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Slant 1-3-2013

• Former ACLU field director Claire Syrett took the Eugene Ward 7 city councilor position vacated by Andrea Ortiz, and we were delighted at the choice. We still have high hopes for Syrett as a much-needed addition to the progressive voices on the City Council, but we’re a bit puzzled by a couple of her votes so far. She voted to sell the 1.89 acre Courthouse Garden property, which donates about 6,000 pounds of food each year to feed Lane County’s homeless and hungry, without any public discussion or a plan in place for a new garden site. She also voted (and lost) with Councilor Mike Clark to select EWEB as the new City Hall site rather than rehabilitate our centrally located City Hall. We appreciate that Syrett doesn’t stick to a party line, but we’re hoping in the New Year our new councilor is a voice for the underrepresented, the environment, downtown and local foods and farmers.

• Now that former EWEB commissioner Joanne Ernst has settled her lawsuit with the city over the cops who raided her home with a SWAT team, a battering ram and percussion grenades early one morning in 2009, we’re hoping she runs for public office again. The city didn’t admit liability and maintain Ernst’s suit was without merit, but settled for $87,000. We hope EPD learned a lesson here from this expensive blunder. EPD didn’t find the coke, weapons and heroin they thought her son was dealing, though they did find some pot — Ernst was getting a medical marijuana card, which she now has. Ernst has been unafraid to stand up for the environment, even when it’s annoyed fellow commissioners, such as her protesting of Seneca’s old-growth logging, and we need more strong voices for progressive causes in our elected officials. 

Looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, how about an independent performance auditor to look at every Eugene city function, starting with the EPD, the largest department? Other cities have used performance auditors to save money, avoid lawsuits and build credibility and trust with their citizens, which is critical to passing new revenue measures. The idea of an independent auditor, elected or appointed by the City Council, has been kicking around for years and was highly recommended by a citizen charter review committee in 2002, but every city manager in recent history has resisted it, saying it costs too much. Not cost effective? Independent auditors in other cities have saved taxpayers big time. “In many cases, audit work leads to new revenue, cost recovery and economic impact well beyond the audit department’s annual budget,” according to Berkeley’s elected City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan. “Many independent performance audit departments pay for themselves many times over.” Read her Viewpoint titled “Better Government” in our archives from Aug. 19, 2004 at wkly.ws/1er 

• Oregon men’s basketball coach Dana Altman has shown that he can bring players from far-flung locales to Eugene and mold them into winning teams. In Altman’s three seasons, players hailing from Canada, Iran, Germany, Illinois, Alabama, Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Washington, Rhode Island, California and Oregon have come together as Ducks. Altman can coach hoops — his players and teams have improved over the course of each season and finished with strong winning runs in post-season tournaments. This year’s Ducks have started strong. If they follow Altman’s pattern and keep getting better, they could contend for a Pac-12 title and roll into the Big Dance, also known as the NCAA Tournament!

A lot of political activity goes on behind the scenes in Lane County with dozens of groups large and small getting together to talk about candidates, ballot measures and various campaigns to influence public policy and public opinion. Some of the better-organized groups actually get grants to assist in their work. We the People-Eugene is one of these groups, originally focused on corporate personhood, but now looking at coal trains, forest spraying, GMOs and other issues. The group is examining what other communities, such as Corvallis, Bellingham and Spokane are doing, and seeing if Lane County is ripe for some relevant county ballot initiative. Going straight to voters is one way to counteract the Tea Party domination of the Lane County Commission. The group’s next meeting is at 6 pm Wednesday, Jan. 9, at Grower’s Market, 454 Willamette, next to the train station. To get on the mailing list, email willamettedams@q.com

The homeless advocates of SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) aren’t getting much sleep lately. The unhoused are often roused from the places they find to curl up in on cold nights, and they often lack the resources to protest unfair treatment. SLEEPS with its almost nonstop camps, candlelight vigils and protests is highlighting not only the lack of safe housing for the homeless — it’s taken of a year of hard work to get Eugene to get a homeless village under way — but First Amendment rights as well. Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson’s accusations of poop in planters in order to get protesters out of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza ironically highlights the kind of discrimination the homeless face every day. It’s a new year; we’d like to see Eugene and Lane County ring it in with a respect for free speech rights and by making sure everyone in this county has a safe place to sleep.