An empty school, sad to see

Even the bird house outside Fir Grove looks abandoned.

Even the bird house outside Fir Grove looks abandoned.

In a world full of sadness, an empty schoolhouse may not be the saddest thing you ever see, but it's still pretty sad.

This lament is prompted by the sight of Fir Grove Elementary School in North Albany, vacant since 2011, when the school board was forced to close it as part of a range of austerity measures. The board said then that the closure would be temporary. But there is no date or year when the closure is set to end.

A group trying to open a public charter school within the Albany district had considered using Fir Gove as its site. But the school board has just rejected the group's application -- again -- confirming the impression that the board just will not allow a charter school to be formed, period. (According to the account in the local paper, one of the factors cited by the board was that Fir Grove might again be needed. But when, the board didn't say.)

In 2011, the primary grades that used to be housed there were shifted to Oak Grove, a few miles away. Now Oak Grove is crowded, and the board is reported to be thinking of adding a "portable" classroom there, presumably at some expense.

Fir Grove was closed to save money. But the grounds are being kept up, and at least one light is on inside, so some costs continue. If the crowding at Oak Grove leads to reopening Fir Grove sooner rather than later, that would be the best solution all around. (hh)

Jennifer Huuki Cummins responded April 12 (via Facebook): The sad thing is that the charter school's lease proposal strongly stated that the charter school would vacate the building when (Greater Albany Public Schools) wanted to reopen. No questions asked. The charter school group WANTS Fir Grove open by GAPS.

Council to voters: Drop dead

100_0468Four Albany City Council members made what could become a big mistake on Wednesday. Councilors Floyd Collins, Ray Kopczynski, Dick Olsen and Bill Coburn voted not to place in the city charter the debt-limit initiative voters had approved in March.

Only Councilors Rich Kellum and Bessie Johnson were against rejecting the voters' decision this way. Let all Albany voters remember the names: Kellum and Johnson stood up for honoring the outcome of an election above all else.

The majority's reason for doing otherwise? Based on the state constitution and the wording of the initiative, the city attorney believes the measure required an absolute majority of all registered voters to be approved. But it got only a majority, albeit a substantial one, of those who actually voted.

To mollify angry voters, the council does plan to abide by the measure's restrictions. It's a small concession since, given the legal uncertainty, the city has no choice but to go along anyway. The majority's reasoning regarding the required majority is untested in the courts, as is the 1998 constitutional amendment on which it rests. The upshot: More than 5,000 voters who now have the sense their winning votes are being ignored.

The council had a better alternative, which it did not take: To place the amendment in the charter while officially expressing uncertainty on the question of a majority. Then it could have counted on the supporters of the measure to also support a fix likely to be proposed this fall. Now it can't. (hh)

Lisa Campbell responds on April 10 (via Facebook):  I think the wording on the measure is on shaky legal ground and I am glad they didn't put it in the charter as is even if they intend to honor it. I don't feel they were telling voters to drop dead.

Councilor Ray Kopczynski responded on April 11: "The majority's reasoning regarding the required majority is untested in the courts, as is the 1998 constitutional amendment on which it rests."  While that may be true, it would take an unreasonable amount of time and waste of city funds to litigate. The measure as enacted last night is a very serious attempt to minimize that happening albeit still possible. In good conscience, there is no way I could possibly vote to enshrine something into the city charter [constitution] that I honestly believe violates the state constitution.

Mayor Sharon Konopa responded on April 11: "Council to voters: Drop dead"? Goodness, Hasso, I think a better choice of words would be more  appropriate.

Ted Salmons responded on April 11: Great editorial. I agree that they have in fact told the voters, "Drop dead we're the ruling elite and we don't care how you voted." I can practically guarantee that if it were an initiative that the board had supported and the vote was the same; they might even have called a special session of the council to vote it into the city charter pronouncing "the people have spoken". Politicians at all levels pull this kind of trick and I can again practically guarantee that each of these members will be re-elected the next time they run. The memory of the average voter is sadly short. How about sending them a wake up call, Albany?

A yellow crop — and controversial

I stopped my bicycle on Spring Hill Drive on Tuesday to take a quick look at this field. It looked like a field of rapeseed or, as we now call it, canola. I would have been surer of this if there had been a sign telling passersby what they're looking at.

I've long had an interest in promoting the proliferation of crop signs in valley fields so that the public in general would become more knowledgeable about farming, the foundation of our civilization and our economy. Today I read in the local paper that Oregon Women for Agriculture plans to raise money for more such signs at its auction on April 20 at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center. I wish them success.

Canola, grown for the oil in its seeds, has become controversial. Farmers of some other specialty seed crops in the Willamette Valley fear it can interfere with their produce. The state Agriculture Department in February issued a rule to allow canola but limit its acreage. But legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis, now proposes to ban it in the Willamette Valley entirely. Under House Bill 2427, growers defying the proposed canola ban would be subject to a civil fine of up to $25,000. On Thursday, April 11, HB 2427 is up for action by the Oregon House Agriculture Committee in Salem.

I was not thinking of all the complications with canola when I stopped to admire that field on Tuesday. I just thought it looked nice on a cloudy day. (hh)

Mel. Tufteskog responds on April 10:  The state of Oregon is concerned about farmers growing canola. The farmers have got to able to grow what they can to make a living and also rotate their crops.
How about all the Scotch Broom around that is an invasive plant that the state and the counties let grow on their own land. Has the legislature done anything about that? I bet not.

Doing better with coal

100_0473"No Coal Exports, We Can Do Better." That's what the lawn signs say, and they are right. We can do better than to export coal to Asia or anywhere else. But we won't.

We could do better by using the coal in our country. We have lots of it and it is relatively cheap. We could use it to continue to generate low-cost electricity so that people could spend their dwindling incomes on something other than rising utility bills. But we won't.

We have elected state and federal legislators and chief executives working hard to make energy more expensive by requiring costly alternatives to conventional power sources. These laws and regulations are an outgrowth of the belief that the climate is will change in disastrous ways because we have been burning fossil fuels. The belief is based on models of how certain feedback mechanisms in the atmosphere behave, but the models have failed to predict what is actually happening, such as the general lack of warming in recent years. So why do politicians and the media continue to believe them?

Yes, we could do better if we believed our eyes instead. But so far, the political forces crippling our economy have the upper hand. Sure we could do better, but until those forces are defeated, we won't. (hh)

Albany: Why rile up 5,000-plus voters?

Tom Cordier, holding papers, after Monday's city council work session.

Tom Cordier, holding papers, after Monday's city council work session.

Tom Cordier, holding papers, after Monday's city council work session.

By declaring Albany's debt-limit charter amendment to have passed, the city council could make peace with the more than 5,000 voters who approved it last month. But apparently it won't.

At a work session Monday, the council majority seemed to agree to go ahead and accept the vote totals on Wednesday, the deadline, but declare that the initiative didn't pass because it got merely a plurality but not an absolute majority of the voters. This after Tom Cordier, the initiative's sponsor, publicly committed himself to helping a committee draft a replacement measure to be put on the ballot and then campaigning for it to be passed in November.

Cordier pointed out the obvious: If the council rejects a measure approved by the voters -- based on the theory that it required an absolute majority because of the use of the words "majority of electors" -- the likely public outcry will make passing a replacement much harder. He came armed with a Salem lawyer's opinion that a court might well find, based on intent and legislative history, that the phrase doesn't require an absolute majority as the city attorney believes. (City Attorney Jim Delapoer says there's no legislative history here to help divine the intent. Oh yes there is, Cordier replies. It lies in a letter he filed in response to an election-law complaint against him on that very point -- what the measure meant -- a complain which was dismissed.)

On Monday, only Councilor Rich Kellum argued for declaring the measure passed despite any legal misgivings. After all, I thought as he was speaking, since the city government intends to comply with the measure whether it's in the charter or not, what does the council have to lose by putting it in?

If the council majority muffs the chance of getting a workable replacement adopted in November, it will live with the costly complications of the measure for a long time. But if it enacts the measure and thus vastly improves the chance of passing a fix in November, this measure will be a complication for just half a year. (hh)

Councilor Ray Kopczynski responds:

“…since the city government intends to comply with the measure whether it's in the charter or not, what does the council have to lose by putting it in?” Even Tom Cordier agrees the current wording needs to be changed.  To intentionally put into the city charter a flawed measure – regardless of voters “intent” is fundamentally wrong.  I only speak for myself, but I cannot vote for a measure ALL parties agree needs to be reworked. The proposed ordinance allows for that process to unfold in a very civil and short time frame to get it onto the November ballot to avoid litigation.

My reply to Ray Kopczynski: Remember state Ballot Measure 47? Everybody agreed after it passed that it was unworkable, but nobody even thought of refusing to enact it. Instead, the state put it on the books and the legislature worked out a version that could at least be carried out, and voters adopted it as Measure 50 at the first possible election.

Tom Cordier responds:

Statements are being circulated saying I agree Measure 22-117 is flawed (and) needs some clarification. Yes I could have used better words like “majority of electors voting” but I don’t believe the measure is fatally flawed. Deciding the measure failed because of the word “electors” is a terrible outcome. I agree with Councilman Kellum. Here we are: Two expert attorneys -- one inside the city system and one outside -- have different written opinions on how a judge would rule and no one wants to spend the money to get a judge to rule. It appears the Council is placing more value in the City Attorney’s opinion about the word “elector” than the legal opinion of Mr. Nathan Rietmann presented to the Council Monday,  4/8. Perhaps they have not taken the time to read Mr. Rietmann’s detailed legal opinion.

The fact that the mayor and two sitting councilmen invested money and formed a PAC to defeat the measure should not be lost in this struggle. Other sitting council members also made contribution to that effort. In a perfect world conflicts of interests like that would require those parties to remove themselves from the decision making process. It appears they have not accepted the vote and moved on.

Although reasonable people without any influence from any elected official can craft a needed new measure, I do encourage the Council to declare the measure passed on Wednesday. The minor risks associated with that decision are worth not offending the voted will of the people.

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