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


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.