Does council want a health sales tax?

Ron Green, last year's Democratic candidate in House District 15, presents the health care resolution to the council Monday.

Ron Green, last year's Democratic candidate in House District 15, presents the health care resolution to the council Monday.

At the urging of local members of Health Care for All-Oregon, the Albany City Council has let itself be pushed into backing a Democratic proposal before the legislature on health care.

The council Wednesday passed a resolution backing HB 3260. It would require the Oregon Health Authority to conduct a study of different health care financing schemes. The options to be studied would be a single-payer system like that in Canada, another allowing people to choose between private insurance and a publicly funded plan, a third that fully carries out the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and a publicly funded system paid for with a sales tax.

The Health Authority estimates that based on comparable work in New York state, the study would cost about $600,000, and the bill says it would be done only if donations or grants pay for it. My question: If New York already did it, why spend the money? Why not just read their report? And why push for this bill?

There's a reason the bill has been hung up in the Ways and Means Committee. There is opposition to it. It is clearly aimed at laying the groundwork for a Canadian-style, publicly funded insurance scheme, perhaps with a sales tax to back it up. Is that what the city council in Albany wants? I doubt it, but if not, the council should have refrained from expressing its support. (hh)

Keep our enemies out

dome-night2In the immigration debate in the U.S. Senate, all of the attention is on amnesty for some 11.5  million illegal aliens, and on whether and how this could be conditioned on having secured the southern border. As a writer in the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Saturday, a more important question is how to keep out immigrants who claim to want to become U.S. citizens but, like the Boston bombing brothers, secretly intend to harm the country.

The writer is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who fled Somalia and found refuge in Holland. She left there because of death threats from radical Islamists, and now she's an American citizen.

Our forms for naturalization still ask whether applicants were ever a member of the Communist Party. Hirsi Ali says they should ask instead about what she calls "political Islam." She recommends special interview committees to weed out applicants who have any kind of radical intentions of changing the United States into something most of us don't want. Like what? Well, for example, a country where Muslim shariah law prevails and liberty disappears, which many young Muslims tell pollsters they support.

It's problematic to try to keep young bomb throwers from getting in, let along from becoming citizens. But the Boston bombing and other cases say that we had better try. (hh)

Open meetings: Let’s keep them so


Albany city meetings, for instance, are open even no one shows up.

Albany city meetings, for instance, are open to the public even if no one shows up.

By and large, Oregon's public meetings law works pretty well. So there's no big reason to try to fix it. The House Rules Committee, though, is holding a public hearing on Wednesday (May 22) on House Bill 3513, which attempts to refine the definition of when public bodies, like a city council or county board of commissioners, must meet in public.

The bill would allow fact-gathering meetings to be closed to the public. Boards could also meet in private when considering anything other than budget or policy issues, whatever those are. The public could also be barred when boards meet somewhere other than their regular meeting place. That seems to open the door wide to excluding the public from all sorts of discussions.

The bill was prompted by a problem a few years ago in Lane County, where a decision apparently was made in private and ended up the subject of a court case. But there's no reason to further confuse the question of open meetings with a bill that seems to make even more exceptions to the general requirement.

The general requirement is that governing boards must deliberate and make their decisions so that the public can attend. That's simple enough, and that's how it should stay. (hh)

Gordon L. Shadle responded on May 19:  I agree. We don't need additional exceptions to the public meetings laws.
The 2011 Lane County case (Dumdi, Anderson v. Lane County Board of Commissioners) is very important in this regard – serial meetings out of the public eye now violate Oregon’s public meetings laws.
Historically, convening a quorum meant a public body meeting in the same public place to deliberate toward a public decision.  Now, a series of private one-on-one communications or face-to-face meetings with less than a quorum may constitute a deliberation toward a decision. Such conduct makes the governing body’s public vote a sham. It violates the principle that public issues should be deliberated, and decided, in public.

Albany Councilman Rich Kellum responded on May 22:  I do not advocate having many closed meetings. The ones that are needed from my perspective have to do with negotiations, labor, purchase, sale or legal issues.
What I find most bothersome is not being able to attend regular meetings,  (Chamber of Commerce) if there are more than three councilors present, There are entities out there who say if you go to a River Rhythms concert and there are enough people for a quorum even though they are spread out over a large area and do not speak about government business, that constitutes a public meeting. That needs fixed.

My response to Councilor Kellum: The law is clear that public bodies must meet in public when deliberating or deciding public issues. No sensible citizen claims the council cannot attend functions together if no deliberations take place or decisions are made. What public bodies must not do is to evade the law by meeting serially in groups smaller than a quorum in order to reach decisions out of the public eye. (hh)


City debt debate nears a harmonious end

City Manager Wes Hare listens as Attorney Jim Delapoer presents the proposed amendment.

City Manager Wes Hare, left, listens as Attorney Jim Delapoer presents the proposed amendment.

It was all sweetness and light Monday at the unveiling before the Albany City Council of a proposed charter amendment to fix problems with the city's new debt  limit.

Council members nodded their agreement with the proposal and will probably act in June to put the measure on the ballot in a special election Sept. 17. Approval by city voters then would end a contentious initiative campaign to curb the council's power to incur debt without the voters' say-so.

City Attorney Jim Delapoer presented the draft of the text that would replace the charter amendment voters had approved on March 12. The replacement avoids unintended consequences of the March 12 measure, including the question of whether it was properly enacted with the simple majority it got. (The council said it needed an absolute majority of city voters, which it didn't get.)

The new language would require voter approval, by simple majority, if the city wants to borrow money via general-obligation or revenue bonds, or via financing agreements calling for repayment over more than 13 months. No elections would be required for routine transactions such as leasing police cars, for local improvement districts, for borrowing to meet emergencies, and if state law overrides local limits.

Tom Cordier, the chief petitioner for the original debt limit, thanked Delapoer and City Manager Wes Hare, with whom he and Mike Wynhausen, the Linn Republican chairman, worked out the replacement language in two or three meetings. (The party organization had taken a hand in the debt-limit initiative campaign.) Much of the actual wording was recommended by Harvey Rogers, the city's bond lawyer. (hh)

Blind spots in traffic

100_0637100_0638Ever notice that street and traffic planners expect us to be able to see through objects and around corners? That's the feeling you get driving around Albany and, I think, many other small towns with mostly narrow streets. Here's an example of some kind of big utility box placed next to one of the driveways of the former city library, which now houses the Social Security office, an office of dermatologists and the KGAL Albany studio. Also, here's a view of the corner of Ferry Street and Fourth Avenue downtown. If you're driving a low-slung passenger car, it's hard for you to see what's coming down the cross street.

There are lots of similar examples around town, and worse ones too. I'm sure the city has a slew of regulations about sight clearances at corners. But with parked vehicles on the curb, and with walls, fences and sometimes hedges and bushes crowding the street, drivers waiting at stop signs often can't see well enough whether it's safe to go ahead.

So sometimes we just have to take a chance and hope for the best. Or, better yet, we can ask the local traffic authorities to survey the city and see which sight clearances could or should be improved. (hh)

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