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Slant 3-28-2013

• The report on the audit of the Eugene Police Department’s Property Control Unit (PCU), which revealed 1,116 missing items including guns, drugs and jewelry, was quite an eyebrow raiser. We met with Police Chief Pete Kerns and the civilian employee who requested the audit, and they said some policies and procedures have been ignored for years, leading to disorganization. Further investigations will hopefully determine whether the missing items are really gone from “The Vault” at EPD or just misplaced, and whether any criminal activity has taken place. EPD will be conducting its first-ever PCU inventory of all its items, and EPD is in the process of implementing the reforms in policy and procedure that the audit recommended. 

Would this embarrassment have happened if the city had an independent performance auditor on board years ago when it was highly recommended by a citizen charter review committee in 2002? An independent performance auditor would have eyeballed every aspect of EPD, the city’s biggest department, including whether best practices and standards were being followed. Would an auditor have helped the city avoid a $6 million budget shortfall next year?

• It’s disturbing to hear five mental health professionals on staff in the 4J School District might lose their jobs if and when school health centers are shut down as a budget-cutting measure, and because of cumbersome new state regulations. We heard from one of the psychologists that the community and School Board are being advised that these five mental health professionals cannot function independently from the school health centers, but he says that’s not true — all they need are offices. We understand the district’s plan is to hire more nurses to help make up for the expensive health centers and mental health professionals, and perhaps contract out mental health crisis services. But is that the best way to deal with the hundreds of students, some suicidal, who are getting high-level, ongoing professional counseling at school? We have our doubts. We queried the 4J administration about these issues, but alas, everyone’s on spring break for their mental health.

• Last week in Slant we wrote about Joann Ernst and her intention to run against County Commissioner Faye Stewart in 2014. Now we hear Jose Ortal of Blue River might also be on the ballot. Ortal tells us he’s still exploring his options, but he’s tired of county politics “being driven by the McDougal Brothers of the world,” a reference to the conservative loggers who have become wealthy developers through less-than-enlightened land-use practices. Ortal has a master’s degree in history from UCLA and extensive credentials in higher education and Latino issues. Anybody else out there want to join the race? Stewart is considered vulnerable following a series of issues in which he’s stood up for big business interests over the citizenry, but booting him out won’t be easy. He has name recognition and big-buck backing. But having multiple candidates on the May ballot might split the vote and lead to a runoff in November. Stewart needs 50 percent of the votes plus one to stand alone on the November ballot. Another tongue-twister for ya: Faye’s days fading away? Stewart’s seat’s susceptible.

• You don’t need to like basketball to have fun with the sports psychology that’s going into March Madness and the Oregon Ducks’ dive into it. How does the coach prepare a 12-seeded team, Oregon, to beat the overwhelming tourney favorite, 1-seed Louisville? We’ll see at 4:15 pm Friday, March 29, on national TV. Nate Silver, better known for his remarkably accurate political odds-making, writes in The New York Times that “Oregon has only about a 5 percent chance of winning that game.” Forget the odds. Let’s give Oregon a 3-point win for out-psyching Louisville and turning it over to the final eight.

• Back on Dec. 27 we wrote about David Oaks and his nasty tumble from a ladder. He broke his neck and is facing a long and difficult recovery. Oaks is founder and director of Mind Freedom International with headquarters in Eugene, and he continues to be a strong advocate for mental health care reform. He tells us he spent some time at Craig Hospital near Denver, a center for spinal cord injury rehabilitation. At Craig he learned to use a wheelchair and to strengthen his arms with virtual reality exercise equipment. His wife, Debra, is supervising the remodeling of their home to make it more accommodating. The family’s financial needs are great and a fund has been set up at David W. Oaks Irrevocable Trust, c/o Chase Bank, 1100 Willamette St., Eugene 97401. Donations can also be made online at davidwoaks.com where he writes about his recovery, lessons he’s learned, and his specific needs.