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It’s almost too late to mail those ballots buried among the bills on your kitchen table, but white ballot boxes can be found around town. Democracy relies on an informed public, and if you’re reading this you are probably more informed than most of your neighbors, so flaunt that knowledge and put it to work for a noble cause!

How could this happen? Four prominent Eugene progressives standing at the City Club podium May 3 arguing about Ballot Measure 20-211, the Eugene city services fee. Alan Zelenka and Steve Johnson support it, Bonny Bettman McCornack and George Brown oppose it. Five of eight city councilors oppose it. Conservatives must be chuckling. We wonder how City Manager Jon Ruiz, his staff and Mayor Kitty Piercy put out this seriously flawed measure.

Ballots should be arriving in local mailboxes this weekend or early next week, and we are concerned that voter turnout might not be very high, even with three money measures on the ballot. That’s a lot of money to ask for in a recession, so it’s time to think hard about what you want to fund. For us, it’s schools. This is an off-year election and the campaigns are pretty low-key compared to the presidential year overload that made small children cry, and even some adults.

• One week after the Boston Marathon, more than 35,000 athletes ran the London Marathon. Some 8,500 are expected in the Eugene Marathon races April 27-28, and hundreds of thousands more are running in cities around the world, many with tributes to Boston and renewed determination to carry on to the finish line. In our frustrating search for meaning in all the insanity that’s happening in the world, we are brought back to ponder the lines painted large on the Hayward Field east grandstand: “Believe in the power of the run.”

• Eugene City Councilor Betty Taylor spent countless hours studying the West Eugene EmX Extension before deciding to support it, and it looks like a similar thoughtful process has gone into her decision to not support the city service fee on the May ballot. Taylor was in the undecided column until this week. Now five out of eight councilors are on record opposing the fee, and if the ballot measure fails it looks like the council will try to find other sources of funding for the threatened services.

• The city fee debate is taking some fascinating twists with Councilor George Brown changing sides as he delves more into the issues of city finances and budget priorities. Will other key supporters of the ballot measure also jump ship? Local Democrats lined up early in favor of the fee but without exploring the arguments in any depth. This debate is getting awkward as supporters discover the city has enough excess reserves from fiscal year 2013 to cover the anticipated deficit in 2014.

• Eugene is moving ahead on renovating City Hall, or at least finding an architect, and we hear from reliable sources that longtime City Hall renovation proponent Otto Poticha and his team of architects were rated near the bottom of the list of seven architecture firms that have applied. Poticha won’t even be interviewed for the job.

• 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.

• Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart’s convoluted attempt to get all of Lane County residents and businesses to pay for his ill-advised industrial development plans in Goshen is raising eyebrows even among the pro-growth crowd. As regional economic development veteran Bob Warren points out in his Viewpoint this week, “It’s time for a reality check.” Looks like the garbage fee idea, Senate Bill 248, died this week, at least in its present form.

• A PAC has been formed to oppose the flat fee measure that will be on the May ballot in Eugene (see our news story this week). This could prove to be a fascinating debate, raising all sorts of wonkish issues that are normally ignored by the public, and alas, even by the media. It’s good to see former councilors Bonny Bettman McCornack and Paul Nicholson back in the fight and asking tough questions. And it’s not too early to ask: What will happen if this measure fails and somehow money is found or reallocated to maintain CAHOOTS or Sheldon Pool or branch libraries?

• The South Willamette Street Improvement Plan’s six design concepts for the street, which will be repaved in 2014, were presented last week to a big crowd. Willamette between 24th and 32nd avenues has needed an overhaul for a long time — its four-lane configuration and redundant driveways that act like tiny intersections have led to an accident rate almost twice the state average for similar roads. Bikers must choose between sharing the lane with impatient drivers or risk riding on the sidewalk.

• Fifth Street Public Market owner Brian Obie is bullish on Eugene and has apartments and other big plans for county-owned land at 6th and Oak.

 • What about that flat fee measure that is expected to be on Eugene’s May ballot, competing with other money measures? We’re trying to keep an open mind, waiting to hear all the arguments. But as a very practical matter, maybe the city should take another look at the measure considering that the fee is opposed by both Mike Clark, the most conservative member of the City Council, and Betty Taylor, the most liberal member of the council.

•  We’re not convinced that UO campus police should be armed with lethal weapons. Eugene police are nearby and more guns on campus increases the likelihood of accidental shootings and the use of deadly force when it’s not needed. The campus cops are already training to use Glocks purchased for them, so we wonder if the decision to arm them is a done deal, with little public input. Two more informational meetings are scheduled: 4:30 to 6 pm Tuesday, Feb.

Bonny Bettman McCornack is back in our pages this week reviving her City-Zen Journal column. We’ve missed her strong voice and clear analysis of complex issues. She retired in frustration in 2009 after a memorable eight years on the Eugene City Council and numerous committees and commissions in Lane County. Often she was the only voice in public meetings asking tough questions and calling for accountability and transparency.

• The proposed $10 a month stormwater fee hike has been reduced to $5 after a public outcry against it and doubts that the City Council would approve it. But some interesting ideas have surfaced that might be worth pursuing as the city struggles to raise much-needed revenues. One proposal kicking around unofficial email lists is changing our city stormwater fee to reflect the footprint of living units and other impermeable spaces.

The city is in a fiscal pickle with major cuts in city services behind us and more to come, but how do we go from sour pickle to sweet pickle? Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz and his staff have come up with a set of fees (in lieu of new taxes) that would cost each household in the city up to $240 a year, with partial waivers for low-income households. The city is currently facing a $6 million budget gap and the proposal would generate about $7.5 million a year, eliminating the gap and restoring some services that have already been cut.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is upon us once again and we are reminded of how far we have come as a nation, and, alas, how very far we still have to go. Our nation takes an entire day each year to honor King’s dreams and quote his speeches, but are we really listening to his message? If so, why the growing disparity between rich and poor? Why are unions constantly under attack and shrinking? Why are women, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans still earning less than white men?

A critically important message to American educators, and all the rest of us, came from Dr. Yong Zhao Jan. 4 at the City Club of Eugene meeting at the Hilton. He’s the UO College of Education associate dean for global and online learning. Zhao said American education is copying Chinese education while the Chinese are moving in the opposite direction, copying America. That means more standardization, more centralization and more testing for American kids, practices in China that have hurt innovation and entrepreneurship.

• Former ACLU field director Claire Syrett took the Eugene Ward 7 city councilor position vacated by Andrea Ortiz, and we were delighted at the choice. We still have high hopes for Syrett as a much-needed addition to the progressive voices on the City Council, but we’re a bit puzzled by a couple of her votes so far. She voted to sell the 1.89 acre Courthouse Garden property, which donates about 6,000 pounds of food each year to feed Lane County’s homeless and hungry, without any public discussion or a plan in place for a new garden site.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our local teachers who wore yellow and blue, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, on the Monday after the tragic Friday. America’s teachers have joined cops and firemen as first responders, and we need to better support them.

Happy New Year to all those who seek knowledge through higher education and training, the hard work of learning and refining of skills, and to all who teach and mentor them. Our future depends on critical thinking and our ability to adapt and evolve.

Mass shootings are now part of our national identity, and each incident seems to trigger the next one. The solution to gun violence, we hear from folks like Rep. Dennis Richardson, is more guns. Arm those teachers with Colt .45s and Bowie knives! Install hitching posts in front of every school! But hardly anyone in the media talks about this tragic phenomenon in terms of lack of health care. When the topic of mental health does come up, it usually just adds to the false perception that mentally ill individuals are all dangerous.

A homeless micro-housing pilot project requires four to six months to get a conditional use permit? Holy freezing to death on the streets, Batman. We respect the need for due diligence, but when lives are at stake, a little expediency is in order. Kudos to the council for approving the Opportunity Village pilot project, and in particular to Councilor Alan Zelenka for making sure a location was chosen before the council’s winter break, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking those at risk on the streets are now safe.

Tax breaks for developers have persisted for decades as a major economic development strategy, and for decades we at EW and progressives in local government have insisted they do more harm than good. The New York Times has investigated these billions of dollars in tax incentives nationwide and published a story Dec. 1 saying “The giveaways are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers,” and the results are tenuous at best.