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No conspiracy in learning hubs


Do you want all children in Baker County to be healthy, happy and ready to learn to read when they walk into a kindergarten classroom for the first time?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

Of course we all want this to be the case.

And yet a statewide campaign to achieve that goal not only has failed to gain universal admiration, but Baker County’s Republican Central Committee has passed a resolution urging county commissioners not to participate in that campaign, even though it could bring more public dollars to the county.

(Earlier this week a state board decided not to choose the regional hub, which includes Baker, Malheur and Umatilla counties, for a one-year pilot project. What will happen with the three-county plan is not clear.)


A big bill, but worth it


The Baker City Council is being asked to spend a lot of money for something most of us will never see.

But the investment in a temporary ultraviolet (UV) light treatment plant for our drinking water is both wise and necessary.

What the Council can buy is reassurance.

By agreeing to spend an estimated $30,000 per month to disinfect drinking water with ultraviolet light, councilors can show residents that they are committed to avoiding a repeat of this summer’s cryptosporidium outbreak.


Behind the SUV bids


Often as not when Baker City government buys a vehicle, the “buy local” debate is revived.

The city’s recent decision to purchase a pair of SUVs wasn’t especially contentious compared with past cases.

But it did remind us that city councilors can, and in some cases should, consider factors other than price when choosing a dealer.

Councilors decided to buy two Ford Explorers from DJ Anderson in Sandy for $44,544. That dealership is among those that have negotiated contracts with the state through what’s called the Oregon Cooperative Procurement Program.


Good news on grouse?


The specter of the sage grouse has haunted Baker County’s ranching industry for more than a decade, as federal protection for the bird could restrict grazing on public lands. The latest development, though, might be cause for optimism rather than worry.

Yes, the federal government is proposing to list as threatened sage grouse populations. But those are in Nevada and California.

We find this encouraging because it shows that federal officials aren’t necessarily bent on imposing one-size-fits-all strategies for protecting the species.


Teeing up the ideas

Baker City CPA Bruce Nichols asked the City Council Tuesday to consider having an existing nonprofit, City Golf Club, manage the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course.

Councilors should discuss Nichols’ idea.

And any other plausible solution that comes to them in the wake of Seven Iron Inc.’s decision to not renew its  management contract.

A viable golf course helps the local economy.

Equally important, the city needs annual lease payments from a course manager to pay off the debt it piled up several years ago as a result of building the back nine holes (despite voters rejecting a tax levy) and  from annual operating losses at the course.

This also might be the right time to revive an old idea — selling the 15 acres the city owns adjacent to the course.


Contracts reflect the economy


Baker City’s new contracts with its three labor unions are reasonable deals that reflect the economy and the city’s budget situation.

These three-year pacts with the police, fire and public works unions are quite different from the five-year contracts they replace.

And rightfully so.

The previous contracts included annual pay raises ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent. That seemed appropriate when the contracts were ratified in 2008. But when the economy went into a tailspin later that year, and many city residents in the private sector had their pay frozen or lost their jobs, those raises seemed awfully generous.

Five years later the economy has improved, but only marginally.

The city had no choice but to slow the growth of employee salaries and benefits, which account for about 70 percent of the budget. These new contracts do that, with annual raises ranging from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. The city also has switched to higher-deductible, lower-premium health insurance plans.

Unlike many cities, Baker City hasn’t had to lay off workers. These new labor contracts should help the city remain on the right side of the ledger.


Why does the state hate woodstoves?


We thought Oregon’s offensive against woodstoves reached the apex of its lunacy back in 2009, when the Legislature passed a law that prohibits people from selling a home that contains a stove that isn’t certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

We were wrong.

Now, it seems, not even that coveted EPA certification, which was supposedly so vital four years ago, no longer is sufficient.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has joined officials from six others states in filing a lawsuit against the EPA, claiming the agency has failed to adequately limit air pollution produced by new woodstoves.


Joe Bell: He did it


Joe Bell is a winner.

That his journey ended long before he reached his destination does not change this essential truth.

He did what he set out to do when he walked away from La Grande, many months and more than a thousand miles ago.

Bell, who lived in La Grande, embarked on a walk across America to tell people about his 15-year-old son, Jadin, who took his own life last winter after being bullied at school. Jadin was targeted, according to family and friends, at least in part because he was openly gay.

Joe Bell was struck and killed by a semi-truck on a Colorado highway Wednesday night.

His pilgrimage has ended.

His message, though, will continue.

And though this must of course be meager solace to Joe’s family and friends, it is a significant reality.

It’s obvious, from the reactions of the people Joe met along the way or who only knew him through media accounts, that he achieved his goal of explaining, in the most personal way imaginable, how destructive bullies can be.

No one who ever heard Joe’s story could ever feel the same about bullying. These people, we’re sure, will continue to advocate for tolerance, and in so doing they will keep alive the cause to which Joe had dedicated his life.


City action on pit bulls is necessary


City Councilor Roger Coles used the term “knee jerk reaction” Tuesday evening when councilors discussed imposing restrictions, or even an outright ban, on pit bulls.

In one sense the term is appropriate in this case.

A decision is sometimes deemed to be “knee jerk” when it’s prompted by a single event.

Trouble is, the term also, in many instances, connotes a decision which is based on emotion rather than on fact — “in the heat of the moment,” to use another cliché.

We don’t believe the City Council is acting in knee jerk fashion as regards pit bulls (and to be clear, Coles didn’t say he believed his colleagues had done so; he just said he hopes that doesn’t happen.)


Congress: More vote, less talk


Congress is arguing about Obamacare.

And as a result the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is closed.

Puzzled?

We are too.


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