News Briefs: Piercy to Run Again for Mayor | Tasers in the Trees | Manager Pick by Smoke Puffs | Huge Road Tax Despite No Vote? | Las Posadas in Eugene | Kerwood a Finalist | Petition Goes to DeFazio | War Dead |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Some Trees Go To Heaven
Logged urban trees can have happy endings
Lee Trippett's adventures with clacking balls and Bigfoot
Happening Person: Haley Whitley
PIERCY TO RUN AGAIN FOR MAYOR
Mayor Kitty Piercy announced this week that she will seek a second term as Eugene's mayor, saying "I love this city and have enjoyed working hard during my first term to set the stage for Eugene's future." Piercy's announcement was expected, and Eugene politicos have already been meeting to see who might oppose her in 2008.
Piercy is optimistic about Eugene's future and says she wants to continue the programs she has instigated or supported. "Our local economy is healthy; our housing market is experiencing fewer downturns than many across the country; citizens are engaged in the community; and people have expressed to me that, for the first time, they know the doors of City Hall are open to them," she said in a prepared statement.
Piercy has pushed for green jobs and sustainable practices. The Mayor's Sustainable Business Initiative, adopted by the City Council, is designed to support and encourage the growth of businesses that use sustainable products and practices.
She said that in her second term, she will "keep the community engaged in downtown revitalization efforts to achieve a community-approved solution, and will continue efforts to advance arts and culture as visitor attractions and contributors to Eugene's economic vitality." She said she also intends to move forward on human rights issues, such as enacting recommendations from the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness and establishing a Youth Advisory Board.
During her first term, Piercy participated in more than 6,400 meetings and community gatherings. She meets regularly with citizen groups representing diverse interests.
TASERS IN THE TREES
Is Smokey Bear going to start zapping tree sitters? Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently revealed that the U.S. Forest Service purchased over half a million dollars worth of Tasers and "related accessories."
The Forest Service right now is so short of cash that it lacks the funds to create new timber sales. According to a November AP article, the USFS didn't anticipate the housing slump would result in a drop in lumber prices. Some of their timber sales have gone without bids. Without selling public timber, the USFS can't plot timber sales and plan the environmental reviews necessary to log, according to the article.
However, the Forest Service was able to come up with $600,001.52 in funds to buy the Tasers, according to records obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by PEER. The agency purchased 700 of the devices, enough to equip every USFS special agent and law enforcement officer with a stun gun, says PEER.
TASER International proudly announced the sale in a Sept. 19 press release, stating, "We are excited about this new additional federal agency purchasing TASER technology to protect life."
According to the TASER International release, the U.S. military has signed a five-year indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract with TASER International and has seen a "marked increase" in purchases by federal agencies.
News media across the country have reported the Tasering of pregnant women and handcuffed and restrained suspects (see video on blogs.eugeneweekly.com this week). In 2005 alone, 61 people died after being Tasered.
The Forest Service has not actually begun to use the Tasers. USFS Director of Law Enforcement and Investigations John Twiss, the official who authorized the purchase, said in a letter to PEER that the agency is currently developing the training for agents to use the electronic control devices.
Executive Director Jeff Ruch commented in the PEER press release, "As a result, in addition to the howl of the coyote and the hoot of the owl, the plaintive cry of 'Don't tase me, bro' may soon echo through the forest night." — Camilla Mortensen
MANAGER PICK BY SMOKE PUFFS
The Eugene City Council has yet to decide whether or not it will make one of its most important decisions in secret.
City Human Resources Director Lauren Chouinard said the council is "undecided" on whether they will release a list of finalists for the city's powerful city manager position. "They haven't discussed that."
The council has been meeting behind closed doors in executive sessions for the last several months to select a new city manager. Many cities, including Springfield, publicly announce the top finalists for the job before making the decision.
But in 2003, Eugene hired former City Manager Dennis Taylor in a secret meeting without publicly announcing any other finalists.
The secrecy surrounding the selection drew widespread criticism. A Register-Guard editorial compared the council's secrecy to cardinals announcing the selection of the pope with puffs of smoke. "Eugene residents deserve to know who is being considered as finalists for the critical position of city manager," stated the editorial.
Some councilors and staff have expressed concern that candidates may not apply if they think the cities where they work now will find out they're looking for another job. But many other cities release lists of top candidates. Besides Springfield's selection in 2005, other examples include Cincinnati, Ohio and Federal Way, Wash. Lawrence, Kan. publicly announced that Dennis Taylor was a finalist there in 2006.
Bob Neher, the recruiter the city hired to find a new manager, said that its up to the council whether or not a list of finalists is released to the public for scrutiny and comment. In any case, after finalists come to town for interviews and risk being seen, they will already know that their interest in the position may become public, according to Neher. "At that point we inform the candidates it can no longer be kept confidential."
Councilors have repeatedly called the city manager selection one of the most important decisions they will make as elected officials. Eugene's city managers have seized enormous power over city government. They rule over a staff of 1,400, a budget of $300 million and city assets of a half a billion dollars. They control all contracts, hiring and firing, disciplinary action, promotions, audits, legal interpretations and information coming out of city government.
Chouinard said the council has so far narrowed down 78 applicants to 11 candidates in its closed-door meetings. He said that on Dec. 18 the council plans to decide on the top few finalists to interview and will conduct those interviews on Jan. 11 and 12. — Alan Pittman
HUGE ROAD TAX DESPITE NO VOTE?
After voters slammed a $2 million a year pothole repair tax in the last election, the city council has turned around and plans to ask voters for a $8 million a year pothole tax in May.
The new tax, a 10-year, $81 million bond paid by property tax increases averaging $109 per home owner, would be the largest tax increase in the city's history.
The property tax increase has been pushed by the Eugene Chamber of Commerce and council conservatives. Business interests pushed the property tax as a substitute for an earlier proposal for a tax on parking spaces that would have shifted more of the tax burden from home owners to big box stores that generate high road use.
Ironically, the conservative councilors who are the strongest backers of the pothole tax have some of the most anti-pothole tax constituents in the city.
Voters in Councilor Jennifer Solomon's Ward 6 in Bethel voted 78 percent against the gas tax for potholes on the November ballot. In Councilor Mike Clark's north Eugene Ward 5, 64 percent opposed the tax increase for roads. In Councilor George Poling's northeast Eugene Ward 4, 63 percent opposed the tax increase for roads. Solomon, Clark and Poling won their seats in largely unopposed elections.
Overall, 56 percent of voters opposed increasing taxes to pay for road repair. But on the council, support for the bigger tax increase appeared unanimous.
To pass the big tax, "we as a city council have to be behind it 100 percent," said Councilor Chris Pryor. Pryor argued that more voters will support a property tax than a gas tax. "A bond measure to rebuild streets is more clear and more persuasive than a gas tax."
But Councilor Alan Zelenka said the failure of the gas tax is a good gauge of how the larger property tax may fair. "The gas tax is very analogous here." — Alan Pittman
LAS POSADAS IN EUGENE
From Christmas to Solstice to Hanukkah to the Islamic Eid ul-Adha, December is the month of festivals. If you want to branch out beyond sitting on Santa's lap and demanding gifts this year, there are a couple of places in Eugene where you can go and experience the traditional Mexican Christmas celebration of Las Posadas.
Las Posadas traditionally takes place over nine nights and reenacts Mary and Joseph's search for an inn (Las Posadas in English is "the inns") in which Mary could give birth.
Each night a party is held and each night the peregrinos (pilgrims), carrying candles and figurines of Mary and Joseph, come to the door and sing, requesting lodging. After the peregrinos have been turned down at two houses, they are allowed in at the final house and evening ends with singing and the breaking of piñata.
The celebration takes place from Dec. 16-24, and on the final night, Christmas Eve, an image of the Christ child is carried in. The nine-day celebration is said to have been introduced by Catholic missionaries in 1587 not only to celebrate the birth of Christ but to replace the Aztec celebration of the birth of the war and sun god Huitzilopochtli that took place in December.
To celebrate Las Posadas in Eugene, go to the Gather Room at Oak Hill School at 6 pm Monday, Dec. 17. The event is free, but donations will go to aid flood-damaged Tabasco, Mexico. For more information call Armando Morales at 744-0954. The event is put on by Oak Hill in conjunction with Adelante Sí, the Dirección de Atención a Comunidades Guanajuatenses en el extranjero and other organizations.
You can also attend a free choral Posadas sung in Spanish and English, followed by fiesta and breaking of piñata at 5 pm Dec. 16 at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Call 686-8462. — Camilla Mortensen
KERWOOD A FINALIST
Lorraine Kerwood, founder and director of NextStep Recycling in Eugene, is a finalist in the Volvo for Life Awards, and could win big bucks for her nonprofit — if enough people vote for her online before Jan. 7.
Kerwood is one of 10 community "heroes" nominated and selected in the environment category. Other categories are for safety, quality of life and "butterfly" — Volvo's youth category.
The top vote-getter in each category gets $100,000 for his or her nonprofit, and runners-up get $25,000. One overall winner in the contest will also win a new Volvo every three years for as long as he or she lives.
"Under Lorraine Kerwood's leadership, NextStep has recycled more than 1,000 tons of waste and refurbished over 11,000 computers and other electronic devices," reads a statement on the Volvo for Life website. "Most importantly, Lorraine ensures that many disadvantaged children today get the opportunities that she did not have when growing up."
More information about Kerwood and NextStep can be found at volvoforlifeawards.com. Click on the "Environment" category to vote for one of 10 finalists.
PETITION GOES TO DEFAZIO
A petition to "Stop Bush's War with Iran" with the signatures of 1,180 constituents will be delivered by local residents to the office of Rep. Peter DeFazio at noon Thursday, Dec. 13. More than 160,000 people nationwide have signed the petition, which was put forward by MoveOn.org. The Eugene action is one of 330 events from Oregon to Maine that have been planned to deliver the petitions to Congress.
"Last week, a White House intelligence report was released that proved Iran stopped developing nuclear weapons in 2003 — yet Bush is still hyping war with Iran," says Michael Carrigan of CALC, one of the organizers of the Eugene action. "He's ignoring intelligence and misleading the public — the same tactics that got us into the mess with Iraq. Congress needs to take action and make crystal clear that the president doesn't have congressional approval to start a war in Iran."
Activists will meet with a DeFazio staff representative to thank the congressman for his ongoing and steadfast opposition to a U.S. military strike against Iran and to urge him to support HJR 64, sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). This resolution clarifies that the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq or any other previous legislation or resolution does not justify, allow or authorize military action against Iran.
An identical resolution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Barack Obama.
"With Senate passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment supporting the use of our military to roll back Iran's influence in Iraq, and given President Bush's evident belief in an 'imperial presidency,' defining terms is certainly prudent," Abercrombie said in a prepared statement. "Sen. Obama and I agree that immediate action is needed that leaves no room for the administration to use military force against Iran without the specific authorization of Congress."
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week's numbers in parentheses):
• 3,882 U.S. troops killed* (3,876)
• 28,451 U.S. troops injured* (28,451)
• 130 U.S. military suicides* (130)
• 306 coalition troops killed** (306)
• 933 contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 84,779 to one million Iraqi civilians killed*** (84,250)
• $473.9 billion cost of war ($471.9 billion)
• $134.7 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($134.2 million)
* through Nov. 12, 2007; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** estimate; source: icasualties.org
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 to one million
• Saving the Amazon Creek headwaters continues to swim upstream against city staff and conservative opposition. Corporate PR person Liz Cawood and Councilor and Republican political operative Mike Clark recently sought to torpedo protecting the natural area by apparently publicizing inflated numbers from confidential city property appraisals. It's amazing that the majority of local elected officials support saving the natural area from development, but staff and conservative activists have stymied preservation for more than a year. So much for democracy.
• Angry armed men are on the prowl in Eugene demanding huge amounts of money from citizens. Local residents are advised to hold tightly to their park, planning and library budgets lest the Eugene police make off with even more of their cash to dramatically increase cop numbers despite falling crime rates.
• That was Pat Farr at Rob Handy's press conference last week in the Lane County Courthouse (see News Briefs last week). State Sen Vicki Walker introduced and strongly endorsed Rob as the candidate to boot Bobby Green off of the County Commission in 2008. Handy spoke of his experience as a small businessman, neighborhood advocate, environmentalist and fiscal conservative, taking the opportunity to poke at several soft spots in the county ledgers.
Republican Farr stood out in the crowd dominated by Democrats, including Mayor Piercy. Farr now works for Republican political operative Rick Lindholm, whom Green previously employed to gerrymander his district.
• Looking ahead: With Tom Kemper pulling the plug on his downtown Eugene redevelopment plans, will LCC end up with a new building downtown? It could be cheaper to convert a building to LCC classrooms and offices rather than plumbing-intense residential use. Might there be some other civic uses for downtown buildings currently under city options? UO student housing would be great downtown, and those kinds of public projects don't rely on commercial banking.
At the county, relocating the fairgrounds will likely be a big issue in 2008 along with routing LTD's EmX bus through west Eugene. Every proposed route has problems. Will LTD try to run the route on new pavement along parts of Amazon Creek? More budget cuts coming at the county level? Restoring federal funds for counties remains a crap shoot, and a bad roll could mean 20 percent cuts at the county.
At the state, big battles over Measure 47 implementation are brewing despite the legally specific language in the measure. And of course the 2008 general election ballot will be staggering. We'll be picking a president, lawmakers, councilors and mayor and probably voting on 20 state measures. Some reasonable-sounding but insidiously destructive antigovernment initiatives are certain to make it on the ballot with the hope that voters will not be paying attention.
• A small but hardy group of adventurers showed up on the stormiest day of the year Dec. 2 to attempt a hike into Devil's Staircase. Our outdoors writer James Johnston organized the expedition to the remote and nearly inaccessible Wassen Creek waterfalls in the Coast Range. He's been wanting to familiarize people with an environmentally sensitive area targeted for logging under the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR). The group carpooled two hours to the trailhead and took off on foot, he says, but soon turned back amid crashing trees and flying branches. Later that day a landslide closed the highway they had traveled. Johnston says the hike will be rescheduled, probably in early spring. Visit northforkphotos.com/wassennotes.html for more information and to get on Johnston's email list.
• Cable TV is now running The Day After Tomorrow. Remember this 2004 flick? Millions of Americans die in an apocalyptic ice age triggered by global warming. The movie on TV has commercial breaks, and guess what's being advertised between scenes of mass destruction? You guessed it: SUVs and big vans with multiple DVD players. After all, we will need four-wheel drive rigs to escape the coming catastrophe.
• We're happy to report that the EW: A Blog! (blogs.eugeneweekly.com) is getting some attention. What's on EW A Blog! these days? Check out Tasering pregnant women, Albertsons' weird new plastic bag policy, "dens of inequity" vs. "dens of iniquity" and "Aliens, brothels and Chuck Norris." The hits keep coming.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, firstname.lastname@example.org
After graduation from Seattle University in 2006 with degrees in psychology and Spanish, Haley Whitley took a vacation in Pavones, Costa Rica, a remote town with many foreign residents. "There's an amazing surf break there," says Whitely, who had visited an aunt in Pavones when she was a junior at South Eugene. "I bought a beat-up surf board and fell in love with it." When her funds ran out, Whitley stayed on and made ends meet by tutoring home-schooled kids in English and offering community classes at a local school. "No one was teaching English," she says. "Whatever I could provide was better than what they had. My biggest class was 15 people, ages 10 to 50." Before she returned to Eugene in June of '07, Whitley and her college friend Raphel Weber, an ESL teacher, had founded Escuela Camino Claro, a community education center. While Weber keeps classes going, Whitley is in Eugene planning an ECC fundraiser for Feb. 9 at the Fenario Gallery, with music by Kudana and members of Reeble Jar, local wine and beer and a silent auction. Learn about ECC at caminoclaro.org