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.