Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Log 'Em If You Got 'Em, or, Don't Look at Me, I'm Stumped, Too

Reporting from today's County Commissioner meeting...After much discussion (both here and at the recent public forum), and after much hand wringing (both verbal and silent), the Benton County Commissioners voted two-to-one to stay in the lawsuit against the state. Annabelle Jaramillo was the lone vote to opt out, and to at least try and live in the 21st century.

Here are some pertinent quotes:

Annabelle Jaramillo: Stated she "doesn't like using litigation to balance our budgets."

Xan Augerot: Regarding state funding for counties, said it's "appropriate for counties to fire a shot across the bow of the state." Along a similar line, she also said this issue is "one more demand they (the state) need to take into account."

Anne Schuster: Echoing the above, stated she "wants to send a message to the state." And yet, later she said she "wants to hear what other counties are thinking on this" (with a decision deadline looming just over 24 hours away) and explained that she's "not an expert on this."

Annabelle Jaramillo: Worried that this "lawsuit will create more divisiveness."

The sad capper may have come when newbie Commissioner Augerot, chiming in with the others over how difficult a decision this was, said: "It's only my third week on the job!"

Augerot also stated that, between the comments they've received both in public and in writing, she believes that a majority of county residents want them to opt out. (Having been to the meeting and having read the comments submitted, I agree with that statement.) But when it came right down to it, no one wanted to make a motion on this issue.

Finally, after some stalling and delay, Annabelle Jaramillo made a motion that Benton County opt out of the lawsuit. The motion died for lack of a second.

Then, Augerot moved that they stay in the lawsuit, and Schuster seconded the motion. The vote was held, and that's how the two-to-one split went down.

No one seemed happy with the result, frankly, and a brief break was called.

One of the factors cited by the two Commissioners who voted to stay in the timber lawsuit was the recommendation from the County's own Environmental Issues Advisory Committee that they do just that. However, I have learned that it was a close vote, and that two members who would have voted for the county to opt out were absent from the EIAC meeting where they voted on the issue. On a related note, I have just been appointed to that very committee, and, needless to say, I would have voted for the county to stay out. Clearly there are some structural issues with the EIAC (allowing proxy votes, phone in meeting participation, etc.) that I look forward to addressing ASAP.


As a related subject...Today's County Commissioner meeting featured a presentation on a inspiringly large trails project (www.c2ctrail.org); another presentation dealt with funding for the Old Mill Center and their services for abused and traumatized kids; and, of course, there was the multi-million dollar do-we-stay-or-do-we-go issue regarding the timber lawsuit.

Big issues, big subjects, big dollars...And there were just a couple of members of the public there. I continue to be shocked that, with all that's in play and at stake, there aren't more members of the public attending these meetings. Big, big things go down, big, big decisions get made, with very little in the way of public oversight. I can't help but think that the 9AM meeting time is a real hindrance to more public interest and participation. Or, do people just not care?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Real Community, Unreal Coverage

Courtesy of the Gazette-Times, I had my "Ah ha!" moment this morning. Actually, there were a couple of them.

Per my last post, about the absence of any elected officials attending the community march and protest yesterday, well, we now have a partial answer. Why wasn't Anne Schuster there? Because she was being honored at the hastily arranged "Celebrate Corvallis" awards, which also took place yesterday. Despite the fact that said awards took place after the march, I guess she was too busy getting ready to be feted to join in and say "No!" to Trump, and "Yes!" to community. As were, it seems, all other local elected leaders associated with Corvallis or Benton County.

Which was very much a missed opportunity for them, because the real community, the real people, were out on the streets, raising their voices. The fact that so often politicians would prefer to be raising a glass of wine instead, at some self-congratulatory but meaningless event, is one of the reasons people so dislike politicians. And, coming full circle, that dislike of politicians is a huge part of why the monstrous Trump won in the first place.

Of course, he also won because the media couldn't stop covering his campaign as a freak show, while going light on the fact-checking and dirt-digging that might have made a difference. That sort of distorted, fact-light coverage absolutely helped him win. And I thought of such distorted coverage when I saw the GT's headline for their article about yesterday's march: "More than 500 protest Trump." Which is true, if deceptive. Yes, there were at least 500 people there, but, with years of experience putting on and working various events, I would say the actual total was closer to 600 to 700, at a minimum.

The article also states that "The rally dissipated at the riverfront at around 5 p.m." That is just plain false. It makes it sound like the event wasn't organized, and an ending wasn't planned, so things just "dissipated."

Of course, the fact is, the march continued to the Odd Fellow's hall downtown, where there were speakers, representatives from various community organizations, food and drinks, etc. My wife and I were designated to count heads at the door, and we counted nearly 300 people coming in from 4:30 to 5:30 PM.

As a final comment, let me point out that the march and protest was a big, moving, and extremely colorful and photogenic event. Signs, banners, costumes, etc. The "Celebrate Corvallis" event was, almost certainly, a lot of people sitting at tables and a few talking heads. The GT ran one photo of the march; they ran three from the "Celebrate Corvallis" event.

Please do keep these types of things - these subtle editorial highlights and fact-fudgings - in mind when you read the news. Even the local news.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Earth First...We'll Log the Other Planets Later

Last night was the public forum on the topic of whether or not Benton County should be part of Linn County's lawsuit against the state of Oregon...Over 100 people attended, and it seems like at least half of them made public comments.

What is it all about? Well, the crux of the issue is that, back in 1939, a number of counties in Oregon made a deal to turn over dedicated areas of forested land to the state, with the understanding that the state would manage those parcels so they achieve their "greatest permanent value," and share any proceeds resulting with the counties. Now, Linn County's position is that the state has failed to do that, and, as a result, they have been undercompensated. They, along with other counties, are engaged in suing the state, asking for a total of over a billion dollars.

So, the question for the forum was: Should Benton County be a party to this lawsuit, or decline to participate? And, underlying it all, there was the question of what actually constitutes the "greatest permanent value"? (Another pertinent question that remains unanswered is: Who thinks the state of Oregon, already facing a  $1.8 billion dollar deficit, has a billion dollars to spare? But more on that later.) For context, there are 8,400 acres of these lands in Benton County - a few small lots up in the northwest corner of the county.

Speaking from the stage for the pro-lawsuit side was Mark Gourley, who works for a forestry company. (A majority of these in attendance who spoke in favor of joining in on the lawsuit were people who self-identified as owning land to be logged, and/or as people who worked in logging industries.) Gourley's presentation started with him going way, way off topic, talking about the county fairgrounds, and his being a fifth generation logger. He then went on a tangent about the sewage systems in coastal communities and the troubles they have. (Yes, really.) Then he took a few shots at environmental groups. Then, finally, he talked briefly about how this was really just a breach of contract lawsuit, and then wrapped up. It was a somewhat bizarre and fractured free-form presentation.

Then, speaking in favor of the county not participating in the lawsuit, was Chris Smith, who works for the North Coast State Forest Coalition, and is a coordinator for the Sierra Club. Smith's presentation was much more focused, and provided a lot of pertinent facts and figures. He showed how the current arrangement - the one that Linn Co. and company are so upset about - has already paid out $1.4 billion to state forest counties. Smith also spoke to the ecological damages that would occur if the status quo changed to more logging, and how those changes would then have a negative effect on recreational use of those lands. He pointed out that, if this lawsuit proceeds, and if the counties prevail, it will create a tax burden for all counties, and a budget crisis at the state level. (Remember that already existing deficit?) In other words, he made a good case for the position that, though the current management plan isn't perfect, and doesn't satisfy all involved parties completely, it is very much preferable to the financial and environmental damage that would almost certainly occur if these counties prevail.

With all that in mind, it then made sense when Smith informed the audience that Clatsop County, the county that has more acres of these disputed forest lands than any other, has decided to not be a party to the lawsuit.

When it came time for the public to speak, I joined many others in taking a turn at the microphone. Needless to say, I urged the commissioners to decline to participate in this lawsuit. 

It was so interesting, and so revealing, to note how so many of those who spoke in favor of the county participating in this lawsuit did so from a position of self-interest. They were primarily loggers and/or owners of land to be logged. Those urging the county to not join in the lawsuit seemed to be viewing things from a longer-term, more altruistic perspective. It will be interesting to see how the commissioners come down on this one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Two Firsts

Today was the first 2017 meeting of the Benton County Commissioners, and the first meeting for new Commissioner Xanthippe Augerot. Only a handful of people were in attendance, despite the contentious subject of the Corvallis-Albany Bikeway being on the agenda. Of course, the fact the meeting took place at noon may have been a barrier to public attendance, since that's right in the middle of the work day. (Given the choice between lunch or attending a mid-day public meeting, I'm going to guess that most people would choose lunch.)

For me, the most interesting part of the meeting came, well, during the short series of meetings that came after the regular Commissioner's meeting. These were comically short "meetings" of a number of County Service Districts, held for the purpose of choosing a chair and vice chair for each group.

One after another - Alpine, Alsea, Library Services, North Albany, etc. - these micro-meetings were convened just long enough for Augerot to nominate Schuster as chair (every time, of every group), and for Schuster to nominate Augerot as vice-chair (every time, of every group). Clearly this had all been worked out ahead of time, letting Annabelle Jaramillo off the hook for anything, while making Anne Schuster the chair of everything.

At the end of it all, there was more than a little joking about how they'd gotten through six "meetings" in just seven minutes. Sure, you could say it was an "efficient" use of time, but it sure wasn't a fair or sensible division of responsibilities. And the prepackaged, we've-already-discussed-this-behind-the-scenes nature of the division of duties was...Odd, to say the least. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ringing in 2017...

It's New Year's Day morning, 2017. In a few weeks, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. This is almost certain to be a disastrous occurrence for the United States, bringing forth a wave of corruption, greed and incompetence such as has never been seen before. On the federal level, we are sure to see an all-out assault on ecological protections, financial regulations, civil liberties, and notions of good governance and transparency.

This means that, for at least the next four years, any progressive efforts in governing will have to come from the states and counties of the country. Oregon and Benton County both already stand out as being more-progressive-than-not places; my hope is that both will embrace sustainability, diversity, governmental transparency and an ecologically-friendly economy even more in the near future.

All of which, of course, runs counter to the way that things will soon be run in Washington, D.C. This is a point of pride. We can and will do better than the Trump administration in addressing the issues that people in this country, and this county, face going forward. I look forward to being part of those efforts, and starting this blog is just one way I intend to be involved on a local level. Working together, we can make this the best, greenest, most prosperous county in the state, and that can only serve to help make our state more of a beacon to the rest of the country.

We have much to be proud of here. But we have much that is still to be done. There's a saying: "In chaos, there is opportunity." In the coming chaos, we must do all we can to seize the opportunity to lead by example. As darkness descends on our nation's capitol, we will not simply curse the darkness - we will light a candle.


Max Mania