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.
Anyone following the Baker School District knows we have been through a lot in the past few years. Boards of directors are comprised of people with different backgrounds, temperaments and agendas and go through periods of peace, as well as dissent.
Yet every board member provides clear thinking in some area of expertise. For the past three years, Mark Henderson has given the Baker School District board a strong orientation in practical business sense and clear thinking. While he is now leaving the board for new business opportunities, it is worth reviewing his good record of service on the board, since a review would not only say something about Mark, but also reveal important things about the board.
Mark came to Baker County in 2005 and read the newspaper stories about the Baker District facing decreased funding and increased expenses. He was concerned about his two boys, at the time in pre-K and first grade. Many people would just grumble and not do anything. But Mark decided to see how he could help.
He emailed Doug Dalton, financial manager for the district, to learn more and find ways to help. Mark soon found himself on the budget committee, a group of residents that goes over the district’s proposed budget and makes recommendations to the board. Even at that early stage, Mark showed he was knowledgeable, applying the common sense of a business owner combined with the compassion of a parent with children in the district.
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.
Editorial board wrong on same-sex marriage ruling
In its editorial article, “Judge gets it right on marriage,” the Baker City Herald editorial board gets it wrong in my opinion. By its own admission, the editorial board supports federal Judge Michael McShane’s ruling to overturn Oregon’s approved Measure 36 which defines marriage as “between one man and one woman.” Judge McShane, who is an openly gay federal judge, singlehandedly disenfranchised 1,028,546 Oregonians who voted to approve Measure 36 back in 2004.
The editorial board quoted Mr. Mike McLane, minority leader from the Oregon House, saying, “... today’s ruling is a logical extension of the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer ...” His statement implies that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was rejected; however, this isn’t completely true, only part of it was rejected. It’s my understanding that the USSC didn’t consider Section 2 of DOMA in the United States v. Windsor case, which essentially declares that U.S. states and territories may deny recognition of same-sex marriages originating from other states and territories. Prior to Judge McShane’s ruling, a same-sex couple’s marriage in New York would not have been legally recognized in Oregon under Section 2 of DOMA, which is still in effect today.
The editorial board may have had it right when they said, “...we expect that were the matter put to Oregon voters today, the outcome would be different than it was a decade ago.” A recent SurveyUSA poll conducted for KATU showed that about “52 percent of the 600 adults surveyed said voters should vote on the issue while 45 percent said the issue has been decided.” However, in that same poll, “66 percent said a judge should not have the right to ‘in general’ overturn the will of voters.”
Dan Brooks’ feat would have pleased Leo Adler
One of my most vivid memories of Leo Adler was how ecstatic he was when any Bakerite achieved a notable accomplishment. He wore a grin a mile wide and told everyone he contacted. He simply felt his beloved Baker was enhanced by the accomplishment of one of Baker’s own.
I can assure you Leo is beside himself with the news of Dan Brooks and his Duke ladies golf team capturing its sixth NCAA golf title. And well he should be. This is a feat unmatched in golf annals. Dan has brought great credit to Duke University, his ladies golf team and to golf as a sport. And at the same time he has done it with humility and grace.
We should all take a page out of Leo’s book and share the great pride we all have for Dan’s accomplishment. He has done his university, himself and his entire Baker family well!
Baker Heritage Museum is in good hands
We attended the spring meeting of the Friends of the Baker Heritage Museum and were very impressed. Chris Cantrell is doing a wonderful job as the director of the museum. The exhibits are so interesting and tell the story of life in Baker County for so many years. The Museum Commission and the Friends officers are well-organized. The Museum is in good hands.
Alice Warnock, By Brinton, Caroline Sherrieb and others who had the foresight to rescue the old Nat and see its potential as a museum would be so proud!
John and Frances Burgess
Baker County Assessor Kerry Savage has created a spreadsheet that makes you wish you had owned a home here since 1970.
Although it’s quite likely, I’ll concede, that you already felt this way and need no spreadsheet to confirm your feelings.
Measured as a long-term investment, this theoretical house reminds me of those intriguing stories — some of which have the not minor advantage of being true — of people who had the foresight, or the dumb luck, to pick up a few thousand shares of stock in, say, IBM back when most people thought a microprocessor was a very small person who helped you apply for a bank loan.
Savage’s spreadsheet shows the market values of the various categories of real estate in the county — residential, farm, forest, etc. — for each year dating to 1970.
Like all such documents, it seemed to me at first glance indecipherable.
Also at the second glance, after which I had to plead to Savage for help.
Forest Service ‘designates’ where you can go
The U.S. Forest Service is currently taking comments on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision (BMFPR). This plan will serve as the “zoning ordinance” for the three national forests found within the Blue Mountains. One particular phrase should be of grave concern for any member of the public that enjoys motorize access into “The Blues,” as most locals lovingly refer to them. That phrase is “Designated routes.”
Designated routes sounds like a harmless enough phrase that you simply designate uses of current roads and move on. Unfortunately it’s not that harmless. Designated routes are the cornerstone of how the Forest Service has successfully closed hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands throughout the West, and it has also been successfully stopped in regions where the public has actively engaged in the process and acted against it.
To understand designated routes one need look no further than their home. Envision your home as it is now, with the freedom to move through it as needed, accessing every resource you need to have a complete home.
Now let’s “designate routes” through your home and see how that works. Lay a piece of tape down the middle of all your floors, you are only allowed to be 3 feet from the tape at any time. You may not touch any items outside that 3 foot buffer.
You now have “designated routes” — fun, isn’t it?
Your yard has been deemed needed as a “wildlife corridor” area and now is off limits to any big wheel, tricycle or lawnmower activity. You may walk into your yard, however, you may not utilize any motorized tools.
Does this make the picture clearer as to what the BMFPR really is? It’s Travel Management (road closures) with a different spin on it.
The USFS will tell you it’s not about road closures, and that is a true statement. This document is even more sinister, as it sets the foundation for the USFS to close roads as it states it is YOUR DESIRED CONDITION to see routes designated.
Do you really want your access “designated” away? If no, you had better get to commenting on the BMFPR.
John D. George
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.
I had the worst vacation of my life last week.
And the best.
On the negative side of the ledger I list the common ailments of a manual laborer whose skill with even basic hand tools is so meager as to be dangerous to passers-by.
I refer here to myself.
I tweaked a tendon or a ligament or anyway some part of my right wrist while shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow.
I gashed my left arm on a section of plastic fencing whose ends ought to have been labeled “Ginsu.”
I almost glued two fingers together.
(My own fingers, fortunately.)
Yet the aches dissipated, and with a speed no salve or balm could match, the instant on Friday, May 16 when I glanced over at the new playground in Geiser-Pollman Park and saw that children were climbing every ladder and careening down every slide.
Mayor misses mark with personnel cost comments
The Mayor’s comment that city personnel costs need to be cut suggests to me that he has less than the desired level of understanding of municipal government. Labor costs, in every city, represent the greatest percentage of a city’s budget. Baker City’s ratio of personnel costs to non-personnel costs is not out of line with other cities in Eastern Oregon or elsewhere. “We need to cut personnel costs” is the mantra of the politically correct, but uninformed. It also fails to take into account the professionalism and competence of the city manager and department heads all of whom know and support the concept of asking only for what is needed to provide appropriate levels of service to the public.
It would be one thing if city departments were overstaffed, but they are not. There is no department of city government which has “excess” personnel. The staffing levels which exist are no more than needed to meet the responsibilities to and expectations of the public served. In fact, if one looks at public safety staffing in particular (both police and fire) and applies accepted staffing formulas developed by experts over a period of decades those two departments are actually understaffed.
If the Mayor seriously believes that the budget needs to be reduced perhaps he ought to look at the many “nice to have” programs he has supported and put some of them on the chopping block. Cutting essential, not “feel good,” services is a disservice to the public the Mayor was elected to represent.
Park playground project proves dreams come true
Thank you Lisa Britton Jacoby and all your cohorts, for coming up with a plan to update the city park playground equipment. It looks wonderful. I walked over yesterday to check it out. The park was full of young parents and children doing the same thing. We are so fortunate to have people who are willing and able to put forth the effort to make dreams come true. I will add this to the long list of why I love living here in Baker City.
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.