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June 9, 2007

Sen. Johnson's bad deal for airport neighbors

Senate Bill 807, sponsored by Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), is a bad deal for those of us who live within a 10-mile radius of the center of the Aurora airport here in North Marion County. This bill would create "airport tax increment financing districts" for the purpose of giving rural airports and the landowners adjacent to them "access to public property tax money for expansion or improvement projects."

What this means is there would be tax districts set up that would be able to use the property taxes from communities within a 10-mile radius of the airport to pay for improvements and expansion at said airport. Is this an attempt to bypass the land-use laws and fund the development of property around the airport that is currently zoned exclusive farm use?

A large number of cities and citizens will be hit by this, but few will gain any direct benefit from the increase of corporate jet and air freight traffic. Why has there been so little effort to inform the public about this?

How can the sponsor of this bill (Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose) be allowed to run this through without letting those of us whose taxes are being targeted be informed?

-- Celia Pohlschneider, Aurora, June 8, 2007


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June 8, 2007

State in giveaway to transit unions

Thanks to the Oregon Transit Association and Oregon Arbitrators' Union lobbyists, it appears that Oregon's union-represented transit workers will never strike again. That's because the state Senate late Wednesday approved House Bill 2537, which would mandate binding arbitration in the event of an impasse, and disallow strikes. The bill was previously approved by the House, and now awaits the acting governor's signature.

It's unknown what impact the impending law could have on negotiations between the transit district and the Amalgamated Transit Union, whose bargaining teams will meet today for the fourth time since early May.

The parties have indicated in the past that they would like to reach a settlement on a new three-year contract before the current one expires at the end of the month. Another bargaining session, if needed, is slated for June 18.

If bargaining spills into July or beyond, the new law could apply, said Roger Martin, executive director of the Oregon Transit Association, which supported the bill. The LTD Board did not take a formal position on the bill.

The bill sailed through Salem, passing 27-2 in the Senate and 53-5 in the House. The legislation adds public transit employees to the list of public safety workers - such as police, firefighters, 911 operators, prison guards and most parole and probation officers - who are not allowed to strike or honor a picket line.

The bill, promoted by the ATU, takes away the balanced leverage provided by the threat of a strike, Martin said.

"A strike is recognized by both parties to be detrimental to the public, which causes them to work hard to get a settlement," Martin said. "But binding arbitration is done behind the scenes, invisible to the public."

Martin noted that in 40 years, only once have union workers at a transit district gone on strike - at LTD in 2005. He predicted that, as a result of the new law, bargaining between transit districts and unions will go to binding arbitration "almost every time."

Many LTD union workers initially were ambivalent about giving up their right to strike, "but once it was explained to them that this could be a better bargaining tool, more of them came on board," said Walt Boynton, an LTD bus driver and local union president.

ATU officers in Portland were unavailable for comment Thursday.

The statewide union represents 244 of LTD's 323 workers, including bus drivers, maintenance workers and customer service representatives.

Transit and union officials at LTD have declined to say how bargaining is faring or identify the most important issues on the table. Health insurance was the biggest obstacle to securing a new contract in 2005, and some union members have said that their retirement pension plan could be a central issue this time.

"We continue to move forward with the idea of working together and settling this outside those other processes" such as arbitration, transit spokesman Andy Vobora said. "We're just continuing with our meetings with the hopes of getting it done."


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Sen. Johnson: Serving public, or self?

What Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, did in buying property abutting the Scappoose airport, selling it to a developer for a hefty profit three months later and then introducing a bill in the state Legislature to give special privileges to property owners owning land around rural airports purportedly to enhance economic development is what we who are from the Philippines would call "lutong makao." Freely translated in English, it means "pre-cooked."

This is especially plausible with the later news that the senator had earlier ties with the developer (front page, June 4).

The question now is, what will the Oregon Ethics Commission or the Legislature do in this case? Or, what are the voters willing to do when faced with these cases? I think essentially nothing -- as in the case of those shady legislators who cozied up with the beer and wine lobby and enjoyed their vacations in Hawaii, then got just a slap on the wrist. And the voters re-elected them.


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June 7, 2007

Urban renewal for rural airports now in doubt

The fate of a bill aimed at hijacking local property tax growth for rural airport subsidies in Oregon is uncertain after allegations of policy-for-personal-gain surrounding its chief sponsor, State Senator Betsy Johnson, a Democrat from Scappoose.

The idea, says Aron Faegre, the Portland-area aviation consultant who helped write the bill, builds on the financing dodge made famous in Portland, that forces property taxpayers to shoulder an increasing share of future tax burdens. It would make the rural airport business as subsidized as Pearl District and SoWhat condo developers.

Under Oregon's bill airport owners would need permission from all relevant local taxing jurisdictions before it could collect a rebate on future property tax growth.

Opponents miss the main point. They say the bill taxes widely and focuses narrowly and would increase land speculation around rural airports.

The Johnson affair has complicated matters with reports that she made a never-reported $119,000 profit in 2005 on land she bought, then soon sold, that was adjacent to the Scappoose airport in her Columbia County district.


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Senate OKs price control bills, Gov. to sign

The Senate approved a cap on the price of loans Wednesday, reinstating a long-discredited state usury law and completing a package of bills that seek to eliminate private lenders to low-income earners. Lenders testified the bills will force them out of business, but the AFL-CIO says that, under the new law, local Unemployment and DMV offices will assume all loan services that are lost.

The legislation transforms Oregon from one of the most loan-friendly states in the nation for low-income earners to the most strictly-regulated - with the exception of 11 states that effectively ban so-called "payday" and "title loan" lending. It restores a usury law, which legislators scrapped in 1981 during a recession when inflation and interest rates skyrocketed.

The Senate voted 18-11 Wednesday in favor of House Bill 2871, which caps interest rates on all consumer loans at 30 points above the federal reserve discount rate, now at 6.25 percent. House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, who sponsored the bill, understood it to be the most significant anti-consumer bill in the last decade.

"This is really a public safety matter. Thousands and thousands of unlawful Oregonians will no longer get the short-term loans they need," he said, "but they don't matter ... It will be a huge, huge improvement for the quality of life of law-abiding Oregon families."

The bill goes back to the House for a vote on minor housekeeping changes, then to acting Gov. Tim Nesbitt, who has said he will sign it into law.


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June 6, 2007

Mayor Potter protests #2 dog rank

Men's Health magazine says Colorado Springs, CO, is the overall No. 1 city for dogs, with Portland No. 2. Portland ranked No. 1 in dog parks and pet stores, No. 2 in veterinarians and heartworm, No. 8 in animal shelters, No. 25 in ownership and No. 27 in boarding/day care.

Portland Mayor Tom Potter, disputing the results, said, "This is ridiculous. I've directed the City Attorney to demand a recount. Portland should not be punished by Lake Oswego's idiotic ban on doggie day care."

The magazine looked at seven criteria, including percent of ownership, dog parks, pet stores, animal shelters, boarding/day care, veterinarians and the fewest cases of heartworm.

Rounding out the overall top five cities are Albuquerque, N.M.; Tuscon, Ariz.; and Seattle. The city with the most unhappy dogs is Detroit. Full results can be found at menshealth.com.


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Oregon eco-arsonist hits global warmers

A Federal Judge in Eugene sentenced the ninth of ten members of an eco-arson group on Monday. Judge Ann Aiken declared one of the fires an act of terrorism. Daniel McGowan of New York walked out of the Federal Courthouse with his wife and lawyers after getting sentenced under a plea agreement to seven years in prison. The 32-year-old had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson in two Oregon fires at Popular Farms and Superior Lumber between 2000-2001.

McGowan was part of the Eugene-based cell, the Earth Liberation Front, that was responsible for more than 20 fires set in five western states from 1996 through 2001.

Now working for a domestic violence organization in New York, McGowan says he knows arson isn't the right path. But he says the government still isn't doing enough to protect the environment. "The thing that saddens me the most is that in the last six years, since the Jefferson Popular arson I was involved in, those in power have not dealt with global warming."

Judge Aiken also imposed what's called a "terrorism enhancement" on McGowan's sentence. His lawyer, Amanda Lee says the order was unfair. She said, "the government has said and gone to great lengths in the past week to says Daniel McGowan and other defendants are not being labeled as terrorists. At the same time, it is asking for enhancements that have quadrupled their sentences."

Lee says McGowan could now be sent to a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana that was designed for terrorists. She says inmates are allowed very little contact with the outside world there; so many inmates suffer from psychological problems because of the isolation. She says they're hoping that McGowan will be sent to a low-security prison in New Jersey instead.

McGowan will begin serving his sentence in July.


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June 5, 2007

New York Times raps Portland tolerance

Kevin Costner plays one of several folks afflicted with thrill-killing compulsions in a movie in which half the population of Portland, Ore., seems to suffer from homicidal dementia. To locals, serial killing is an addiction that sufferers are urged to overcome by attending A.A. meetings and murmuring the serenity prayer.

That, at least, is how the buttoned-up title character of "Mr. Brooks," a nutty variation of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," deals with such inconvenient urges. "I'm an addict," he announces at a 12-step meeting while withholding the true nature of his cravings.

Earl Brooks, a successful box manufacturer, is the Portland Chamber of Commerce’s man of the year. A model citizen, ideal husband to his wife, Emma (Marg Helgenberger), and devoted father to his daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker), Earl leads a lurid double life.

As the notorious Thumbprint Killer, he is also a maniac whose specialty is slaughtering young lovers, arranging their bodies into amorous poses, meticulously vacuuming the crime scene and signing it with the victims’ thumbprints. Earl’s fiendish alter ego, Marshall (William Hurt) — an imaginary figure who leans over Earl’s shoulder while he’s driving — flashes an evil grin and tempts him with descriptions of the fun they could have if only Earl would give in to his darkest impulses.

“Mr. Brooks,” alas, is not a comedy. A werewolf movie masquerading as a thriller, it looks like a canny attempt by Bruce A. Evans, its director and screenwriter (with Raynold Gideon), to establish a “Saw”-like franchise using the names of fading ’80s stars to lend the project a semblance of respectability. If it is not as sadistic as the “Saw” and “Hostel” movies, it is as malignant in its insistence on the omnipresence of evil.

Another would-be killer is a peeping-Tom photographer calling himself Mr. Smith (the comedian Dane Cook), who observes Earl’s double murder of a couple who amuse their neighbors by having sex with the lights on and the shades open. Days after the crime he confronts Earl with his evidence and demands to be let in on the fun. He won’t go to the police if Earl takes him along on his next homicidal spree.

Also on the rampage is Thornton Meeks (Matt Schulze), a convicted serial killer known as the Hangman, who strings up his victims in public places and scrawls mocking graffiti on their corpses. Newly escaped from prison, this standard-issue monster makes a vengeful beeline for Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), the humorless police detective who sent him to jail. Because Tracy has also been assigned to the case of the Thumbprint Killer, she obviously has her hands full.

Finally there is Earl’s baby-faced daughter, who drops out of college in her freshman year claiming she is pregnant. When the police visit the Brooks home to question Jane about a classmate’s murder, Daddy instinctively senses the unbearable truth. “She has what I have,” he declares to Marshall, wringing his hands.

Now we know: Serial killing is in the blood, a curse passed down from generation to generation.

This tightly plotted movie throws in an extra subplot involving Tracy’s ugly divorce from a younger, cheating gigolo (Jason Lewis) whom she married on the rebound and who now demands millions. (The screenplay goes through elaborate contortions to try to explain why a wealthy heiress like Tracy would work as a policewoman, but the explanation doesn’t wash.)

Tracy is the most wooden screen performance of Ms. Moore’s career. Looking exhausted and tense, the actress is as expressive as a wax museum effigy. That is not the case with Mr. Costner and Mr. Hurt, who pull out the stops to play a horror-movie tag team. In their scenes together Mr. Costner’s sinister but tortured Earl and Mr. Hurt’s gleefully sociopathic Marshall do a sadomasochistic soft shoe of psychological bullying and whining.

Marshall is a creepy flesh-and-blood extrapolation of the inner voice inside anyone who has considered raising hell for the sheer thrill of it. In the world of “Mr. Brooks,” there’s no greater kick than acting like a really bad boy and getting away with it.

The movie is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has sexual situations, profanity and gory violence.


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June 4, 2007

State relaxes sex offender registry

Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, is promoting a bill that would permit a college student in his early 20s to avoid registering as a sex offender if convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old. Some citizens in his district say that goes too far.

Serial rapists, child molesters and other predatory sex offenders have to register as sex offenders. So did Matthew Shettles.

The Beaverton man had consensual sex with his underage girlfriend on the night of his school graduation. He was two weeks past his 18th birthday; she was almost 15. When a high school counselor learned of the encounter, Shettles said, she was compelled by a mandatory reporting law to inform authorities.

Shettles pleaded guilty to third-degree sex abuse, a misdemeanor that netted him three years of probation, community service, fines and a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender.

"Murderers don't have to register for the rest of their lives," Shettles told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. "It doesn't seem reasonable that a guy who had sex with his girlfriend should have to pay for the rest of his life by having to register."

Shettles testified in hopes that the committee would pass House Bill 2333, which would ease Oregon's legal requirement of lifetime sex-offender registration for young people who had consensual sex with teenagers.

"Our sex-offender law is requiring a lot of people to register, and some of these people are people like this young man," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego. "The question is, is this person a threat to society?"

Stephanie Tuttle, a deputy district attorney from Marion County, told the committee she had concerns with the bill. The proposal applies to offenders who have had sex with a partner whose age is between 12 and 17 and is within 9 years of the offender's own age.

Tuttle noted that the bill would allow a college student in his early 20s to avoid registering as a sex offender if convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old.

Tuttle said the law already allows offenders like Shettles to apply to have their names removed from the registry 10 years after they have completed probation or parole.

But Shettles' mother, E. Ann Shettles, said that's not good enough. Her son, whose probation ends in two years, wouldn't be eligible to have his name removed from the registry until he is 32.

Prospective employers, she said, wouldn't know if her son raped a stranger or had consensual sex with his high-school girlfriend.


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June 3, 2007

Portland, Ore. earns another #1

Portland has been named the most self-congratulating city in America by the National Visitors Association, a group that promotes tourism to states with no sales tax. No other city came close enough to finish second. The NVA noted the Rose City's unique, first-in-the-nation "Local Daily Smug Index" and pointed out that Portland would have rated even higher if state revenues depended less on Oregon's highest-in-the-nation user fees.

A sampling of recent accolades and feature articles includes:

* No. 1, "Most sustainable big cities in America" - SustainLane.com (June 2006)

* America’s “Best Eating Destination” — The Food Network (April 2007)

* No. 9, “Top 25 Fittest Cities in the United States ” — Men’s Fitness (February 2007)

* No. 2, Cooking Light's 20 Best Cities Awards — Cooking Light (January-February 2007)

* One of the World’s Top Travel Destinations for 2007 — Frommer’s Guidebooks/Frommer’s.com (January)

* “Top 10 Cities for Independent Moviemakers” — MovieMaker Magazine (Winter 2007)

* Oregon named “Top Dog in the USA ” for mountain biking — Annual International Mountain Biking Association’s “Report Card” (Winter 2007)


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