Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Manager Finally Hires In-House City Attorney
After decades of complaints about spiraling legal costs and potential and perceived conflicts of interest, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz has decided to hire an in-house attorney rather than having all the city’s legal work done by a private law firm.
Ruiz announced in a press release March 25 that Eugene will have at least one in-house lawyer starting July 1 and could expand to three attorneys working as city employees. City managers have given the private law firm of Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. exclusive contracts for almost all the city’s legal work for the past three decades.
Ruiz estimated the change would save the city “at least $200,000 per year.”
The city of Eugene paid Harrang Long about $2.3 million last year for civil legal services. That’s more than double the $1.1 million the city paid the private law firm for civil legal expenses in 2000, according to budget documents.
Salem, a city of almost identical size, spends about half as much as Eugene on its legal services, which are done mostly by an in-house staff of attorneys, according to that city’s budget.
Eugene was the only city of its size or larger in the nation to not employ an in-house attorney, according to a city attorney association.
In 1998 an independent study found that the city could save about $200,000 a year by reining in contract costs, but the Harrang Long “contract attorney stated, ‘it is not our problem.’”
Besides costs, citizens and elected officials have long expressed concerns that the outside firm has potential conflicts of interest. Harrang Long has also represented tobacco companies, Hynix, PeaceHealth and the Arlie development company.
In 2002, a citizen committee and the City Council voted unanimously to ask voters to change the city charter to require the city manager to hire an in-house attorney. The Register-Guard, also a Harrang Long client, opposed the measure, and it failed narrowly.
In recent years city councilors have expressed concerns that the city attorney has too much power over city policy decisions and serves the unelected city manager’s interests rather than the elected City Council or city as a whole. In 2006 the city attorney sided with the city manager against the creation of an independent police auditor staff. The council took an outside attorney’s advice that it could legally keep the auditor function independent of the city manager.
Ruiz said in an email that the in-house “change was not related to conflicts of interest.” Ruiz said he has selected Glenn Klein, who currently does the same job for Harrang Long, as the new city employee city attorney for his “essential institutional knowledge.”
Ruiz stated that Klein’s new job was not subject to laws requiring that it be advertised and open to other candidates. State and federal laws restrict “revolving door” hires of government contractors to award contracts to their former employers. But it’s unclear if the ethics law would apply in this case. — Alan Pittman
More Seek Services
Lane County’s unemployment rate jumped from 6 percent last year to 11.9 percent this year, leading to an 80 percent increase in the number of two parent households receiving services, according to state Rep. Phil Barnhart. Many of these local residents are unfamiliar with the Department of Human Services (DHS).
“The people at DHS are knowledgeable and understanding and are there to work for you,” says Barnhart. “DHS works closely with the employment department and with local partners to provide a wide range of support. For example, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program helps people get back to work. In the meantime, families may be eligible for medical care, housing, and child care benefits depending on their situation.”
Barnhart says the DHS also offers mental health, alcohol or drug, and domestic violence assessments to get treatment for those hardest hit by the downturn.
In the last year, Barnhart’s district has seen a 33.3 percent increase in Employment Related Daycare, a 22.9 percent increase in Food Stamp recipients, and a 42.4 percent increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. “These numbers show that even relatively affluent districts like ours are not immune during economic recessions.”
A reference guide to available services can be found at www.leg.state.or.us/barnhart calling (503) 986-1411 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Documenting the Iraq War
Documentary filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films says, “media has always been a weapon of war.” He says, “We’re trying to put our camera on the other side of the war. He’ll be showing three of his documentaries filmed in Iraq at LCC and at the First United Methodist Church on Thursday, April 2, as part of his “Beyond the Walls” film tour. These films, Rowley says, give a different perspective on Iraq than the images that most Americans have seen, which “are filmed from the perspective of the military.”
Rowley, a founding member of the Independent Media Center, is one of the few unembedded journalists and filmmakers to document the Iraq War. Instead of embedding with the Americans, he says, Big Noise films works with the Iraqis and has filmed places no other American journalists have taken their cameras since the conflict began. “It’s both dangerous and difficult,” he says. The filmmakers rely on connections they have made on their repeated trips to Iraq since 2002, going to ghettos and refugee camps escorted by Iraqi militias.
The films Beyond the Wall: Inside the Sadr Movement in Iraq, Re-awakening Saddam’s Tribal Strategy and The Detention Imperative attempt to give a perspective on the war in Iraq from outside the American military. Rowley says even Americans who have done everything to educate themselves on the war don’t have access to all the information because it simply isn’t available unfiltered through a mainstream viewpoint. “Never before has media and war strategy been so interwoven,” he says.
Rowley will show his films and discuss them and the Iraq War on Thursday, April 2. The first session will be from 1 to 3 pm in room 309, building 17 at LCC. The second will be from 7 to 9 pm at the First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St. For more information call 463-5820. — Camilla Mortensen
HIGHLIGHTS OF STIMULUS
How does the federal stimulus bill help individuals and the community? The Cottage Grove Blackberry Pie Society has analyzed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which President Obama signed Feb. 17, and come up with the following provisions:
• In 2009 and 2010, most taxpayers will be eligible for a refundable income tax credit equal to $400 ($800 on a joint return) or 6.2 percent of an individual’s earned income, whichever is less. Income tax withholding tables are now being revised to increase employees’ take home pay.
• For individuals who don’t qualify for the “making work pay credit,” a one-time payment of $250 will be made in 2009 to qualifying retirees, disabled persons, SSI recipients, disabled veterans receiving VA assistance and railroad retirement beneficiaries. This payment is expected to be made in May or June of this year by the individual’s respective government agency.
• Employees covered by an employer health insurance plan who were laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009, are eligible for a 65 percent subsidy towards their COBRA health insurance premium. This provision also covers “mini-COBRA” laws which differ by state. In Oregon, employers are generally subject to these provisions for up to six months (instead of nine months for COBRA employers) if they employ between two and 19 employees. The assistance is tax-free. Employers are required to notify employees (and prior employees) of this benefit by mid-March.
• The tax credits available for attending post-secondary schools have been significantly enhanced for 2009 and 2010. In addition to increasing the amount of the credit, books and other course materials in addition to tuition now qualify. The credit previously phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income between $50,000 and $60,000 ($100,000 and $120,000 for joint taxpayers). That range has been increased to between $80,000 and $90,000 ($160,000 and $180,000 for joint taxpayers).
• Eligible first-time homebuyers (those who have not had an interest in a principal residence in the three years prior to purchase) are allowed a credit equal to 10 percent of the purchase price of a principal residence purchased between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2009, or $8,000, whichever is greater. The credit is subject to recapture if the residence is sold within three years. For purchases in 2009, a taxpayer can elect to treat the residence as purchased on Dec. 31, 2008, thereby providing an immediate infusion of cash to the homebuyer to help with the down payment and other costs of purchase.
• Up to $2,400 in unemployment benefits will be tax-free in 2009.
• Funds funneled to local school districts are being used to reduce the number of days cut in this year’s school calendar. Additional funds are available for schools in poverty status and for special education programs.
The Cottage Grove Blackberry Pie Society can be reached at email@example.com
• LRAPA is holding a public information meeting on the Seneca Cogeneration Plant from 7 to 9 pm Thursday, April 2, at the Red Cross building, 862 Bethel Dr. in Eugene. This is not an official public hearing, but at least one public hearing is expected to be held in June. Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC, is seeking an air contamination discharge permit from LRAPA. The power plant would be constructed to the north of and adjacent to the existing sawmill facility owned and operated by Seneca Sawmill Company on Highway 99. Comments and letters asking for public hearings can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call LRAPA at 736-1056.
• Martin Baron, editor of The Boston Globe, will deliver the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s annual Ruhl Lecture at 4 pm Thursday, April 2, in the EMU Ballroom, 1222 E. 13th Ave. The lecture is free and open to the public. Watch for Suzi Steffen’s Q&A with Baron online this week.
• A “sweat-free ordinance” for the city of Eugene is being pursued by a coalition of social justice organizations, kicking off with an event from 6 to 7 pm Friday, April 3, at 180 PLC on the UO campus. A recently revived University Students Against Sweatshop, chapter at UO is bringing two workers from Latin America who will speak on this issue. The “Economic Stimulus Tour” is calling on Oregon to “end tax dollar support for sweatshops and to help build an economy based on good jobs.” For more info, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
• UO will host a free public conference on HIV/AIDS in Africa Friday and Saturday, April 3-4. The gathering examines why are the highest levels of HIV infection and AIDS deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa, and why it’s such a difficult problem to solve. Keynote speakers include Julie Overbaugh, HIV/AIDS research scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; Pauline Peters, lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; Michael Kaplan, executive director of the Cascade AIDS Project in Portland; and Deo Niyizonkiza, executive director of Village Health Works. More information on the conference is available at africa.uoregon.edu
• The independent film America the Beautiful, taking a critical look at our cultural attitudes about the ideal body, will be shown at 6 pm Tuesday, April 7, at Columbia 150 on the UO campus. The film is sponsored by UO fraternities and sororities with ASUO and the RainRock Treatment Center. Eating disorder specialist Carolyn Costin will be available for questions following the showing.
• A special Brewhaha gathering with Congressman Peter DeFazio and former secretary of state Bill Bradbury will be at 7 pm Tuesday, April 7, at Cozmic Pizza downtown. The topic is “Cap and Trade-aganza: Clash of the Climate Titans” and more lawmakers may be joining the panel. The free event is sponsored by the Lane Bus Project, the Healthy Climate Partnership and EW.
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• ODOT District 5 (Lane) will start April 13 spraying herbicides on the outside shoulders and ramps on state highways during the day on Highway 99 North between Junction City and Eugene, I-5 Beltline and I-105. Call Don Angermayer at 744-8080 and/or call ODOT Herbicide Application (888) 996-8080.
• Gypsy moth spraying (SE Eugene): The tentative spray dates are April 28, May 7 and 19.
• Chemically sensitive? If ODOT herbicide or Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Foray 48B insecticide spraying will disparately harm you because of a disability, contact Forestland Dwellers.
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
• It’s been more than a week since the Eugene City Council met in closed executive session to suspend the police auditor indefinitely without explanation. No public vote was taken, and we suspect this public inaction was at the advice of the city attorney who was present. The council and mayor need to provide the public with an immediate justification for their suspension and secrecy. If not, the information void will continue to be filled with speculation. Why was this questionable accusation against the auditor taken so seriously? Why was there a presumption of guilt? Who voted for this suspension, and who voted against it? What do they have to hide? Eugene didn’t elect its leaders to act in a dark closet.
• Kudos to Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz for hiring an in-house city attorney. The change from letting the private law firm Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. monopolize all the city’s legal work should have happened a long time ago. The private contract cost twice what Salem spends on its in-house legal staff. Harrang Long’s work for developers and big business raised too many concerns of potential conflicts of interest. The city will still have to work to make sure the Harrang Long attorney hired to do the in-house work and oversee outside work doesn’t favor his former employer and works for the city’s best interests, not just the city manager’s.
• Rumors that the proposed Seneca biomass generator is just one of several planned for Lane County are not true, at least not at this time, according to LRAPA Director Merlyn Hough. Hough says he’s heard of others proposed around Oregon, such as the Rough & Ready Lumber biomass boiler in the Cave Junction area. Hough says there are “significant incentives for renewable fuels in place or in the works, and some of them are co-gen,” but if the Seneca plant ends up being built, he figures “it’s unlikely we’ll see more” in our area.
EWEB is studying the proposed project with an eye on buying the electricity it generates. Such a contract should include additional environmental monitoring and pollution controls.
• Meanwhile, the first public meeting regarding the Seneca plant is Thursday (see Activist Alert), and folks on both sides of the issue are getting riled up. Eugene appraiser and conservative EWEB Commissioner John Brown sent an angry email to City Club President Carmen Urbina after walking out on the City Club March 20 talk by LRAPA’s Hough and Dr. Larry Dunlap (see Slant last week). Brown complained that the presentation “turned out to me to be a one-sided portrayal of a proposed project, the Seneca Biomass Project … In keeping with what you deem as a fair and balanced programs, etc., why did you allow this to occur?”
The Seneca project came up primarily in questions following the formal presentations. Brown was also irked by flyers on tables that pointed out the tons of various pollutants that would be emitted by the project and urged people to call elected officials “and let them know we don’t want this additional brown air and pollution in our community.”
Brown also complained about a pattern of “disrespect” shown by City Club members “toward views that differ from the general populace … The crowd is many times rude and disrespectful to those whom they do not support,” citing the Jim Torrey vs. Vicki Walker City Club debate in 2006.
In a conciliatory email to Brown March 24, City Club Program Committee Chair Mary Leighton invited Brown to join an April 1 committee meeting “to advise [us] on how to do a better job of covering divergent views.”
Brown is overreacting. The City Club program was advertised as being about LRAPA, not Seneca, but Seneca’s proposal is what people wanted to talk about, and it’s directly related to LRAPA’s role in our county. This is what the free exchange of ideas is all about. As for the club’s Program Committee, looks like they are doing a good job lately. No need for apologies or concessions to pressures from either side of the political spectrum.
There was a time when the City Club was seen as an irrelevant mouthpiece for local corporate PR and the Chamber of Commerce. No more.
When she was 8 years old, growing up in a suburb of Detroit, Jo Fanning’s parents built a vacation cabin on the shore of Lake Michigan. “That’s where I fell in love with wilderness,” she says. Fanning met her husband, Richard, at Michigan State, then ran a pottery studio at home and raised four kids during his career as a forester and a parks-and-rec supervisor in Detroit. “We were a camping family,” she notes. “He had six weeks of vacation.” Following Richard’s retirement in 1983, the couple moved to Eugene, a location they had scouted on West Coast outings. “We still camp every chance we get,” says Fanning, who also continued to make pots until two years ago, when she switched over to paper crafts: cards and collage. A musician since she started piano at age 4, she played with the Eugene Recorder Ensemble for 14 years. “Storytelling is my new love,” says Fanning, who was inspired by a workshop with Jeff Defty. “When I saw him tell stories I was hooked.” As director of Talking Books storytellers collective, she schedules visits to schools, afterschool programs, and homeless shelters. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years,” she says. “It’s great to see kids with eyes bulging, listening to a story.”