, though, we give the lion’s share of the credit to people who imbibed, but not to excess.
Moreover, almost everyone who drank alcohol chose not to drive a vehicle. Baker City Police arrested only one person for drunken driving during Miners Jubilee weekend, and Lohner said there was no evidence that person had attended any events related to the Jubilee.
We don’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t always be thoughtful, law-abiding citizens.
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see that major events, which inevitably involve alcohol, needn’t devolve into ugly, and potentially dangerous, scenes.
A couple days after four of his colleagues on the Baker City Council stripped him of his title, former Mayor Richard Langrell told Herald reporter Pat Caldwell that he would “sit there and be quiet with my hands folded and be a rubber stamp like the other four.”
We hope Langrell’s tongue was stuck in his cheek.
We’re pretty sure it was in the vicinity, anyway.
His constituents didn’t elect him to represent them as a rubber stamp, a metaphor for an elected official who never questions the majority opinion.
And a year and a half into his four-year term, Langrell hasn’t exactly been a malleable councilor.
Twice in this space earlier this year we urged Langrell to resign as mayor because we don’t think it’s appropriate that he remain, in effect, the face of the city while he’s suing the city trying to reclaim water and sewer fees he paid. But we also want him to stay on as councilor because he’s an effective representative for a significant percentage of city residents.
Langrell has been a vocal and consistent questioner of the city’s spending priorities — especially related to employees’ wages and benefits, the largest chunk of the city’s budget.
He also has been a persistent critic of the city’s somewhat sluggish response in repairing a fence designed to keep cattle from getting into the watershed that supplies drinking water to the city’s 10,000 residents.
Both are vital issues that deserve a vigorous debate among councilors, not a mild consensus.
Baker County has long been known for its ranches, farms and orchards that produce the staples of an all-American meal.
Peaches and huckleberries for a dessert cobbler.
But the county is also starting to round out the local menu with a selection of beverages with which adults can complement their dinners.
We have a pair of breweries in Barley Brown’s and Bull Ridge.
Travis Cook and Jacki and Lance Adams are growing wine grapes near Keating and Richland.
When you own the town’s ice cream shop you’re going to get a lot of smiles from your customers.
Who can frown, after all, at the man who hands you a double scoop of rocky road or huckleberry?
But John Osborn did a lot more to make people happy than whip up milkshakes at Charley’s Ice Cream parlor at Main and Broadway.
Osborn, who died July 2 at age 61, was helping Baker County’s children long before he weighed his first bag of jelly beans or jawbreakers at Charley’s.
He was an assistant Scoutmaster for a quarter century.
He served on the sale committees for the Baker County Fair, as well as the Baker County Fair in Halfway.
He coached youth baseball and softball for many years.
John later turned his restaurant into a Thanksgiving soup kitchen, where he served free meals to people on the holiday.
It’s little wonder that John was nominated for Baker County Man of the Year in 2010.
We hope Charley’s continues to dish out treats for sweet tooths of all ages.
But the place won’t ever be quite the same without John Osborn standing behind the counter, asking you what’ll you have.
Oregon isn’t among the nine states that make it a criminal offense to impersonate someone online.
It should join that list.
Not every person who has his or her name co-opted by a Facebook imposter suffers any real harm, of course.
But the potential for irreparable damage, whether to a victim’s reputation or bank account, more than justifies adding to the state’s criminal statutes.
Some existing laws could encompass certain types of online impersonation — fraud, identity theft and harassment, for instance, are all illegal in every state.
Still and all, the difference between a harmless prank — creating a Twitter account or Facebook page under a friend’s name and posting silly pictures or slightly embarrassing quotes, say — and permanently sullying a person’s name isn’t always distinct.
In a recent case in Baker City, someone created a Facebook page pretending to be former City Councilor Gary Dielman, who’s an elected member of the Baker County Library District board and of the Baker County Democratic Central Committee.
It’s not clear what the imposter did, other than exchange online messages with at least one local resident.
But with no state law in place that deals explicitly with online impersonators whose motivations aren’t blatant, Oregon is too inviting a place for imposters who might be trying to pull something other than a juvenile prank.
As we celebrate our nation’s independence today it’s appropriate to also consider how much progress we’ve made in ensuring citizens have the full measure of freedom — America’s DNA, you might say.
During the 20th century the debate about freedom in the U.S. focused on fundamental matters.
Should women vote?
Should African-Americans be able to sit in the front seat of a public bus and go to the same schools as white students?
We answered those questions, and our answers — that freedom must always trump gender and racial heritage — were the correct ones.
Today, by contrast, a major topic among the national discourse is whether a relative handful of corporations ought to be compelled, by force of federal law, to buy their female employees four types of contraceptives (out of 20 available) even if doing so runs counter to the business owners’ religious beliefs.
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.
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.
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.
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.