Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Haven't We Had Enough Nothing?

My campaign for Benton County Commissioner is focused on creating accountable local government that plans for - and budgets for - the wellbeing of future generations.
This will be accomplished by: 
PROTECTING RENTERS
ADDRESSING INCOME INEQUALITY
FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE LOCALLY
SEEKING OUT COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
and INCREASING OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
For more information, please visit: https://www.mania4benton.org/
 
Last night was a candidate's forum hosted by the Economic Vitality Partnership. That's a group made up of representatives from the school district, the Chamber of Commerce, OSU, Benton County, the Downtown Corvallis Association, etc. They invited the candidates for Corvallis Mayor, Corvallis City Council, and Benton County Commissioner to come and introduce themselves, and then answer questions related to "economic vitality" or "economic development."
 
Two of the candidates for Mayor went first, followed by candidates from contested City Council races, then, to finish, the County Commissioner candidates. The City Council candidates appeared in order of their ward number, while the Commissioner candidates went alphabetically, which meant I was the very last candidate to step up for questioning.
 
The EVP members had stuck to their message all evening, with all the questions in some way or another having to do with local economic conditions. But when the floor was opened for questions for me, that focus went out the window.
 
In my (brief) introduction, I had mentioned that I am the only candidate who has held municipal public office, worked on municipal budgets and worked on economic development projects like ones that had been discussed all evening. I also included the fact that I have been endorsed by the two local groups affiliated with Bernie Sanders, as well as by the SEIU 503. Skipping right past any questions about economic anything, sitting County Commissioner Anne Schuster jumped right in with this: "The SEIU isn't the union that represents the county, so I don't see how that helps your campaign."
 
Please note, that's not really a question, and it has nothing to do with economic development. In any case, I responded along the lines of, "Well, there are still a great many SEIU members here (in Benton County) who can vote, and I'm not quite sure what point you're trying to get at here."
 
She followed up with: "Well, what about the union that represents county workers?" At least that was a question, but it still had nothing to do with economic issues locally. I informed Commissioner Schuster that the local AFSCME chapter had held a candidate's forum, but that they were not going to be doing an endorsement in this race.
 
At this point, the allotted time for candidates to be questioned was just about up. Did any other EVP member have a question about economic issues? Well, Anne Schuster jumped in again, and asked me if I knew about Benton County's 2040 "visioning" efforts. Needless to say, I informed her that I am very well aware of those efforts - and followed up by saying that they illustrated one of my concerns about how such processes play out locally. I noted that Benton County and Corvallis both carried out essentially identical 2040 "visioning" projects, and said that I would have preferred that they had not duplicated those efforts, and instead had collaborated, because collaboration is always the most productive route to follow, the surest path to success.
 
Schuster replied: "Well, just so you know, Penny York (Corvallis City Councilor) and I did talk about working together on those processes...But nothing came of it."
 

But nothing came of it. That about sums it up. We need leaders who won't settle for nothing coming of their time and efforts. We need leaders who won't take raise after raise with no accomplishments to justify them. We need leaders who are focused and accountable and working every day to ensure that something comes of it for the people of Benton County. That's the kind of leader I will be if elected. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Local Voices Rise - Another Endorsement

Another day, and another endorsement from a local group affiliated with Bernie Sanders. This endorsement comes from Our Revolution Corvallis Allies (ORCA), a group composed of hundreds of progressive local residents (and Democrats) who are hungry for change, and supportive of a candidate who can advance a strong, progressive agenda. Thank you, ORCA! I will continue to work hard, work county-wide, and do everything I can to win this important local race.

At this point, it's obvious this is a two person race - it's going to be either Pat Malone, or me. So let's look at a few key differences between us...

 
First and foremost, I show up - Pat does not. The County Commissioner forum earlier this week was hosted by two groups with ties to the Democratic Party - yet Pat couldn't be bothered to attend. I certainly did. That's my job as a candidate, to be available, to answer questions, to be accountable. I don't care who is hosting a candidate's forum - if they're having one, it's my job to be there. Pat, on the other hand, apparently thinks he's above all that, and doesn't have to answer to anyone. That's not the way a true public servant thinks.
 
 
Pat also has the backing (tepid though it seems to be) of the local Democratic Party. That means a certain level of party "branding" will be in effect, and that he will receive some sort of logistical and/or financial support. Of course, Pat's willingness to spend big is what really helped put him over the top in the primary - he simply outspent the other viable candidates greatly. That worked in the primary, but, in the general election, with a different dynamic and increased voter interest, that sort of simplistic approach will be harder to pull off successfully.

So Pat is willing to spend big, but I'm focusing on spending smart. Case in point: The amount we've spent on campaign t-shirts is roughly equal to what two smallish ads in the Gazette-Times would cost. But, unlike a here-today-gone-tomorrow newspaper ad, these t-shirts are walking billboards - and those billboards will be walking around for months. And as they move around our community they're worn by people who are motivated to engage and act as ambassadors for my campaign. We've got dozens of people with these shirts, and I think it's a very effective way to keep this campaign out there in the public eye.

 
Pat is going to talk about his endorsements - but they're mainly from people (Peter DeFazio) and groups (OLCV) that aren't from here, and have no vested interest in our community. The endorsements I am receiving are coming from local groups, made up of local people. Those local voices count a lot more in a local election than outsiders.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I just simply have more experience than Pat with municipal governing and budgeting. With that experience, I will be able to hit the ground running to advance a progressive agenda.

And that leads to the metaphor I like to use to sum this race up: Pat is clearly the entitled, disconnected house on the hill candidate. But I am the boots on the ground candidate. I'm running for this position to get things done, to address major issues here (income inequality, housing, climate change, etc.) that have been ignored for too long, and to make our county government more open and equitable for all county residents. In that quest, I ask you join all your local friends and neighbors in supporting my campaign.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Company I Keep - An Endorsement

I am extremely pleased and honored to announce that I have received the endorsement of the Benton County Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Or, as you most likely think of them, the political party of Senator Bernie Sanders. This is an association I am happy and honored to have.

 
If you've been following national news at all, then you already know that DSA-backed candidates have been making waves, making the news, and making strides towards getting elected and making our government more representative of the people it is supposed to serve. This too is an association I am happy to have.

 
What does the Benton County DSA stand for? Here are a few important statements from their Points of Unity, starting with one that embodies what my campaign for Benton County Commissioner is all about: The Benton County DSA rejects sectarianism and believe that a unified left is more necessary than ever.

Another Point of Unity: The Benton County DSA hopes to achieve a more sustainable society. We recognize that capitalism is inherently opposed to environmentalism, and that the profit motive furthers exploitation of natural resources. We believe sustainability cannot be attained in a society driven by a desire for endless growth.

And another: The Benton County DSA fights for liberation from all oppression, including racism, sexism, ableism, discrimination against queer and transgender people, and discrimination based on gender identity or expression, religion, caste, citizenship or place of birth.

 
These are principles and goals I wholeheartedly believe in. If you believe in them as well, I welcome you to join my campaign for Benton County Commissioner, and help make meaningful, progressive change on the local level a reality. It can be done, and it will be done. With your help, with your participation, we can make Benton County a place that truly lives up to its potential, and its ideals.



Wednesday, August 29, 2018

90% of Life - and Elections - is Showing Up

In a real sense, the big takeaways from last night's candidate forum (hosted by Our Revolution Corvallis Allies and the local DSA chapter) were things that didn't happen, with the first and foremost being the fact that Pat Malone, the Democratic candidate, simply didn't show up. I still can't quite believe he did that.

By refusing to show up, Pat leaves voters with only negative lenses through which to view that decision. Was he afraid to show up? Dismissive of voters? Just plain lazy? I find it hard to conceive of a reason that doesn't reflect poorly on Pat. When you're a candidate, it's your job to be available and answer people's questions. If you're not going to be responsive to voters when you're a candidate, it's very difficult to believe you'll be responsive as an elected official. The arrogance and disrespect for both voters and the process that this decision shows is really quite stunning.

On a similar note, it was extremely disappointing to see Sami Al-Abdrabbuh also disrespecting the process and misleading those in attendance. Just by looking back through the entries on this blog, you can see that I've been out in the community, going to meetings, listening to people's concerns, gathering information, and proactively working on this campaign for nearly a year. Sami impulsively jumped into this race less than two weeks ago, but last night he kept speaking as though he'd been out there on the campaign trail for months and months. It was a shockingly cynical and deceptive approach to take, and says more about his character than he probably intended.

There are no shortcuts to public service. There's nothing noble about deception. And the process, imperfect though it may be, does matter, as does treating voters with honesty and respect. These are values I believe in, and try my best to abide by. That's why I have run my campaign the way I have, and embrace transparency and constantly seek feedback. I'm running for this position because I know it's important - and that important tasks have gone unattended to for too long. I want to change that, I want to be a good public servant and a catalyst for positive change.

I won't lie to you. Last night, I was a little off my game, and I wish I had done a little better at conveying some parts of my platform. But I take some comfort in knowing that, off night or not, at least the people who attended know I'll show up for them, and that I won't try to bluff my way into office. I've put my positions out publically, in writing, for months and months. I've given this task the time it requires, and I trust voters can see the work I've put in, and the care that I've given to running an informed and impassioned campaign. Public service is integral to who I am, and I think that in the end, that cold, hard fact counts a lot more than all the hot air in the world.

Thanks to everyone who turned out last night - including the candidates who took the time to show up. And a special thank you to all the volunteers on my campaign who showed up in their campaign t-shirts last night! You were a hard-to-miss presence in the crowd.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Follow the Money, Swallow Your Pride

From the Overpriced and Underperforming Department: Our three Benton County Commissioners have just gotten a 2% raise. Yes indeed, because they weren't being overpaid quite enough, apparently. You can read all the details here.

Think about this: The primary duty of the County Commissioners is to help create and approve the budget. It's the budget that funds and drives everything Benton County does. Currently, Benton County does their budget every two years. That means the County Commissioners key responsibility only comes before them every other year.

Ah, but they get paid for every year, of course. Even prior to this pay raise, collectively the commissioners get paid nearly $300,000 every year. But, as noted above, they only have to do the budget every other year.

And think about this: Long-term County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo will have been paid close to $2,000,000 - that's two million dollars - over the course of her five terms. In my opinion, that's both too much, and just too long for one person to be holding that seat.

Holding a public office like County Commissioner should be public service. That should be the focus. And, yes, I believe that people do need to be paid for doing that job. (It's crazy that, for instance, Corvallis City Councilmembers are not paid anything.) But it should not be a job that makes you rich. It should not be a job that rewards people with ever higher salaries simply for sitting there for year after year and term after term.

I also think it's outrageous that these three have just gotten a 2% raise, given that the Commissioners just got a 5.65% raise in 2015, which immediately followed a raise of 6% in 2014! Think about that: Our County Commissioners essentially had their salaries raised 15% in the last four years.

Have we gotten our money's worth from them? Haven't they presided over the (sadly appropriate) growth in income inequality here? Haven't they also just recently (also sadly appropriate) tried to pull their funding from the winter weather homeless shelter? Haven't they also allowed a brutal and crushing housing crisis to grow and fester? Haven't they ignored the wishes of their own constituents and voted to join into the timber industry-led lawsuit against the state of Oregon? And couldn't that same lawsuit potentially bankrupt the state?

And on and on and on. Big money rules, and everything else is for fools, apparently. For too long being a Benton County Commissioner has meant that you just follow the money, and swallow your pride.

No more!

When I am elected, I will be a vocal advocate for cutting those salaries in half. Doing so would free up enough money to hire another staff member or two - staff members who could actually perform vital duties that would serve the public. We need more public service, and less service of Commissioner's bank accounts. If our commissioners can't struggle along on just $43-45,000 a year, well gee, that might just give them some valuable insights into how other members of the community are also struggling.

I would also propose tying any raises or changes in salary to the median income in Benton County. If the median income goes up, maybe - maybe - the County Commissioners would be eligible for a raise. That might give them some motivation to, you know, actually care about what goes on in the county that (over)pays them.

This is shameful, folks, and these three are shameless if they accept those raises. It's that simple. Too many people are struggling here, and our County Commissioners currently have no skin in the game at all. They are checked out and overpaid. And that all needs to change.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Radical Empathy and Civic Courage

From a column by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times:

Democrats will not defeat Trump and his increasingly fanatical, revanchist party by promising the restoration of what came before him; the country is desperate for a vision of something better. Whether or not you share that vision, if you truly believe that Trump is a threat to democracy, you should welcome politics that inspire people to come to democracy's rescue.

As an unaffiliated candidate for public office, one who is offering a "vision of something better" than the income inequality, housing crisis and defunding of social services that we've seen locally, you could say the paragraph above speaks to me, and for me. We not only can do better, we must do better. So much depends on it. And those of us on the left must do better at offering a compelling vision of our shared future, while everyone along the entire political spectrum must commit to courtesy, conversation and compromise with the goal of getting things done for our community, and for our country.

This all speaks directly to the ideas central to my campaign: Radical empathy and civic courage. Radical empathy means making every effort to truly understand the perspective of those with whom you disagree, in the interest of fostering communication and the resolution of shared problems. You could say that, in effect, it simply means being an active listener. Civic courage means having the courage to speak honestly about shared problems, and their causes and effects, and then finding a course of action to address those problems. It also means being able to shoulder responsibility. So, for example, Republicans who voted for Trump must own up to their support for an unrepentant racist and all that that entails. Or, locally, that Democrats must admit to their ownership of the income inequality and housing crisis that occurred on their watch and all that that entails. This is not intended to assign blame and cast aspersions; it is intended to foster honesty and critical thinking. In other words: Listen, take responsibility, and take action.

So often, the solutions to problems are right in front of us - but are obscured by the distorting lens of partisanship and tribalism. Climate change is a great example. A majority of people along the political spectrum believe climate change is happening. It's a global threat, which means we are all affected by it. That being the case, we all need to be invested in addressing it. But when solutions are brought to the table, well, usually the table just gets tipped over due to the turbulence caused by our hyper-partisan culture.

Ah, but guess what? Most of us already agree on solutions - but get our responses scrambled due to the ingrained partisanship in our culture. Democrats widely and wildly agree with solutions to climate change - that are proposed by Democrats. Republicans are onboard with solutions to climate change, too - if they're proposed by Republicans. And then progress comes to a grinding halt - and the world suffers because of it. (For a fascinating article on the partisan barriers to addressing climate change, please click here.)

Let's be clear though: The word "solution" isn't spelled with an "R" or a "D." It's just a solution. I have personal and professional experience, in the role of an elected official, working with people all along the political spectrum to find solutions to environmental problems - solutions that everyone could buy in to. It can be done, and it must be done.

We must do this not because there is "too much" at stake. We must do this because everything is at stake. Here in Benton County, I know we can do better. That's why I am running for this office: To break down barriers and get the work of the people done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This is What I've Been Talking About

I'm running for Benton County Commissioner because there are things we need to be doing at that level of government that we aren't. I wholeheartedly believe that I am the best candidate for the job.

Case in point: The funding for the cold weather shelter - or should I say, the funding debacle for the cold weather shelter.

Let's do a quick recap of events, shall we? Benton County agreed to contribute $60,000 in funding for the upcoming winter season. It was a done deal. Then, behind the scenes, obviously something happened.

All of a sudden, Commissioner Anne Schuster was badmouthing the shelter via social media, and then, the Commissioners had a "public" meeting that was, to use the Gazette-Times' description of it, "under-the-radar." They put out a meeting agenda that didn't include the shelter funding as a topic, then, when everyone had left the meeting - when quite literally nobody was watching - all three Commissioners decided to pull the funding for the shelter.

News of that decision broke, and then all Hell broke loose as well. Anne Schuster was sent out on a mea culpa mission that went down in flames. On the ropes, the County Commissioners scheduled not one but two new public meetings to deal with this issue. At the first, they got an earful from the public, blasting them, and supporting the shelter. At the second, earlier today, with quite literally a room full of people watching, all three Commissioners (without explanation) reversed themselves and voted to go right back where this all started and give the shelter the $60,000.

A lot of people had to do a lot of work to get those three right back where they started - which was the right place to be for a number of reasons. So, please focus in on this: Whether or not you agree with the shelter funding, and whether or not you agree with the initial decision to pull the funding that started this whole mess, the fact remains that the process was bad. Deceptive agendas, secret meetings and broken promises are not the means to use to achieve a good end. When the process is poisoned, all decisions coming out of it are suspect - even those you might agree with.

So why am I the best candidate for the job? Because I will do the right thing regardless of whether or not anyone is watching. That means the right thing for the community, and the right thing in terms of using an open and honest policy-making process. What's more, even though I will do the right thing regardless of whether or not anyone is watching, I will also be a tireless advocate for getting more people watching. Government needs oversight and feedback. As today's vote proved, it operates best with those two ingredients in the mix. Our county government has operated for too long with too little oversight. That needs to change.

Another reason I'm the best candidate for the job? I mean aside from my experience and passion and creativity, I'm also the candidate who shows up, who tracks these things and watches what goes on. Today, like so many other County Commissioner meetings, I was the only candidate for that office there.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Shelter Shell Game

If an argument you cannot win, then spin, spin, spin.

Or perhaps you prefer, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with BS."

Whatever cliché about obfuscating and distracting you prefer, it's ever more clear that that is exactly what Rich Carone's "plan" is in terms of the cold weather shelter. He's not looking for a solution; he's looking for a way to obstruct and delay long enough to kill the shelter outright.

Oh, sorry. I may have gotten ahead of myself. I'm talking about how rich guy Rich Carone, who has spent the last couple of weeks obstructing the plans to locate the cold weather shelter downtown by proposing a "northern location" that would be financed by "secret partners" and with "millions of dollars" has now changed his position again, and is suddenly backing the shelter returning to the "problematic" location it was in last year. You can read all about this latest shift here. (Be sure to read all the way to the end, where the GT documents that yet another group - the Corvallis Downtown Advisory Board - voted against having the shelter downtown, but did not have that subject on their meeting agenda.)

This is ridiculous, and actually very transparent. The public hearing on Carone's laughably presented "proposal" for the northern location resulted in just that - laughter. When your publically presented "plan" is based on and includes hastily scrawled Post-It notes with random words written on them, well, it's a little difficult to buy into, and Carone obviously has realized that. Hence the latest shift.

This shift also means that the next County Commissioner's meeting on this subject has already been announced and scheduled - and they've made it clear that public comment will not be taken at that meeting. Perhaps Carone thinks this is to his advantage, and is hoping to slip yet another proposal in but get it by without the public being able to eviscerate it like they did his last one.

But, fair is fair: If the County Commissioners aren't taking any new public comments on this subject, they should also not be entertaining any new proposals. Enough is enough. Right or wrong, they need to make a decision. That is what they are paid close to $100,000 a year to do.

With that in mind, here's a thought - one that comes from someone who thinks the Commissioners are wildly overpaid, and supports cutting that pay way, way down. If the County Commissioners are reluctant to spend public money on the cold weather shelter - which, for whatever reason, they clearly are - why don't they follow their friend Rich Carone's (proposed) example and spend some private money? If each of the three Commissioners were to put up $20,000 apiece, well, problem solved! They'd have funded the shelter, saved the County from having to spend that money, and set themselves up to look like nice, caring people. A triple win!*

* Please do NOT hold your breath while waiting for the described triple win to occur.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Shelter

Just a quick reminder that today (Tuesday, July 10th) is the day of the big meeting to discuss Benton County's funding (or not) for the cold weather shelter. It will be held at the Sunset Building, at 4077 SW Research Way, at the worker-unfriendly time of noon. Even with the awkward time, and the out of the way location, I trust that there will be some sort of audience there. It will be interesting to see how the County Commissioners behave with people watching - it's a situation they don't find themselves in too often, which is part of the problem.

This is a time-sensitive topic, and the scheduling of this meeting probably makes it an event that is time-sensitive for those attending. (Which is to say, a lot of us will need to get back to work at some point.) With all that in mind, it will also be interesting to see if the Commissioners insist on sticking to their time-wasting and pointless habit of having everyone in attendance - and I do mean everyone - introduce themselves.

Also of note...Even with all they've been through in terms of criticism for how they've conducted their business, the County Commissioners continue onward with their bad habits. The problematic "meeting" where they decided to pull the funding was called with a totally vague, deceptive agenda. That was just one of many problems with the way the Commissioners came to their decision.

Well, the agenda for today's meeting isn't as vague as the previous one, but it's also not very clear or informative. You can read it here. It tells you what order things will happen in. It tells you who will be presenting, and in what order. It tells you when the public may make comments. But nowhere does it simply state that what the focus of these presentations and public comments will be about. In other words, this meeting is all about the funding for the cold weather shelter, but the agenda does not include the words "cold" or "weather" or "shelter" or even "homeless." Once again, it is vague to the point of deception.

Stay tuned. More on this topic later...

And now it is later...Just after 6:00 PM on Tuesday evening...

The meeting was standing room only, with people spilling out of the room into the lobby of the Sunset Building. (Yes, standing room only, but I was the only candidate for County Commissioner there.) It went for just shy of three hours. Shawn Collins, representing the HOAC and the cold weather shelter, went first, and he hit all the right notes in a spirited and concise manner. When he finished, the guy I was sitting next to turned to me and whispered, "Shawn really nailed it." I directed his attention to my notebook, where just a moment earlier I had written, in all caps, HE NAILED IT.

But the only thing the opponents of the 2nd Street location nailed was the coffin containing their reputations. Their presentations were emotionally manipulative, extremely light on facts, and very heavy indeed on repeated references to the need for "buffers" around the shelter, to keep anyone from having to see homeless people, or acknowledge them. Their collective approach was both criminally cruel and comically inept. As Rich Carone was winding down his sad little presentation (containing power point slides of, I kid you not, scrawled Post It notes on a wall to represent the "plan" for his building) I once again wrote a summary in all caps. It said simply: MAGIC BEANS. Because that was what he was trying to sell. Too-good-to-be-true plans! Paid for by secret investors! All problems solved! Magic beans for everyone! Reality did not intrude into his presentation - other than the cold, stark reality of some people's desire to see the homeless not served, but banished.

It will be interesting to see how the County Commissioners get themselves out of this mess. They clearly do not want to support the 2nd Street location - for whatever behind the scenes reasons - but just as clearly the majority of the community supports that location. Will we see responsiveness, or more defensiveness? Will we see real leadership, or more weaselship? Time will tell...

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sunset and Little Daylight

After getting caught - literally - doing a dirty deal to scuttle the men's cold weather shelter, the Benton County Commissioners have been furiously - literally - trying to do some sort of damage control. But their efforts have been both halfhearted and ham-handed.

A huge part of the overarching problem is that the Commissioners have clearly gotten very, very used to operating with no public oversight. Hence, the common use of incredibly vague "agendas" for meetings that don't tell the public what, if anything, is going to be discussed. That alone is deceptive, destructive of trust, and possibly illegal.

Then you've got all the County Commissioner meetings being held during the workday, when it is difficult for people to attend.

In the case of the cold weather shelter, those two problems twined together with a third problem, and the most dangerous one: Making decisions on items with no members of the public present on a subject that was not on the meeting agenda. That is clearly meant to shut out public input and oversight, and is illegal.

As part of their "damage control" efforts, Anne Schuster was sent out to represent Benton County at the recent public forum on the shelter decision. Her defensive performance, paired with her very deferential attitude towards a few wealthy business interests, did not go over well with the majority of those in attendance. Rather than shutting down debate, she only raised new questions about how the County operates, and how the Commissioners make their decisions.

Now we have part two of the Commissioners "your call is important to us" efforts coming up: A proper meeting of the County Commissioners to, in public, with an audience, discuss this issue again. They have scheduled this meeting for next Tuesday, July 10th, at the Sunset Building, at 4077 SW Research Way. They've chosen the Sunset Building for this meeting because they're expecting people to, you know, actually attend and their regular meeting room downtown doesn't accommodate many people. (Which raises the question of why you have your regular meetings in a room so small as to literally squeeze the public out...)

Of course, these efforts to show they are open and care are still problematic. The Sunset Building meeting room is indeed bigger - but the Sunset Building is far away from pretty much everything, which is a barrier to people coming. (Especially the homeless.) And compounding the where problem is the when problem: The meeting is set for noon. As in, still right in the middle of the work day. As in, still at a time - and now at a place - that is difficult for most members of the public to make it to.

Philosophical question: Are elected officials representatives of the public that elected them, or just publically-empowered free agents? Personally, I believe you're elected to be a public servant, public property really. You're elected to serve the public - full-stop. And when that's case, and especially when you're getting paid $84,000 a year, or more, I don't think it's unreasonable to bite the bullet and give up an evening or two to have a public meeting that actually accommodates the public.

I mean, that is your job in that role, right? Public service. I don't know that we're getting that now, but if I'm elected, you'll sure have someone in there who will work every day to instill that attitude in all levels of Benton County government. We won't just have a Sunset Building - we'll also have a lot more daylight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The 4th of July and a 2nd Try

Today is the 4th of July. yes, that's a national holiday and all that, it's true, but today the date stands out to me for a different reason. It was exactly two months ago that I posted my piece (see it here) promoting the idea of following Portland's lead and passing some protections for renters locally. In addition to writing about it here, I also sent the same information in to the Gazette-Times as a letter to the editor, and sent e-mail messages about it to our local (city and county) elected representatives.

As a quick refresher, Portland passed a set of rules to help protect renters. They extended the minimum notice for a no cause eviction or a raise in rent from 30 days to 90 days. These rules were challenged in court, and Portland won, so these are 100% legal approaches to take in Oregon. And, best of all, at least from the government's position, these rules won't cost them a thing.

So, again, these policies protect renters, and don't cost a thing. Why aren't we doing that here?

That was the basic thrust of my message on this topic. In two months time, our local governing bodies could have given public notice, taken public comment, and voted to put these protections in place.

But, in those two months they have done no such thing. They have ignored this issue, and, in the case of Benton County, aggressively gone the other way by pulling funds and support from the winter men's homeless shelter. (A move that was also done in a classic backroom-deal-with-no-public-oversight fashion.) Renters here continue to suffer in a market that is expensive, exploitative and often dehumanizing.

We can do better than that. We owe it to our fellow citizens to do better than that. I am at a total loss as to explain why our local "leaders" refuse to take such simple, cost-free actions to protect the people they are supposedly representing. Such reluctance to do the right and just thing will only make me work that much harder to win this election, and, if need be, push to get these things accomplished myself from the inside. It will be the first item on my to-do list when elected, because it's so obvious, and so simple.

It's just a shame that it continues to look like the renters of Benton County will have to continue to wait for their needs to be addressed. The current crop of elected officials could take this issue off the table by simply acting on it themselves. I wish they would do that. I really do.

Doubtlessly so do thousands of other renters, or, to use another name to describe them, voters.

 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

YouCAN But CAAB Can't

Last night was the monthly meeting of the City of Corvallis Climate Action Advisory Board (CAAB)...And after viewing them in "action" last night, well, let's just say that I could easily have titled this piece "Is THIS Leadership? Chapter 3."

As you might imagine from their name, the CAAB exists, it is said, to "advise" the Corvallis City Council on how best to address climate change. That's the theory anyway.

Last night's meeting started at 5:30 PM, and was supposed to last 90 minutes. It was an ominous sign that they put the opportunity for public comments dead last on their agenda - which is generally a sure sign that a group does not, in fact, want to hear from members of the public. The group is "facilitated" by Annette Mills, and the meeting was run, such as it was, by City Council member Charlyn Ellis.

Jumping to the end...The meeting went just shy of a half-hour over their scheduled time. Ah, but how they got there, now that's the story...I'll get to that in a minute. But the first real "action" item on the agenda was "Discussion with Representatives of YouCAN (15 mins.)." That's exactly how it was listed on the agenda. YouCAN, for those who don't know, is a group of local youth who are working with great energy, focus and passion on addressing climate change. About 10 members of the group came last night. They filled the front row of the seating, and stayed for the whole meeting.

It's just a shame that what they saw was so disheartening. Even more of a shame is that the members of CAAB didn't seem to really see them at all. They were sitting there, but seemingly not there for most of the CAAB members. YouCAN has been tirelessly advocating for the city to pass an ordinance regarding climate change. The city, and the CAAB, have been strongly opposed to passing any sort of ordinance dealing with climate change. The kids want something with teeth and measurable goals; the city and CAAB do not.

CAAB's "discussion" with YouCAN consisted of inviting two representatives from that group to come and sit in front of the board. One of the YouCAN reps spoke briefly, then the rest of the 15 minutes were eaten up (literally) by CAAB members, one by one, trying to convince "those meddling kids" to focus on anything and everything except an ordinance. One or two CAAB members actually told these kids, filled with passion and energy and worried about their own futures, to come back and check in with the CAAB in a couple of years, to see how they're doing!

Climate change is an existential threat to all life on this planet. It is happening now and there is an urgent need for us to respond to it immediately. But the members of the CAAB showed no sense of urgency. They looked at these kids, and essentially told them to get lost, stop bothering us, leave this business to the adults in the room. Left unsaid was that it was, collectively, the adults in the room that got the planet into this mess in the first place. The response from the CAAB was as meaningful as a recording saying, "Your call is important to us - please stay on the line." It was shameful and sad.

Charlyn Ellis had set her timer and when the 15 minutes were up - Wham! - that was it. She shut down the "discussion" and moved right along. Thanks, kids, now go away.

But they didn't go away. As I said, they stayed for the whole sad spectacle. Ellis was a real clock watcher when it came to dealing with the YouCAN kids, but she was notably more lax with, well, everything else.

The meeting actually began with a time-wasting "Check-in question." That was supposed to take "3 mins." per the agenda. Needless to say, since it gave the adult members of the CAAB an opportunity to pontificate, it took a lot longer. Everything but the YouCAN kids took a lot longer. It was an amazing and bizarre thing to behold.

Here was a group that is supposed to be dealing with the life-or-death, happening right now issue of climate change, and they wasted so much time. A great deal of the meeting was literally spent debating things like: "Should these items be numbered or have bullet points?" "Should this item be number two or three on our (numbered or bullet pointed) list?" "Would it be better for us to be called a board or a subcommittee?" The amount of time spent - sorry, wasted - talking about ephemeral things was astonishing. At one point, they even spent time discussing the fonts used on a couple of documents.

So, the takeaway was that fonts are worthy of discussion and debate. The future, the kids sitting right in front of you? Not so much. It's no wonder that a couple of the kids I talked with brought up the word "cynical" after viewing this sad display.

As I said at the beginning, this piece could easily be called "Is THIS Leadership? Chapter 3." On climate issues, and many others, our local leadership is totally checked out. I urge you to not believe the hype, and don't be lulled into thinking that groups with the word "Action" in their name are actually taking action. Do some reading, and see for yourself. Or, in this case, you could contact the kids involved with YouCAN and see what they have to say. They'll doubtlessly be at the next CAAB meeting (on July 30th), and so will I.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is THIS Leadership? Chapter 2

There's a saying in politics: If you're explaining, you're losing. Well, all three of our County Cmmissioners sure have been explaining a lot this week. It was bad enough that they made a highly questionable decision to pull the funding they had committed for the men's homeless shelter in Corvallis. That had them on the defensive all by itself.

Now, in today's paper, we find several new articles revolving around that same decision, and raising the questions about how our Commissioners operate, and whether or not they violated either the spirit of the law, or the actual law itself regarding public meetings in arriving at that decision.

To be honest, none of this comes as a surprise to me, as the issues involved are ones I have been concerned about and speaking out about for many months now. As I see it, there are three problems with our current situation.

One: Meeting times and/or meeting notices. The County Commissioners hold their meetings during the work day, when it is difficult if not impossible for working citizens to attend. And the agendas for these meetings, as noted in the Gazette-Times, are often incredibly vague, essentially stating "We're having a meeting and will discuss, like, you know, the issues facing Benton County." If you're concerned about or interested in a particular issue, it's generally difficult to know when, exactly, that issue might be being discussed. More problematically, this can also lead to discussions and decisions on issues that, if not given proper public notice, are illegal. (And per the current controversy, let's be clear: If all three Commissioners "come to consensus" on an issue, functionally, that's the same as voting on an issue, no matter how many semantic word games you play.)

Two: Problem One above leads directly to Problem Two, which is that, not surprisingly, not many members of the public ever attend a meeting of the Benton County Commissioners. In all the meetings I have ever been to, I have only seen one or two members of the public in attendance. (I have also never seen another candidate for County Commissioner at any of these meetings, by the way.) Go to any Corvallis City Council meeting - in the evening - and you'll find at least a few interested citizens there. But if you go to any given County Commissioner meeting - during the middle of the day - don't be surprised if you're the only one there.

Three: And that leads us directly to Problem Three, which is that our County Commissioners seem increasingly out of touch with the people they represent. They certainly make decisions regarding those people without actually hearing from them in any meaningful way. The public comment period at a City Council meeting can take up a lot of time, and there's always someone there to express there views on something. That's a good thing. So far as I can see, there is no corresponding public input the County Commissioners receive, at least not on anything resembling a regular basis.

And that leads to bad decisions. And bad decisions lead to lots of explaining. And, as stated above, if you're explaining, you're losing. Only, in this case, we're all losing.

We can do better than this in Benton County. If I'm elected, I will push for meaningful changes in the basic ways the Benton County Commissioners conduct their business, to help increase public input and oversight, and lessen the chances of confusion, disruption and community upset.

***I'm adding this note the next day, June 21st. The reason for doing so is because I wanted to provide a link to an editorial in today's Gazette-Times on this topic that is right on the money. Simply put, they call the County Commissioners out for all the problems with their handling of this: Anne Schuster's inflammatory Facebook comments; the "agenda" put out for this meeting that offered no details about what would be discussed; the fact that the discussion of this issue took place after everyone had left the meeting except for the three Commissioners and Joe Kerby, County Administrator; the Commissioners lame attempts to say no vote was taken, but that they "only" reached "consensus" on this funding issue; and Vance Croney's defense of it all as being legal - when it might not have been, and was, at the very least, underhanded and unethical.

Good call, GT.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Is THIS Leadership?

As you may have read, Benton County has pulled the $60,000 they had promised for the homeless shelter, citing (no pun intended) the reason that they "don't like the location."

Now, let's just take the specific issue (dealing with homelessness) out of this discussion, and look at how our current County Commissioners have behaved in all this. They've made a deal, committed funds, then reneged on it, throwing plans that affect the whole county and involve many groups therein into turmoil. They did so at the last minute.

They also did so as a follow up to Commissioner Anne Schuster's telling inflammatory lies via Facebook. Do I need to say that that sort of behavior is never helpful, and, in this case, seems especially insensitive? We've already got a lunatic in chief who is addicted to tweeting out mistruths - do we really want to emulate that sort of behavior locally?

Taken as a whole, is this the kind of informed, compassionate and professional leadership you'll accept here in Benton County? Last minute, kneejerk panic attack responses to issues? A total lack of compassion, if not for the homeless, for all the other groups involved in this effort whose work may now have been completely torpedoed?

And, speaking of empathy, this is also a revealing follow-up to the recent revelations about the troubles in Benton County's mental health department, with allegations of abusive managers and bigoted behavior being widespread.

Leadership means standing up and doing what is right, even when it is difficult. It also means having the courage to stand up and say when you're wrong, and working to make amends. But, under its current leadership, Benton County seems more focused on deflecting blame, assigning it to others, and shirking their responsibilities.

We can do better than this, and if I am elected, I will work tirelessly to see that we absolutely do better than this. I will foster cooperation, not confrontation. I will not abide unethical or abusive behavior. And I will recognize that, buyer's remorse or not, a deal is a deal, and we must uphold our end of it - especially when it comes to dealing with life or death social issues.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Meanings: Torture and the Democrats

Six Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of putting a well-known torturer in charge of the C.I.A.

A well-know torturer. Someone who has tortured people in the past. Ignore the words coming out of Gina Haspel's mouth now, and just remember that she tortured people in the (not-so-distant) past. She did it, she defended it.

Six Senate Democrats voted to put her in charge of the C.I.A. Please ponder that for a minute, and then further ponder what it really, really means to be a Democrat in this day and age. Is this the best we can hope for?

May 22nd Update: Here are some links to related and highly relevant stories:

https://theintercept.com/2018/05/21/texas-21-congressional-district-joseph-kopser-mary-wilson/

https://theintercept.com/2018/05/21/chuck-schumer-is-the-worst-possible-democratic-leader-on-foreign-policy-at-the-worst-possible-time/

https://theintercept.com/2018/05/21/jahana-hayes-connecticut-democratic-primary/

https://theintercept.com/2018/05/22/joseph-crowley-alexandra-ocasio-cortez-new-york-primary/

https://theintercept.com/2018/05/22/shri-thanedar-michigan-governor-race-shri-thanedar-abdul-el-sayed/

 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Priorities: Above the Fold, Under the Radar

Today's front page on the Gazette-Times is very revealing - at least about what they consider priorities in our community.

The big, above the fold headline is: Expression policy roils LBCC. Apparently this is all a late-breaking "shock wave" from a "controversial" art exhibit at LBCC last fall that "depicted men performing sex acts." A careful reading of the article doesn't turn up any more details than that about what exactly (or explicitly?) was "depicted," so it's a little difficult for me to get too worked up about it.

I think it's not breaking news to anyone that men do, on occasion, "perform sex acts." And the history of art is rich in nudes. So...This is the biggest news story of the day in the eyes of the GT? No lives were lost, no lives were ruined. Some sensibilities were apparently offended, but, let's face it, we live in a society that offers up all manner of sensibility-offending material every day. That being the case, it's up to each of us to pick and choose what we want to invest our time, energy and angst into in response, and which things just cause us to - literally or not - turn the other cheek.

And speaking of offensive subjects...Just below the art article, but still above the fold, is yet another article about the committed racist loser, Andrew Oswalt. Long story short: He is running for a seat on OSU's Student Fees Committee, because he is desperate for attention. The GT is all too happy to give him that attention.

But the fact remains that if the local media stopped giving this racist loser so much attention, he would likely go away, and run off to be with his five or six all-male aryan (intentionally lowercase) loser cohorts. In any case, the fact that a known attention-seeker is seeking attention does not warrant a lengthy article, but that's what we, and he, got.

Then, finally, if you make it to the bottom of the front page, squeezed into a couple of column inches, you'll see a headline that might just have some larger relevance: United Way report details region's poverty. Let me repeat that, in bold: United Way report details region's poverty.

Here's the first line from that story: "Despite positive economic signs in the area, nearly half of the mid-Willamette Valley's residents are living in poverty or are among the ranks of the working poor, according to a report from the United Way." There's that income inequality again, folks. We have some of the worst in the nation, right here in Benton County. This is a BIG issue. But it's by far the shortest of the three articles.

No lives are derailed by "sexy" art displays. Even a lone and lonely racist loser crying out for attention, despicable as he is, isn't able to shatter lives or families. Those aren't scandals - they're juicy come-ons to try and sell newspapers. But thousands of people living in poverty? That is a scandal. That is real news. And that is something we all need to focus in on.

That includes the GT, which does the community no favors by selling the sizzle, and shortchanging their responsibilities as a local news outlet.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Who Do You Really Work For?

Yesterday at work (at HP), we had a visit from Democratic state senator Sara Gelser. She came to give a little speech about children's issues, funding for schools, programs for special needs children and foster kids - those sorts of things. It wasn't quite standing room only, but she got a good turnout. Needless to say, I had to go.

She spoke about the topics listed above, and made it very clear that there is a crisis - that's the word she used - in DHS and other agencies that deal with kids who are also in crisis. Management and HR are defensive and sometimes abusive. Workers aren't being trained, and the turnover rate for DHS caseworkers is a staggering 75% annually. When kids are in crisis, and parents seek help, it can take up to eight months to get into a first appointment in Oregon. That's a long, long time to wait if your child is engaging in self-destructive acts right now.

Given all that, the outcomes we get in Oregon are pretty dismal. It's obvious that changes have to be made in how we handle these issues here. That's my view, and Gelser made it clear it's hers as well.

But she also made it clear that there's one area we don't need to change.

After her speech, she took questions from the audience. After several other people asked questions, I raised my hand and asked if she'd please talk for a moment about Oregon's notoriously low corporate tax rates, and how those low rates affect the state budget overall and spending for children's issues specifically.

Her response was telling.

She confirmed that Oregon does indeed have one of the lower corporate tax rates in the country - and was quick to add that she absolutely supported it being that way. She said it was "good for business." Then, addressing the main focus of my question, she essentially said that, yes, the low corporate tax rate does make it harder to fund the state's budget overall, and yes that does make it harder to fund programs like the ones she had just spent half an hour talking about. But she quickly pivoted back to saying she supports keeping the corporate tax rates low, and finished with her version of the classic conservative line about how it's not about spending more money but just spending existing funds smarter, more efficiently. Then she moved on to talking about something else entirely.

She was pretty smooth, and it didn't sound overly harsh, but let's think about what she said. There's a crisis in Oregon. Services for children in Oregon get delivered slowly, at best. DHS is understaffed. The staff they do have don't get proper training, and a great many of them leave that field of work very quickly. This results in bad outcomes, everything from staff burnout, foster parent burnout, a lack of institutional continuity, all the way up to kids dying. A little more funding to address these things surely wouldn't hurt.

But, per Gelser, we can't change the corporate tax rates to do that, because the low rates are "good for business." So, to sum up, when it comes to dealing with Oregon kids in crisis, it's unfair to ask corporations to do more. That's the Democratic status quo, and that's Gelser's view. Mark that scorecard Corporations = 1, Children = 0.

Pretty sad. Yes, you can make the argument that things might be even worse under Republican leadership, but I'm here to make the argument that things could be a lot better under truly progressive leadership. We can do better, so much better. We can do more for kids, for the environment, for people who are struggling financially, for immigrants. All that's lacking is leaders who will lead, who aren't afraid to stand up to corporations and speak up for those they're supposed to be serving.

I am not afraid to speak up, and I will always know exactly who I am serving. YOU. Not Nike, not Microsoft, not HP. YOU. That's what makes me a better choice than yet another neoliberal Democratic corporate apologist. Please think about that, won't you?

Friday, May 4, 2018

They Haven't Even Tried

If you're running for office in Benton County, or if you're already holding elected office in Benton County, you've undoubtedly heard A LOT about the housing crunch, the housing crisis, slumlords, homelessness, homeless students in our schools, etc. What with Benton County having some of the worst income inequality in the country, and with OSU deciding to pour thousands more students in here to feed their billion dollar endowment, both of which make making your monthly rent a difficult task for so many people here, it's impossible to miss the growing housing and homelessness crisis here.

Now, obviously, as mentioned above, making ends meet month-to-month is a struggle for a lot of people. Which is to say, income inequality enables a wide foundation of financial insecurity for many members of our community. Becoming homeless is essentially the ultimate expression of that financial insecurity. And, when your expenses are stretched to the breaking point, and you experience some sort of precipitating event...You can end up on the streets.

Of course, such a precipitating event could be something huge and dramatic, like a medical crisis, or a death in the family. But, for those on a fixed income or tight budget, it can also be as simple as being subject to a no cause eviction, or perhaps a sudden rent increase that is beyond your means.

What have our local elected officials done in response to all this? Well, there's been a lot of lip service given, and oodles of "concern" have been expressed. But what concrete steps have been taken to actually try and address these issues?

Well, Portland has done something to address those issues. It used to be you could be subject to a no cause eviction or a rent increase with just 30 days notice. As you can imagine, that's not much time to deal with all that a move can involve - especially in a tight, expensive rental market like Portland (or ours). Now the minimum notice in Portland is 90 days. Portland has also passed a law requiring landlords in some of these types of situations to provide relocation assistance to their (soon-to-be-former) renters. That's cash money, folks. So, Portland has taken some very real steps to give renters both more time, and more money - both of which help keep families solvent and housed.

All that is great, and important, but in a real sense, the key detail in this story is that Portland was also sued over these policies - and won. In other words, their policies have been tested in the courts, and found to be legal. Right here in Oregon. Oh yeah, there's one more thing that's pretty great about these new rules: They don't cost the city government anything. So, they do the right thing, but don't cost a thing, and I like to think we can all agree that's a good thing, yes?

Which brings us back home...And right to the question: WHY HAVEN'T WE COPIED THOSE ORDINANCES HERE??? This isn't rocket science. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. Insert your own cliché expression of shock and surprise here. But really, we have a crisis here. Right here. Why aren't our elected leaders simply keeping up with good things that are being done elsewhere and then shamelessly copying them? To do any less isn't just lazy, it's a dereliction of duty. It's cruel.

All we have to do is look a little further north. There we would find measures that do not solve the problem of homelessness and exploitative landlords, but do very much address those issues. These are great first steps. WE SHOULD TAKE THEM. These are rule changes that could be done very simply, and very quickly. (Again, they have been upheld by the courts already.)

I urge you to urge your local representatives to adopt these measures as soon as possible. When I am elected, these will be the first things I bring up - but I hope that these have already been passed by then. Please, please, take this issue away from me. Do the right thing, and pass such ordinances here. No more talking - let's see some direct action. We've all heard how "concerned" you all are, now let's see some concrete steps being taken to make things a little better here in Benton County.

Because until they've done that, they haven't even tried.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Your "Control" Looks Like Inertia To Me

The GT just published an article with the headline, "Democrats work on legislative control." It covered a lot of things, and touched down in more than one state, but it mainly focused on the effort to move Oregon from being a state where the Democrats have a clear majority in elected offices to one where the Democrats hold a SUPER majority.

This would, in theory, allow them to, as they say, "get things done." Or, as the article explains: That would give them a better shot at increasing corporate taxes in a state where corporations pay one of the lowest rates in the nation.

The article goes on to quote Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon: "We continue to have a pattern where families pay more into the tax system to support state services than do corporations. With a supermajority maybe there's a better chance, but of course the devil is always in the details."

Yes, the devil is in the details, especially when it comes to party politics. Remember how the great Democratic states of Washington and Oregon were going to "do something" to address climate change - and whiffed? I suppose they can always get around to dealing with that impending global disaster, you know, next time. Which is to say, don't hold your breath waiting for those corporate tax rates to start rising. (Please see the Sunshine Week series for more on all the big, large, huge corporate donations flowing, flowing, flowing into the offices of our Democratic representatives.)

A two party system breeds black and white worldviews. "You're either with us, or against us!" Life is, of course, more complicated than that, but, for each party to continue to exist, the other party must continue to be "the enemy." However, "the enemy" never really loses in this conflict - but our whole society (and the whole world for that matter) sure does. We just bicker, bicker, bicker while forces growing beyond our control threaten to put out the lights on the age of reason.

All of which is a big lead up to saying that...When you put all your eggs in one (partisan) basket, you tend not to speak up when some of those eggs turn out to be rotten.

Democrats have control of Oregon, but have done next to nothing to address climate change. Democrats have maintained those criminally low corporate tax rates mentioned above. Democrats have engineered the PERS crisis. Democrats have control of Oregon, and have done precious little to address the housing crisis and homelessness. That goes at the state level, and at the local, Benton County level. Our Benton County Commissioners have gotten us into a lawsuit funded by the timber industry that partners us with far-right Republican counties to sue the state - a lawsuit that could bankrupt the state, and devastate our schools. Our local elected officials have let OSU run roughshod over the community, breaking their word, and creating a housing crisis, all while our local liberal leaders have said nary a discouraging word. Most damningly, our local elected officials have presided over creating a situation in which Benton County has some of the highest income inequality in the entire country.

Ah, but it's Democrats enabling all this, so all sins are forgiven. And thank goodness those bad, bad Republicans aren't in control, right? Yes, but...

That's not just misguided, it's pathological. It's deeply dishonest, and it's incredibly destructive to our community and the credibility of just about everyone involved. Saying you "care" isn't caring; doing something to show you care means a lot more. Talk minus action equals ZERO.

In the coming days I'll post some ideas that would address the housing crisis and the issue of exploitative landlords here. I'll post some ideas that would ease a few of the burdens on local low income families and children who struggle to afford to live here in our community. These are tried and tested ideas that work, and don't cost local governments a thing. They would be progressive, proactive and positive steps for our community.

Needless to say, I'll also post a few questions about why our local governing bodies haven't already taken these easy and obvious steps. I mean, aren't we supposed to pick the low-hanging fruit first?