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Slant 8-1-2013

Police Chief Pete Kerns has likely sprouted a few new gray hairs from the recent sexual harassment and abuse conviction of officer Stefan Zeltvay and, not long ago, a scandal involving gross mismanagement of EPD’s evidence lockers. Kerns has been proactive in damage control in both cases, much more so than any of his predecessors in the chief job. But we are left wondering what other bad behavior has been going on for years in the cop shop? We have not forgotten the infamous Roger Magaña and Juan Lara rape and abuse cases a decade ago. The two bad cops were sent to prison and about $5 million was paid out to victims, but the department never got around to investigating other police officers up and down the ranks who had heard numerous complaints about these bad boys’ criminal activities and did little or nothing about it. Magaña’s sexual crime spree in uniform went on for six years, with an estimated 40 victims. Nobody who knew or suspected Magaña’s behavior was fired, disciplined or even denied promotion. Kerns, a lieutenant at the time, was one of the officers who reportedly dismissed one victim’s accusations as unfounded (see our July 15, 2004, story at http://wkly.ws/1it). 

Cops are notorious for backing each other no matter what, but transparency and accountability must trump loyalty, particularly when justice is thwarted and taxpayers are picking up the bills. We think Kerns gets it now, but do the hundreds of rank-and-file officers at EPD get it, or are we going to see more scandals popping up every year to two to erode the public’s confidence in those sworn to protect and serve?

• The homeless in Eugene lack more than a place to live; they lack medical care and sometimes even basic civil rights. The Civil Liberties Defense Center has long stepped up to fight for the rights of protesters and the dispossessed, and this week the small but strong nonprofit got some good news for a homeless man, Mark Kemp, who was allegedly mistreated and had his medical needs neglected by the Lane County Jail. The Lane County Commission voted to settle with Kemp, the CLDC and attorneys in the case Marianne Dugan and Lauren Regan for $500,000. As a result of the settlement, the jail will also be modifying its procedures. Sounds like a lot of cash from a cash-strapped county? It’s a drop in the bucket for what the homeless and mentally ill go through in this county, and according to the judge in the case, a jury verdict might have been a million dollars or more. 

• Oregonians deserve an explanation of why Rudy Crew was hired as our education “czar” under Gov. Kitzhaber’s dubious new plan for total top-down control of education in this state. A continuing parade of stories in The Oregonian blast Crew, his salary of $280,000 a year, $30,000 for moving costs from California, seven major trips out of state in less than four months of his hire and bailing after a year in Oregon. So who hired him when Superintendent Nancy Golden of Springfield, now the interim chief, was right here? We hardly knew Rudy, but we did know her.

Raise the national minimum wage? Businesses and industries that rely on paying the lowest possible wages and no benefits in order to maintain their profit margins are lobbying against raising the minimum wage, but they don’t recognize that our economy is driven in large part by consumer spending. If low-wage workers can’t afford to buy goods and services, all businesses suffer. Henry Ford was one of the first to grasp this concept. He raised the wages he paid to auto workers so they could afford to buy his cars. A social justice component is also evident. Our current tax structure favors the wealthy and poor people face fewer opportunities to plug into our economy and advance themselves. The real impact on business? A Huffington Post story this week cites a University of Kansas study that calculates that McDonald’s could double its food service workers’ salaries and a Big Mac would only cost consumers an extra 68 cents to maintain company profits. See wkly.ws/1iw.

• Good times at the Lane County Fair this past week and we appreciate all the enthusiasm for the bands and musicians who performed as part of our Next Big Thing music contest on the Community Stage. Judges were there and our semi-finalists, Sol Seed and The Crescendo Show, will play Aug. 24 at the Eugene Celebration EW/KRVM Broadway Stage. The winner will be announced after their performances. 

FOOD for Lane County had its big food drive Sunday at the fair and we hear the effort brought in a much-needed 27,576 pounds of food, easily surpassing last year’s 21,336 and the year before’s 14,429 total pounds.