News Briefs: Council Censures Auditor for Obeying State Records Law | Residential Treatment Center in Trouble | County Backs Single-Payer | Activist Alert | War Dead | Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Ben Van Dusen
Council Censures Auditor for Obeying State Records Law
The Eugene City Council voted to reinstate the independent police auditor from a three-week forced administrative leave but censure her for “poor judgment” for showing public records to a member of the public.
The public records were photographs of wounds from a police dog attack. Auditor Dawn Reynolds showed the photographs to the attorney of the person who was bitten by the police dog.
The Oregon Public Records law makes it illegal not to disclose public records to the public. “Every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state,” the law states, with few exceptions. The law and other state and federal sunshine laws were enacted to reduce government corruption, waste and abuse.
In addition, Oregon and federal law make medical records available to patients and requires police to disclose records in civil and criminal cases.
But councilors did not mention the state public records law on April 14 when elected officials voted 6-2 to censure Reynolds for obeying the law.
Councilors George Poling, Jennifer Solomon, Mike Clark, Chris Pryor, Alan Zelenka and Andrea Ortiz voted to censure the auditor for disclosing the public record. Councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown opposed the censure.
The councilors voting for censure argued that Reynolds had violated a “confidentiality agreement” the EPD had required that she sign. But such agreements do not supercede state law.
Requiring the auditor to sign such an agreement appears to violate the auditor city charter amendment passed by a two-thirds vote last year. The charter requires the city to hire an “independent police auditor” with required “access to all evidence” involving police complaints.
A city ordinance enacting the measure states that the “goal shall be to increase the transparency of, and public confidence in, the police complaint process.”
The charter measure passed overwhelmingly, but support for an independent police auditor appears far weaker on the council. Half of the council (Poling, Clark, Solomon and Pryor) have opposed the creation of an independent auditor and have criticized the function repeatedly.
Councilors Zelenka and Ortiz appeared more concerned about secrecy than the auditor’s actual job of auditing the police. The two councilors joined the other four in voting for the three-week suspension in a closed door meeting before hearing Reynolds explain why the records were public.
Instead of focusing on use-of-force complaints against the police, the council has largely focused on procedural complaints against the police auditor over the last year. The council has not discussed or taken action on repeated findings by the police auditor and Civilian Review Board that police failed to adequately investigate valid citizen complaints.
The council also voted 6-2 this week to require the auditor to get the permission of the city attorney before deciding what public records to disclose to the public. This provision also may violate the charter requiring an “independent auditor,” not one controlled by the city manager or the attorney he hires and supervises. The previous failures of the EPD and city manager to police the police were a primary argument for the overwhelming passage of the charter amendment.
In 2004, EPD officer Roger Magaña was convicted of sexually abusing a dozen women over six years while in uniform despite numerous complaints. Magaña used supposedly confidential police records to stalk sex victims.
Reynolds said in an interview that EPD officers have since been accused of misusing police records, but she couldn’t recall any cases where an officer has been disciplined or suspended.
Reynolds said she did nothing wrong or harmful in disclosing the public records in this case. She questioned whether the requirement to constantly consult with the city attorney will create a “huge burden,” distracting the auditor from actually auditing police complaints.
“I’m delighted to be back at work,” Reynolds said of the “stressful” suspension. But, she said, “clearly there is more work to be done defining what is confidential and what is not confidential.”
Reynolds pointed to a recent order by President Obama lifting the veil of secrecy in the Bush administration. “The presumption is always in favor of transparency,” she said of federal and state laws. “Public policy and the basis of the [auditor] ordinance is transparency.” — Alan Pittman
Residential Treatment Center in Trouble
Willamette Family Treatment Services, Inc. is looking at cutting residential programs or even shutting down July 1, potentially eliminating 150 staff positions and dismantling a $6.6 million organization that provides residential treatment for adults and children suffering from alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence in the region.
Willamette Family, which began as Buckley House in the 1960s, relies on state funding which in turn generates matching federal funding. Each state dollar brings in $3 in Medicaid funds. But state dollars are being squeezed as the Legislature and governor try to deal with revenue deficits that could reach $4 billion or more.
“The second state budget has come out and is still cutting funds for residential treatment,” says the organization’s executive director, Hillary Wylie. “We are hoping that we can get the message across that without the federal match, we don’t have any money. It’s very scary for us because this is what we do. We have a large women’s and children’s treatment center by the Rose Gardens, and the men’s residential treatment on Green Acres Road, and Buckley House. All of our funds are under potentially fatal cuts right now.”
All state-funded agencies and organizations, including public schools, are looking at cuts of up to 30 percent. Less drastic cuts would depend on how federal stimulus money is allocated, and also on selective tax increases proposed in the Legislature.
Willamette Family’s executives are working with lawmakers and the governor’s office to try to continue funding. Former county commissioner Bobby Green is now a lobbyist with the Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs and is involved in facilitating discussions. A group of lawmakers will be in Eugene May 1 for a meeting with the organization, and a public hearing.
Meanwhile, a meeting was held with all staff members last week to talk about shutting down or phasing out all programs. “We understand that it’s very difficult for lawmakers to make decisions,” says Wylie, “but I’ve been working for 20 years to build a residential treatment capacity to deal with pregnant addicted women and women with children and help the moms get their kids back from foster care.”
A key service of the organization is a full-time licensed daycare center on site so mothers can be in treatment and still have contact with their kids. “The idea of losing all this and having the kids go back in foster care is a nightmare,” says Wylie.
The center also gets federal parole and probation funding and state corrections money. “It’s little pieces here and there, but you have to have one to have the other,” says Wylie.
Wylie is retiring at the end of June, and Micki Knuckles, director of treatment, has been hired to take her place; but Knuckles might be looking for a job herself. Other key administrative people in the organization include Bob Richards, Lucy Zammarelli, Pam Strutz, Susie Dey, Alvin Sether, Sandy Bray, Georgia Bronson, Carol Crowe, Kelli Douthit and Marcie Gutierrez.
More information about Willamette Family can be found at www.wfts.org — Ted Taylor
County Backs Single-Payer
In February, Dunes City, a town south of Florence, enacted a resolution on health care reform including single-payer-type solutions. Now the Lane County Commission has passed a similar resolution by unanimous vote.
The resolution, dated March 31 and signed by board Chairman Pete Sorenson, “urges the Oregon Congressional delegation and the U.S. Congress to enact comprehensive health system reform after ensuring an honest, full and fair debate of the options, and that such debate must include single-payer-type systems and expansion of a Medicare-for-all system, and their respective advantages.”
Retired attorney Rand Dawson was involved in pushing the resolution and believes this is the first county on the West Coast, aside from the San Francisco Bay Area, to go on record supporting single-payer health insurance.
Dawson says the proposal for single-payer insurance has been on the national agenda since being cut from an early draft of the Social Security Act of 1935. “Single-payer, in its best-appreciated form, returned with passage of Medicare in 1964-65,” says Dawson. “Single-payer concepts also exist in the current VA system and through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Dawson says the local resolutions were “a collaborative effort by Oregonians and folks across the nation,” and he credits Frank Turner, Mike Huntington, Marc Shapiro and others for their work in helping get them passed locally.
The Florence mayor and City Council voted without dissent to ignore the resolution, and according to the council minutes of Feb. 17, decided “the council would use its limited time dealing with items that are more pressing and of local importance.” The Florence council previously dismissed resolutions on global warming, the Iraq War and the PATRIOT Act, saying such resolutions “make them partisan,” and “the council is a non-partisan body.” — Ted Taylor
• Former Lane County commissioner Jerry Rust has spent several years teaching English in China and says a million English teachers are needed there now; no degrees required. He will be speaking on “Teaching English while Learning Chinese” in a free lecture at 7 pm Thursday, April 16, at Tsunami Books, 25th and Willamette.
• A free lecture is planned by Amel Tafsout at 7 pm Thursday, April 16, at Harris Hall. She will talk about Algerian women’s history and the radical changes that have affected Algerian women’s lives as a result of wars of colonization, decolonization and the establishment of independence. She will also talk about injustice toward Algerian women in the past and present.
• A town hall meeting titled “Support Mental Health Clients in Lane County!” will be from 2 to 4 pm Saturday, April 18, at the Eugene Public Library. Speakers include Sen. Bill Morrisette and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy. Topics of discussion include bills in the Legislature that affect mental health clients, empowerment of mental health clients, funding for the SAFE/Wonderland project, and peer support and advocacy programs.
• Slavery Still Exists Week is April 18-26 on the UO campus with a free public event at 7:30 pm Thursday, April 23, at PLC 180, with Bill Hillar, Substance Abuse Prevention Program (SAPP) instructor, human trafficking expert, and father of a sex trafficking victim; and James Pond, founder and executive director of Transitions Global. Registration is required for the Sunday SAPP courses, which will be held April 19 and 26. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Author and NPR foreign correspondent Reese Erlich is on tour in Oregon and will be speaking about Cuba and the Middle East beginning at 1 pm Thursday, April 23, at LCC Building 17, Room 309. That evening at 7 he speaks at Harris Hall, 8th and Oak. He speaks in Corvallis at noon April 24, in OSU’s Waldo Hall, Room 201. He’s back at the UO at 2:30 pm Saturday, April 25, in the EMU River Room at the Environmental Justice Conference. That evening at 7 he will be at the Siuslaw Public Library. At noon Sunday, April 26, he will be at the Newport Public Library. For more information, email email@example.com
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,273 U.S. troops killed* (4,266)
• 31,169 U.S. troops injured* (31,153)
• 177 U.S. military suicides* (176)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 99,774 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (99,754)
• $613.1 billion cost of war ($611.2 billion)
• $174.4 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($173.8 million)
* through April 13, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• ODOT will start April 13 spraying state highways during the day on Highway 99 North, I-5 Beltline and I-105 and then switch to night spraying for inside shoulders the following week. Call Don Angermayer at 744-8080 and/or call Herbicide Application (888) 996-8080.
• Western Lane area: Seneca Jones Timber (461-6245) will spray herbicides on its lands starting May 15 (#50212 and 50188).
• Gypsy moth spraying (southeast Eugene): First spray tentatively set for April 28.
• Chemically sensitive? If ODOT herbicide or Oregon Department of Agriculture’s insecticide spraying will disparately harm you because of disability, contact Forestland Dwellers at 342-8332.
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
• The secrecy-obsessed Eugene City Council needs to get educated on the requirements and intent of the Oregon Public Records Law. The police auditor was simply obeying the state sunshine law in disclosing a photograph of a police dog bite to the lawyer of the bite victim. To argue there’s anything wrong with such a disclosure of a government photograph of a government inflicted wound to a person’s own body is absurd. The police complaint process, and the paranoid city government as a whole, has long suffered secrets in the dark. Such secrecy recently made it possible for a Eugene police officer to sexually assault more than a dozen women over half dozen years despite numerous complaints. Keeping the public in the dark is not good government. What’s needed is a lot more light. What are they afraid of citizens finding out?
• Is Emerald Valley Kitchen going to stay in Lane County and not be uprooted by its parent company, Monterey Gourmet Foods? That’s the word on the street this week, but there’s no response from the company as we go to press. Let’s celebrate with organic salsa parties this weekend; invite all the mild, medium and hot people we know for raucous double-dipping.
• Our story in News Briefs this week about Willamette Family Treatment Services has a couple of ironic twists. The big one, of course, is that when the state cuts substance abuse treatment funds, not only are matching federal funds lost, but the lack of treatment leads to more crime, more domestic violence and the need for more prison beds. The National Institute of Drug Abuse says, “For every $1 spent on drug and alcohol abuse treatment, taxpayers save $7.” Another twist is that the statewide push for universal health insurance promises coverage for mental health care and outpatient drug treatment but not residential treatment, a key element in dealing with the most severe cases in Oregon and keeping families together. Round and round we go.
Here is a case where our governor should be leading the charge for social service investments that guarantee a big return on taxpayer dollars. But Kulongoski is all talk and no action. As Oregonian columnist Steve Duin wrote April 6, “I just hope no one is holding on to the delusion that Kulongoski is making any kind of difference when it comes to protecting Oregon’s children.”
Kudos to Executive Director Hillary Wylie and the dedicated staff at Willamette Family for quietly building an exceptional public service organization over more than 40 years. We hope some way is found to keep this highly cost-effective community resource on its feet for years to come.
• Ian Van Ornum’s trial started this week and Alan Pittman has been blogging it at blogs.eugeneweekly.com The prosecution is telling jurors to ignore context, including testimony about police over-reaction, Tasering and excessive force; but in the public’s eye, the police are on trial as well. This case is significant because of the context of Van Ornum’s arrest.
Media coverage has been an issue throughout the case: At least one potential juror was dismissed after admitting reading about the case in EW. The R-G’s online poll about the case was called “irresponsible” by Judge Jack Billings. And local TV station KVAL successfully petitioned to have a camera in the courtroom, after agreeing to make the footage available to “any media which requests it.” EW requested footage when the trial began, but was told by KVAL News Director Jenny Kuglin that only still photos would be provided, since EW was “not on the list” of media requesting video before the trial. Local videographer Tim Lewis was ejected from the courtroom on Tuesday after filming the jurors as they evacuated after a fire alarm went off. KVAL denied Lewis access to the camera pool footage, even though the station freely used his video of the rally when Van Ornum was arrested.
• County Commissioner Bill Dwyer’s term ends in January 2011, and he’s confirmed rumors that he’s contemplating retiring after 24 years in elected office. He’ll make an announcement in the fall. Lots of folks in the East Lane District are likely salivating at the potential open seat. Sid Leiken, Bill Morrisette? Steve Cornacchia again? Just about everybody on the Springfield City Council?
• More encouraging news on the local economic front. Kesey Enterprises has announced it’s buying the quarter-block building on Willamette that includes the McDonald Theatre and eight retail storefronts. And Tom Tracey, owner of the Horsehead bar downtown, says his watering hole is now in its seventh year and is doing very well. “If someone hadn’t told me there was a recession, I wouldn’t know there was a recession,” he says. The bar’s new slogan is “Sparking Downtown Revival since 2002.” Find more good news on Eugene’s downtown nightlife scene in our March 12 Swizzle section.
• Out of work? Job vacancies are out there, but some employers cringe at the thought of running ads for fear of being overwhelmed. EW is hoping to help with free job-wanted line ads. Limit is four lines or about 160 characters. Briefly list your skills and experience, phone number and/or email. Best to get it to us in writing. Email your free two-week ad to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it off at 1251 Lincoln St. Did we mention that it’s free?
BEN VAN DUSEN
From the time he was in fourth grade at Harris School until his junior year at South Eugene High, Ben Van Dusen collaborated with his father Jack on the design and construction of the model solar system that extends along Eugene’s riverbank bike paths — from a 4.5-foot diameter Sun in Alton Baker Park to a one-10th-inch Pluto 3.7 miles away. Van Dusen left town for a degree in physics from UC Berkeley, but returned for a master’s in education, then a job teaching physics at his old school, South Eugene. “This is the room where I was inspired to do physics,” he says. “John Hocken was my physics teacher junior year.” After two years at South, Van Dusen was the youngest ever elected as faculty vice president (and president the following year). He also does research in Richard Taylor’s physics lab at the UO. “I’ll have three publications this year,” he notes. “We found connections with M. C. Escher’s art work, using mirrors and light to model chaos in nano-electronics.” In September, Van Dusen will leave for a year in D.C. as one of 15 teachers nationwide chosen as Einstein Fellows. “I’ll be working with the National Science Foundation,” he says, “looking at grants they’ve given and how they apply to K-12 education.”