GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
A small group of legislators spent a year compiling their wish list of improvements to Oregon’s failing education system. Now they have five months to whittle it down to something realistic, find a way to fund it and sell the rest of their colleagues on spending up to $3 billion more on K-12 education. The state currently spends about $8.2 billion. “We only get one chance to educate our children,” said state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner. “They’re only in first grade once, they’re only in 10th grade once. We need to take advantage of that opportunity.” A report released Thursday details the wish list a legislative committee compiled after a summer of hearings and tours around Oregon. The report echoes much of what the committee already has said publicly is needed to improve schooling for Oregon’s children. That includes a longer school year, more state-paid preschool, diversity among teachers and smaller class sizes. It also shows lawmakers have learned from past mistakes. The legislators want state-subsidized education for teachers, with an emphasis on those going on to instruct career and technical education. A state-organized mentorship system would bump up salaries for teachers who agree to mentor others and create an advancement council inside the state education department to help teachers succeed. Legislative budget analysts say the mentorship program could cost $234 million a year. “We need to prioritize,” Kotek said “I will be the first one to say we are not going to be able to fund everything, so what are those key sets of investments we know will have the most return on investment in terms of the outcomes we want, and focus on that ‘what’ and then get to the ‘how.'”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
There may be no more fitting sign of the controversial role gun control figures to play in the brand new Oregon legislative session than this: On the first day lawmakers met for hearings, the issue had already led to a complaint to the state police. The office of state Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, said Tuesday someone has been sending misleading emails that made it look as though Meek was excoriating his fellow Democrats for pushing new firearm regulations. “The anti-gun bills introduced by Oregon Democrats are a disgrace,” read an email that Meek appeared to send to fellow lawmakers on Jan. 17 and which was subsequently circulated on Twitter. “Let’s stop attacking the rights of the law-abiding and work on real problems.” Another email in Meek’s name, sent Tuesday, said in part: “Democrats have ended any pretense and made it clear that their goal is the complete elimination of gun ownership.” In each case, the emails looked as though they were coming from Meek’s official email address. Staff with the Legislature’s Information Services department have since determined they weren’t. “We confirmed the emails were sent from a non-legislative email account, and that Rep. Meek’s account has not been compromised,” said Shane Walker, the department’s deputy chief information officer. “It appears someone set up a non-Legislative email account attempting to make it look like the emails were sent from Rep. Meek’s office. This is known as spoofing.” The Information Services department believes the emails originated using Votility, a platform that helps to organize advocacy campaigns. Walker said the matter had been referred to Oregon State Police. Oregon law makes it a crime to impersonate a public servant.
A state audit has recommended changes to workplace culture at the Oregon Department of Revenue after employees reported low morale and unclear direction. The Statesman Journal reports the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office released the audit Wednesday, recommending the agency improve internal communications and create an accountability framework with clear expectations and feedback about employee performance. Auditors surveyed employees, who said they felt undervalued and had frustrations about an “increased emphasis on outcome metrics.” According to the audit, employees also reported episodes of “demeaning comments and yelling” between management and workers. Department deputy director Satish Upadhyay says the agency agrees with the recommendations and will look for the “best ways to communicate with staff and appropriately involve them in decisions.” The department employs about 933 full-time workers.
Oregon’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments surrounding Multnomah County’s campaign finance reform ordinance approved by voters in 2016. The court accepted the case Wednesday, Jan. 23, bypassing the state Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are expected in September. Justices will be asked to determine if county Ordinance 1243 was constitutional. The 2016 measure, and the ordinance adopted by county commissioners, limits campaign contributions to $500 per individual and political action committees in races for Multnomah County public office, and requires political ads to identify the top five funders of the campaign presenting each ad. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure. A request to take the case straight to the Supreme Court was filed by eight citizens supporting the ordinance. It was opposed by members of several business groups, who prevailed in their challenge in June 2018, when Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bloch ruled that parts of the ordinance limiting campaign contributions were invalid. Members of the Associated Oregon Industries, the Portland Business Alliance and the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors challenged the ordinance in Multnomah County Circuit Court in May 2017.
Oregon’s graduation rate for the class of 2017 ranks No. 49 in the nation, the federal government announced Thursday. Oregon’s rate — 77 percent — was the lowest of any state except New Mexico, where the rate was a paltry 71 percent. Nevada, which had previously trailed Oregon, leap-frogged ahead and achieved an 81 percent on-time graduation rate, the U.S. Department of Education said. The new federal report does not indicate how Oregon’s most current graduation rate — 79 percent for the class of 2018 — compares to other states’. It was a coincidence that the National Center for Education Statistics announced the state-by-state rates and new U.S. average graduation rate — 84.6 percent — for the class of 2017 on the same day that Oregon officials announced the state’s graduation rate for the class of 2018.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
An evening gala may seem an unlikely place to address racism, but the bulk of Clark College President Bob Knight’s comments at a recent donor event centered on the school’s struggles with racial equity. The annual Savoring Excellence event is one of the Vancouver-based community college’s biggest fundraisers. The November event was well attended, with guests like the mayor, city council members and local business leaders. Halfway through the event, Knight addressed the crowd on stage. “We’ve had multiple bias-based incidents, Patriot Prayer groups show up for a few appearances, and recently an article came out in a regional media platform that talked about people of color not being retained nor feeling safe at Clark College,” Knight said. In October, OPB published an investigation into the college’s ongoing struggles around diversity and equity. Last year, a string of resignations revealed a campus climate that alienates people of color, even as top school officials say the campus is becoming more inclusive. Former employees discussed a campus climate that felt unsafe and unwelcoming. They complained of microaggressions, supervisors monitoring them more harshly than their white peers, and a culture from the top that minimized their experiences and failed to advance people of color.
The swearing in on Jan. 8 of Yoncalla, Oregon’s new mayor was a small but historic affair. At just 18 years old, Benjamin Simons became the town’s youngest mayor — and though he turned 19 just a few weeks later, he still brings the average age of the Yoncalla City Council down by double digits. Yoncalla, where the population hovers around 1,000, is a tight knit community. “Everyone knows everyone, there’s not a lot of stuff going on all the time, which, that’s fine with me,” Simons said. “I don’t need the big city hustle and bustle.” That doesn’t mean the teen doesn’t keep busy. He’s completing his certification to become a volunteer firefighter with North Douglas County Fire & EMS. He goes to school full-time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. And when he’s not fighting fires, conducting city business or studying, you might find Simons looking for gold on his mining claims outside of Cottage Grove — though, he admits, the claims are primarily a great excuse to go camping.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
A shirtless man seen shivering next to a lump of belongings in a widely-circulated Facebook video was shoved out of the Douglas County Jail by three jail employees and appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the woman who recorded the video. Lynzey Pier said she was waiting for her husband at the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg the morning of Jan. 17 when she pulled up in direct sight of the county jail’s release door. “I see this guy, half of his body, flying out of the release door,” Pier told OPB. “They brutally shoved him out the door and that’s why I started recording.” The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said the Winston Municipal Court had ordered the man’s release but that he would not cooperate with sheriff’s deputies. The man has not been publicly identified. The video is the latest evidence of a trend politicians, mental health advocates and police have identified as widespread in Oregon: that law enforcement agencies are not equipped to help people in mental health crises. What’s more, law enforcement inherited that role from a fractured mental health system statewide and even the Portland area, Oregon’s most well-resourced region.The man is seen in the video lying on the ground over a jacket, shirtless. He has a plastic bag over his head and some clothes scattered at his feet. Pier told OPB the man came out of jail in that exact condition, and that some of his clothes were soaking wet. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said it’s reviewing the incident before releasing further comment.
Seven candidates for the Ward 4 seat formerly held by Medford Councilor Kim Wallan made their pitch to the City Council and a citizen’s committee Thursday night — offering their views on homeless issues, affordable housing and the local economy. The candidates are Michelle Blum Atkinson, Richard Bradshaw, Michael Campbell, Jessica Gomez, Kevin Keating, Eric Stark and Dylan Moncus. Blum Atkinson lost to Wallan in her bid for the House District 6 election Nov. 6, while Gomez lost to Jeff Golden for the Senate District 3. The Ward 4 seat represents southeast Medford. Initially, the selection process turned contentious when Wallan didn’t immediately offer her letter of resignation after winning the House District 6 race in November. Candidates each spent a half-hour with the five-member citizen’s committee and a half hour with the council, which plans to make its choice of the seven candidates on Feb. 7. The citizen’s committee will recommend the top three candidates to the council. Medford’s homeless issues dominated the questions posed by the council, particularly the impacts to the downtown area and the Bear Creek Greenway.
Shouting “FBI, open the door,” authorities arrested Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump, before dawn Friday in a criminal case that revealed that senior members of the Trump campaign sought to benefit from the release of hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton. Stone, a self-proclaimed “dirty trickster,” faced a seven-count indictment in the first criminal case in months from special counsel Robert Mueller. After appearing in court, he was released on a $250,000 bond. The indictment provides the most detail to date about how Trump campaign associates in the summer of 2016 were actively seeking the disclosure of emails the U.S. says were hacked by Russia, then provided to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. It alleges that unidentified senior Trump campaign officials contacted Stone to ask when stolen emails relating to Clinton might be disclosed. The indictment does not charge Stone with conspiring with WikiLeaks or with the Russian officers Mueller says hacked the emails. Instead, it accuses him of lying to Congress about WikiLeaks, tampering with witnesses and obstructing the probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the election. Stone is the sixth Trump aide charged in Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and the 34th person overall. The investigation has laid bare multiple contacts between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign and transition period and efforts by several to conceal those communications. The case against Stone comes weeks after Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was castigated by a judge in open court and just hours before Paul Manafort, his ex-campaign chairman, was due in court on allegations that he had lied to Mueller’s prosecutors.
Federal officials temporarily restricted flights Friday into and out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, another example of the toll the partial government shutdown – in its 35th day – is having on the nation’s airports. “We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities,” a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said in an emailed statement. “We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed. The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system.” Travelers were notified of air traffic issues at fly.faa.gov and were advised to check with their airline for more information. The FAA’s Airport Status Information website cited shortages at two facilities, including one near Washington, which manages air traffic. The temporary restrictions affect arriving and departing flights at the airport. Arriving flights were delayed an average of 41 minutes and departures were experiencing delays between 15 and 29 minutes, the FAA said.
Mail Tribune Editorial Board
The 2019 session of the Oregon Legislature opens Tuesday, and lawmakers will be crafting a budget for the next two years. That budget ought to include a real commitment to address wildfires and the smoke they generate, but if Gov. Kate Brown’s remarks in her state of the state address last week and Oregon’s track record so far are any indication, we’re not optimistic. In her speech, Brown paid lip service to the problem. “Wildfires have increased in intensity and severity in the past decade, threatening our culture, our communities, and our economy,” she said. Her recommended response? “Oregon must continue to pursue solutions that will reduce harmful emissions while creating good jobs and building a clean energy economy.” Those are laudable goals, and over the long term will address the issue of climate change, a major driver of the wildfire problem. But we need more aggressive, short-term action. Now. We took Brown to task when her proposed budget, rather than strengthening state firefighting capability and forest restoration efforts, merely established a committee to study the problem for a year. Now, we can compare Oregon’s response to the wildfire crisis to that of our West Coast neighbors, Washington and California. The governors of the three states s
People seeking public records in Oregon get all kinds of abuse. Public agencies ignore them. Agencies overcharge them. Sometimes, agencies even sue requesters to stop from having to fulfill a request. That’s not the way the state’s public records law is supposed to work. But that’s the way some public agencies choose to implement the law — especially when a requester is seeking information that could make the agency look bad. Several bills in the Legislature propose changes in the law to improve it. Not all of them will. Two would make things worse. House Bill 2345 would reduce the public record fees charged by state agencies to members of the news media by 50 percent. If a request is narrowly tailored, the agency would be required to waive any fees. This would be great for members of the news media. But it’s the public records law, not the news media records law. The law is for any member of the public. The news media does not deserve a special discounted rate. The news media should pay or not pay the same amount as any other member of the public. Senate Bill 609 would require that a requester tell a public agency how he or she intends to use the requested records. That’s no business of the government. It’s a public record. That means it’s the public’s information. Agencies could use the information from a requester to deny and delay requests. If a requester wants to disclose the information, that’s one thing. That may help in disputes over the costs of records or in disputes over why a record should be public. But the disclosure should not be required. There are also two proposed changes in the law that could make things better. House Bill 2353 adds some teeth. It would allow the attorney general, district attorney or a court to award a penalty to a requester — and attorney fees — if a public agency fails to respond to a request or responds to undue delay. The bill does not put a dollar figure on the penalty.