Long road to a sidewalk

The sidewalk would go to the right of the ditch.

The sidewalk would go to the right of the ditch.

Nearly six years ago, in 2007, some parents in North Albany urged that the city build sidewalks on Gibson Hill Road so that children, when walking down to North Albany elementary and middle schools, would be safely away from fast-moving traffic. City engineers started working on the idea. They applied for grant money. In February 2012, ODOT agreed to give the city $1.2 million from federal transportation funds. The city council accepted the grant in July.

Now, a year later, where's the sidewalk? At last report, staffers in Public Works said that it had yet to be designed by someone picked by ODOT, and no design consultant had yet been chosen. Last year, city officials said the project could be built in 2013. But since it hasn't yet been designed, chances are it won't be built till 2014 -- assuming the grant is not pulled back.

The city had warned last year that the project would be complicated, and cost more than necessary, because of federal requirements. And this is a mere sidewalk --  two, actually, one on each side for nearly a mile from the top of Gibson Hill to Scenic Drive. If we grant for argument's sake that there's some federal obligation to pay for local sidewalks, a dubious proposition, then the government should at least get these projects done quickly and at the lowest possible cost. (hh)

Leave helmet law alone

A plea against expanding Oregon's bicycle helmet law to riders up through age 18: The last thing we need is yet another law related to biking.


Bob Thomas: Hasso, I agree with you 100%.  Great editoral or statement.  One thing to ponder is if this helmet law is bad for bicycles, shouldn't the same choice be available to motorcyclist? Seems like if your head hits the pavement on a bicycle, as a motorcycle?  Speed is more, but if it is good for one, the logic would apply to both? The Hub City ABATE group meets thrid Thursday of every month at Ciddici's pizza at 7 p.m. Come see and hear our argument.

Open up closed meetings

More openness in public meetings would be like a stiff breeze.

More openness in public meetings would be like a stiff breeze.

Oregon has a public meetings law, but whenever things might get interesting, the public can be kept out. The law says public bodies like the city council must meet in public when deliberating or making decisions. But there are exceptions.

For instance, the public may be kept out when governing boards hire or discipline public officers. The idea is to encourage frank discussion, and also to avoid embarrassment. But why can't be frank in public? And if a governing board finds it necessary to discipline an official, you'd think that's exactly what the public should be able to see.

Another occasion when closed meetings are allowed is to talk about real estate transactions, ostensibly to protect the public from being overcharged. But if a city felt it was being overcharged, it could use eminent domain or buy another site.

Most closed meetings are held to get legal advice, usually about actual or pending lawsuits. If this was done in public, the public would be more understanding of the result. And as for potential adversaries learning about legal strategy, opposing lawyers, if they're any good, almost surely can figure this out on their own.

Regardless of the reason for a closed meeting, under the law final decisions always have to be made in public. But closed sessions, when consensus is usually reached, rob the public of influence early on and may keep people from understanding what is done in their name. The law ought to be revised and opened up. (hh)

Tom Cordier: I have concerns that the recent and upcoming closed meetings of Albany's city council on the development of the council's position on the measures may violate the law. If the legal advice given to the council includes a discussion of the political implications of the measures; that would be a violation of the law.
It is my hope that those journalists attending the meetings will make the determination to report the portions of the meetings that fall outside the legal framework.
Consensus on how to vote at the public meeting should not be done in a closed meeting. If at the later public meeting there is not a full discussion of the reasons for a yes/no vote, that would indicate the closed meeting was used inappropriately.
Frankly, it is my opinion that all discussion about the just passed measures should be done in public -- even the legal advice. It was clear last summer that Delapoer's legal advice on the language of the ballot titles was severely flawed to the extent that the judge struck down all of Delopoer's language.

Rich Kellum:  As a city councilor,  I can see the reason for privacy at times. It is not whether or not I or one of the other Councilors would be embarassed,  rather whether or not somone speaking to us would not be willing to tell us EXACTLY what they were thinking.  So a limited amount of secrecy seems to be reasonable,  legal issues,  employee privacy, labor negociations etc.  That having been said,  I think that we go way too far to insure that there is not a voting majority anywhere at anytime.  I cannot invite more than two fellow councilors to a gathering of fellow Beaver fans for lunch because someone might be so paranoid as to think we would be doing "business" while talking about the baseball team.

Ray Kopczynski: "Most closed meetings [Executive Sessions] are held to get legal advice, usually about actual or pending lawsuits....But closed sessions, when consensus is usually reached, rob the public of influence early on and may keep people from understanding what is done in their name."
I disagree.  Attorney-client confidentiality is of critical importance for anyone, be it individuals or municipal organizations. While I doubt attending a meeting will influence anyone simply by their presence, the public always has days, weeks, and months[!] prior to a public vote from which to "influence" a particular councilor to their viewpoint on any given issue. Yes, they do have to influence at least four  councilors (or two county commissioners) to be effective... In my limited time as a councilor, I have not seen a single instance of "consensus" reached at an executive session.

Road-fee bill is coming up

How to pay for roads when vehicle owners pay neither gas nor weight-mile tax?

How to pay for roads when vehicle owners pay neither gas nor weight-mile tax?

After 12 years of effort, Oregon state officials are taking another stab at establishing some kind of road mileage tax for vehicles that burn little or no fuel. Many questions remain, and lawmakers now may try to answer them. On Wednesday, the House Transportation Committee is planning to act on House Bill 2453, which would authorize ODOT to set up a fee program for high-mileage motor vehicles.

The concept calls for some kind of system to keep track of mileage -- in addition to the odometer that all vehicles already have. Owners could pay a fee per mile or an annual charge to make up for paying little or no gas tax for road upkeep. The fee is not specified in the bill but is supposed to be around one-and-a-half cents per mile.

If it's enacted, it's going to get complicated. Owners would get a decal exempting them from the gas tax, but how would that work at the pump when they do need a little gas? How would ODOT verify their mileage, especially if they want to subtract any miles driven out of state? And how would refunds be handled if an owner pays the annual fee but then drives less? More paperwork, that's for sure.

If the transportation panel approves, the bill next goes to House Revenue and then to Ways and Means. Let's hope they find a way to keep it simple if they do put this idea into law. (hh)

Ted Salmons: As usual.  Politicians showing they are unable to think any further ahead than than next year's budget increases.  For decades they preached at us to buy more efficient cars, drive less, carpool, and use public transit.  Then, when people actually start doing those things and buying less fuel (admittedly more likely due to higher costs) then they shift into the "Oh my God we're getting less fuel tax money" mode.  Work with me here people.  It's too late for the current load of politicians but in the future, for people desiring a life in politics. If you're that shortsighted please make an appointment at Planned Parenthood before your first Primary so you won't breed more like yourselves.

Coal trains and Albany, continued

This is not a coal train, and Albany is unlikely to see any.

This is not a coal train, and Albany is unlikely to see any.

Egads! Coal trains though Albany? What a horrible prospect! That's the sentiment of a group that managed to get a proposed resolution against coal trains on the Albany City Council's agenda for Wednesday night. It is part of the campaign to stop the use of coal worldwide in the interest of slowing down global warming.

The Albany resolution worries about long trains, longer delays at crossings, coal dust pollution near the rail line, water seeping from the cars, derailments, more air pollution from Asia drifting our way if the coal is burned there -- and of course, the main cause, more global warming.

Never mind that coal trains have traveled through Washington state for years without reported complaints, that long trains hold up traffic no matter what they carry, that anything to help the railroads make money is good for the economy and our transportation system, and that the pace of climate change is unaffected by American coal exports as long as Asian utilities get coal from somewhere, which they do now and will continue to do. Also, never mind that no coal trains are likely to pass through Albany as, according to the papers, the plan to develop Coos Bay as an export terminal would cost hundreds of millions and has lost two main investors.

If the Albany council has a burning issue, the transport of coal by train isn't it. (hh)

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