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June 16, 2007

Sen. Betsy Johnson scandal - The real issue

There has been a lot of controversy in recent weeks about a couple of bills introduced by State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose). Today's New York Times provides some useful context for that Johnson story, which has veered away from the real issue - how much public money should go to promoting "rural" aviation-related business.

Although from a rural Columbia County district, Johnson is a powerful figure in the Legislature and has been considered a front-runner for the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

In past weeks, WW and The Oregonian have reported that Johnson's disclosures of economic interest were incomplete and raised questions about whether two aviation-related bills she introduced would benefit her husband and her pals.

Powerful figures, including former Gov. John Kitzhaber have come to Johnson's defense.

Today's New York Times story on the Bandon Dunes golf course is connected to Johnson because in 2005, Johnson introduced Senate Bill 680. Johnson's bill was designed to promote development around rural airports, and specified three airports as pilot projects: Scappoose, where her husband's business is; Aurora, which is adjacent to a large chunk of property owned by Johnson's longtime friend Ted Millar; and Brookings, which serves Bandon Dunes.

The bill was amended before passage and a funding mechanism is still not in place. But there's one other interesting connection beyond the three airports spelled out in the original bill: in 2005, the registered lobbyist for Bandon Dunes was Gary Oxley. He was - and still is - the lobbyist for the Oregon Aviation Business Association, a group backed by Millar and on whose behalf Johnson introduced Senate Bill 807, which would allow rural airports to create new, loosely supervised taxing districts including property within a 10-mile radius of the airports.


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Barack gains on Hillary

In the race for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama ate into Sen. Hillary Clinton's lead over the last month, according to the latest survey from Harris Interactive. Mr. Obama trails Mrs. Clinton of New York by four percentage points, with 32% of those who would vote in a Democratic primary or caucus saying they'd be most likely to vote for him, compared to 36% who said they would likely vote for Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Obama's rating is a marked improvement from that in the Harris Poll taken in May, when he trailed Mrs. Clinton by 13 points. Following the two front runners, the former senator from North Carolina - and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee - John Edwards was the closest declared candidate, with 12% of primary voters saying they'd most likely give him their vote. But Mr. Edwards also trailed former Vice President Al Gore, who racked up the support of 14% of respondents despite having said he has no plans to run.

The most recent Harris poll of 3,304 adults was conducted June 1-12. The overall survey has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. But the question asked of the 1,196 primary or caucus voters has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Sens. Obama and Clinton are also jostling for position among a larger sample of potential voters, too. Out of all those surveyed -- not just Democratic primary voters -- 37% said they would consider voting for Mr. Obama. That's just behind Mrs. Clinton, for whom 39% said they would consider voting. Mr. Edwards would be considered by 26% of respondents, according to the poll.

While Mr. Obama has gained ground in the recent Harris Poll, other recent polls have put Mrs. Clinton farther ahead. For example, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Mrs. Clinton drawing 39% of the vote among Democrats, up from 36% in April, while Mr. Obama receives 25%, down from 31%. Former Sen. Edwards received 15%, with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware lagging behind at 4%. That nationwide telephone poll of 1,008 American adults was conducted June 8-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


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The Oregonian's illegal marketing scheme

As mentioned in a flash here yesterday afternoon, we have news to report in the case of The Illegal Newsracks at 24th and Fremont. At our urging, the folks at the Trib have taken action to remedy the apparent violations of the City of Portland code caused by two of their distribution boxes at that intersection.

Now, as we found out when we went out there to inspect a little while later, they didn't do anything dramatic. But they did detach their box on the northeast corner of the intersection from the pedestrian traffic signal pole, which cures one violation. They also moved that box a few feet northward, which may or may not be far enough to get it out of the "no private use" zone required by the city's "pedestrian design guidelines." And if the box has not been moved quite far enough (we didn't have our tape measure with us to determine an exact distance), it misses the mark by a lot less than previously - perhaps even close enough for government work. Here are the before and after shots:

(click on footer, see original post for photos)

Of course, the O box is still in violation of at least two city code sections, including encroachment on the "obstruction free" zone on the corner.

Over on the southwest corner of the intersection, the Trib box was a few inches over the "no private use" zone line, and they fixed that by moving it westward, switching places with a box containing publications by an outfit called "Alternatives." Now the "Alternatives" box is probably over the line by an inch or two, but again, it's close enough to legal for me. (The Trib also unhooked its box from the no-parking sign, but based on our reading of the code, that wasn't necessary for compliance.) The O box is once again still a violator. Here's the before and after:

(click on footer, see original post for photos)

What all this means is that we've got two fewer complaint letters to send out on Monday. At least at this intersection, at least for now, the Trib has cleaned up its act and is more or less off the hook.

Of course, the fact that it may now be in compliance with what the code requires doesn't tell us much about what the code should require. Even when they're done by the book (which seems to occur infrequently), newsracks may still constitute hazards and visual clutter that warrant stricter regulation. But we're getting way ahead of ourselves there. Let's stay focused for a while on the city rules as currently written. Specifically, we still need to get the wheels of justice turning with the O.

One last note: I say the Trib is "more or less" off the hook, because the city code technically forbids leaving anything on the sidewalk for more than two hours. I am assuming here that due to free speech-free press constitutional provisions, anything goes other than attaching to a city pole or violating the "pedestrian design guidelines." I could be wrong about that, in which case the Trib, at least in the realm of pure theory, might still be breaking the law here, even with the corrective actions it has taken.


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June 15, 2007

Publishers' gifts to politicos routine in Oregon

Did The Daily Astorian contribute cash or a discount for the May 21 SEIU Local 503 fluff-ad for Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) that ran only days before scandal erupted?

Since Publisher Steve Forrester refused to return calls from The Oregonion, the answer to this question will likely await the Oregon Ethics Commission probe of the mushrooming Johnson land-for-influence corruption and cover-up scandal.

According to oregoncatalyst.com: Lane County used tax dollars to place a huge ad in last Sunday's Eugene Register Guard praising Congressman Peter DeFazio. It is estimated the ad cost $1,000. Pardon the poor faxed copy, but you can see the Lane County logo at the bottom. Public outcry has caused the county to rethink the ad, and the funding may be switched retroactively. This all comes at a time when the county is laying of scores of workers and cutting services in response to budget cuts.

It is not enough that the County has the power to use tax dollars to pass public declarations, send personal letters, hold press conferences, travel to Washington D.C. to talk in person, or to write letters to the local newspapers praising Congressmen they love. The County now wants the power to do full scale advertising and promotion campaigns. Much like the estimated $40,000 of tax dollars they spent on half page newspaper and radio ads giving promotional views of the May income tax measure. The State Elections office criticized them on that last venture.


At last month's Executive Club, one of the speakers noted that the city Damascus' has been paying its local paper to run stories about the "fine" job it does, paying the paper without contract and without public acknowledgement. I wonder how many other papers in this state are getting public dollars without acknowledgement.
#1 Bob Clark on 2007-06-13 08:45

The Oregonian's publisher, Fred Stickel, defended the Register-Guard and other local newspapers today, calling the controversial ads and under-the-table payments from government entities for favorable coverage a "lapse in judgment." He told KATU-TV that the print media stands behind its journalistic practices and conducts itself within a tradition of adherence to the highest ethical standards. In defending the ad in the Eugene Register-Guard, he said, "It's the sort of thing that happens to most people at some point in their lives."
#2 anon on 2007-06-13 11:25

This fits the pattern of governments spending money to get money. I find this as distasteful as local governments paying lobbyists or even worse state agencies paying staff to lobby the "peoples" elected officials. It would be nice to see a ballot measure forbidding such practices. Government lobbying government is an affront to democracy and government paying off the press is worse.
#3 Steve Plunk on 2007-06-13 15:46


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St. Helens dealing with unionlessness problem

Searching for your government union member? St. Helens police officers want to hear from you. Students at St. Helens High School got to school Monday to find their campus populated by non-union teachers.

"An investigation by school officials and the school resource officer determined that the substitutes were placed around the school as part of a prank committed by several recently graduated seniors," the St. Helens Police Department said in a press release.

"It appears that the union teachers were removed from schools all across Columbia County and as far away as Astoria and Portland."

The police department is holding nearly 60 OEA members for return to schools.


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Print media in longtime illegal marketing scam

So you've found a newsrack on a Portland sidewalk that doesn't comply with the city code. (That was easy, wasn't it?) So now what? Where do you go to get the violation remedied?

It's hard to tell for sure. As we noted here yesterday when we found four newspaper boxes (two peddling the O and two giving away the Trib) violating the law on the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, two sections of the code forbid what's going on at that intersection: 17.44.010(A), forbidding sidewalk obstructions generally; and 17.64.040, forbidding attaching any object to any part of the city's street lighting or traffic signal systems. The four boxes also violate the city's "pedestrian design guidelines," whose precise legal relationship to the city code is unclear to us. One of the O's boxes also violates the city code provision requiring prompt graffiti removal. (I'll leave the spirit of the city's sidewalk sign rules out of this discussion, but the O boxes also could raise questions on that score as well.)

One obvious place to go is to the managements of the publications being dispensed from those boxes. It would be easy enough to complain to the publishers and circulation departments of the two offending newspapers, and quite interesting to see what kind of response that would get.

But what about the city? Which city officials are responsible for enforcing those sections of the code, and the "pedestrian design guidelines"?

Let's start with 17.44.010(A), on objects left on sidewalks generally. There's nothing in that chapter (17.44) specifically about violations and enforcement, but there's quite a bit of authority on related matters granted to the city engineer. Indeed, chapter 17.46, dealing with newsracks on the transit mall, explicitly puts the city engineer in charge in that part of town.

As for 17.64.040, on attaching objects to street lighting and traffic signal systems, there's no explicit discussion, anywhere we could find at least, of violations and enforcement of that provision, either. But a nearby section of the code appears to give authority to the Bureau of Transportation System Management for traffic signal system issues, and to the Bureau of General Services for street lighting issues. In our case, two of the offending boxes are attached to a traffic signal system, and so the Bureau of Transportation System Management seems the likely place to complain.

Now, what about those intrusions into the "obstruction free" and "no private use" zones on the sidewalks? Who is supposed to enforce those rules? Not entirely clear, but the "pedestrian design guidelines" document was officially issued by the city engineer, and so it appears that he or she would be in charge of enforcement there as well. (There is apparently also a city traffic engineer, but we don't read the code as getting him or her involved in enforcement of these aspects of the law.)

In sum, based on our best internet sleuthing through the city code itself, the responsible parties in city government for our complaint are the City Engineer and the Bureau of Transportation System Management. O.k., so who are these people, and to whom do they answer?

First and foremost, who the heck is the City Engineer? Nobody on the city's organizational chart seems to go by that title. As best we can make out, it's either the director of the Office of Transportation, Sue Keil, or her underling, the Director of that office's Engineering & Development Bureau, Don Gardner. As for the Bureau of Transportation System Management, the director of that group is Lavinia Gordon. All three, of course, work for Commissioner Sam Adams, the City Council member who runs the transportation office. Readers in the know, please correct us if we've got that wrong.

And so it looks as though we've got letters to send to a bunch of people: two at the O, two at the Trib, three people in the Office of Transportation, Sam Adams, and what the heck -- might as well send copies to the other four members of the City Council. See if we can get any of them to do anything about the newsrack situation on our corner, just as a test case. (Oh, and we mustn't forget the graffiti abatement officer about the nasty tag on the O box.)

If not, there are other avenues of complaint and protest, I suppose. But let's see what happens when we go through the most obvious channels first. We'll work on the complaint letters over the weekend and give readers a look at them on Monday.


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June 14, 2007

Hospital named for Betsy Johnson, expands

Harnett Health System will pump $28 million each year into the county's economy and create 200 new jobs with its Lillington hospital. HHS Chief Executive Officer Ken Bryan has launched a new public relations initiative regarding the proposed new hospital, with an appearance yesterday at the Dunn Kiwanis Club. Earlier, he addressed a work session of the Dunn City Council.

"Ken Bryan came to Betsy Johnson a little over a year ago," Kiwanis Club member Ted Fitzgerald said while introducing Mr. Bryan. "I noticed many positive changes and the hospital in Dunn is one of which we can be proud." With a soft-spoken voice and cheerful optimism, Mr. Bryan delivered the HHS message to a receptive audience.

"What I propose to do is begin to engage a wide variety of people in a dialogue about the future of health care in Harnett County," Mr. Bryan said. "As we build a new hospital, we want it to be one of which you can feel proud.

"I've come in a spirit of openness, communication and respect," he said.

Mr. Bryan said he wanted to share facts with the council about HHS and the new Lillington hospital, which will be located on U.S. 421 across from the Harnett County Courthouse, in the new biotech park.

He said the county's population growth warrants a new hospital and that 70 percent of county residents choose to either use Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital or WakeMed.

Mr. Bryan explained the role of WakeMed in HHS.

"We're locally governed," Mr. Bryan said. "As CEO, I'm responsible to the local board of directors. Our relationship with WakeMed is simple: The board hired WakeMed to manage HHS because of its expertise."

During a Power Point presentation, which included a virtual tour of the new hospital, Mr. Bryan said Betsy Johnson Regional has 700 employees, 100 physicians and is a non-profit health care system.

The new 85,000-square-foot Lillington hospital will be similar in appearance to Betsy Johnson, he said.

Mr. Bryan said construction on the new hospital will take less than three years. Completion of drawings and specifications are due in December.

Construction is expected to begin in January 2008 and the hospital should be completed by December 2009.

The new HHS hospital, with a $50.6 million initial local investment, will be the largest building investment in Harnett County's history and will employ 200 people, Mr. Bryan said.

The hospital will feature a 24-hour emergency department with 12 treatment rooms and two trauma rooms. There will be three inpatient/outpatient surgery suites and critical care services.

Mr. Bryan said the hospital will have 50 inpatient beds, 40 of which will be semi-private; eight will be telemetry rooms and two will be private infectious disease rooms.

Future planning for the new hospital will include 150 beds, regional services, state-of-the-art technology, mental health planning, physician recruitment and physician office space planning.

"The best practice in hospital design is to build for today and design for the future," Mr. Bryan said. "That's why our long-range plans call for 150 beds for the Lillington hospital."

Mr. Bryan said at the end of three years, the Lillington hospital will serve a projected daily average of 35 inpatients. Construction of the hospital will be achieved with no liability on the county's part.

"We're building this hospital with no financial obligation to Harnett County," Mr. Bryan said. He also said the facility will address the county's mental health care needs.

"HHS is committed to dealing with the county's growing mental health problems. We need to deal with mental health," Mr. Bryan said. "Eighty-five percent of mental health is out-patient based. Mental health service is very focused. We need to develop in-patient care locally. There are 11 to 12 Harnett County residents per day going outside the county to find mental health beds."

Mr. Bryan said he is eager to share his presentation with other civic organizations and groups across Harnett County as a way of informing the public about Harnett Health System.


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Feds defend raptors v. pigeons, bust locals

Federal authorities have charged three Oregon men with unlawfully attempting to take, capture, and kill red-tailed and Cooper's hawks, and/or peregrine falcons, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The defendants, all leaders of "roller pigeon" clubs, were arraigned in the Portland, Oregon, United States District Court on June 8th. The charges are part of a larger investigation across the United States - Operation High Roller - that targets roller pigeon owners who kill hawks and falcons, despite their protected status under federal law. In southern California seven arrests were made. The investigation determined that leaders and members of the National Birmingham Roller Club (NBRC) and other enthusiast organizations in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are responsible for killing 1,000 to 2,000 raptors annually.

The arrests and charges are the result of a 14-month investigation of roller pigeon hobbyists and clubs in California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Texas and other states by law enforcement agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The criminal complaints filed in Oregon allege that the defendants shot birds, and used traps baited with pigeons to collect and kill raptors. These activities are alleged to have occurred at the defendants' residences where they raise and fly roller pigeons. The defendants are all affiliated with clubs that promote and compete roller pigeons - also known as Birmingham rollers - which are native to England and have a genetic defect that causes them to flip backwards while in flight.

Enthusiasts breed the pigeons with an eye toward having a group of the birds roll simultaneously, then recover before hitting the ground. Raptors are attracted by the pigeons’ unusual flipping, interpreting the behavior as that of a sick or weakened bird, and thus easy prey. The defendants are members of the NBRC's local Portland area club, known as the Northwest Roller Jockeys.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing its investigation on the illegal use of such traps or other illegal activities effecting migratory birds such as raptors. The traps are large, box-like structures with walls of wire mesh, designed to bait and trap hawks, falcons and owls. They consist of two parts, a bait cage and a trap mechanism constructed with a wooden "A" frame. See picture at fws.gov./pacific/highroller.

Anyone with information should contact Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement agents, Dirk Hoy or Robert Romero, at (503) 682-6131, or e-mail information to PacificLawEnforcement@fws.gov. The Audubon Society of Portland is offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone illegally killing birds of prey. The reward is part of the Society’s ongoing Migratory Bird Protection Fund. The Audubon Society of Portland’s many bird conservation activities include a significant effort to restore peregrine falcon populations in the Portland area. The Society also manages a wildlife rehabilitation program based at the Wildlife Care Center on NW Cornell Road in Portland.

The Oregon defendants include: Mitch Reed of Mount Angel, and Peter Kaufman of Portland, each charged with one count of unlawfully attempting to take, capture, and kill red-tailed and Cooper's hawks, and/or Peregrine falcons, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Ivan Hanchett of Hillsboro, is charged with two counts of same.

Migratory birds are among our most highly valued natural resources and require regional, national and international conservation programs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conserves and manages the 913 native species/ populations of migratory birds, including many raptors, in partnership with others to fulfill international treaty obligations and U.S. trust responsibilities. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the primary legislation in the United States established to conserve migratory birds.

The act prohibits the taking, killing, or possession of migratory birds unless permitted by the Secretary of the Interior. Authorized take and possession is focused on a limited number of allowable activities such as research, rehabilitation, education, depredation control and other purposes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 National Fish Hatcheries, 64 Fishery Resources Offices and 81 Ecological Services field stations.

The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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June 13, 2007

Oregon lags U.K. on low-carbon housing

Built from wood and kitted out with solar panels, wind turbines and state-of-the-art insulation, versions of this eco-home will soon be springing up all around the country.

According to its makers, the four-bedroomed townhouse will be the first environmentally friendly family home to be mass-produced in Britain and is designed to cut energy bills by up to 80 per cent.

That could save a typical family of four more than £800 a year in fuel costs.

Developers are building on the eco-friendly dream by creating a house that's entirely free from carbon.

However, one crucial detail - the price - is still missing. The builders say it is too soon to estimate the cost of producing the design commercially.

The prototype Sigma house, unveiled yesterday, is one of the first to be awarded a "near-zero" carbon emission certificate by the Government.

It gets five out of six stars for energy-efficiency under the Code for Sustainable Homes. Even during construction, relatively little carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Although other designs have achieved a zero-carbon rating, exempting them from stamp duty, the Sigma is expected to become the first to be built in numbers over the next three years.

The Government hopes that the carbon-free home will be the first of a new generation of homes which will form new eco-towns.

"This is the first commercially viable home to reach five stars - and by the time the first are built it should have become six stars," said Stuart Milne, chief executive of the Sigma's Scottishbased creators the Stuart Milne Group.

"It's not quite zero-carbon, but it's a lowcarbon house.

"In a development of 50 homes with a communal wind turbine, it could become zero-carbon. It will cut somewhere in the region of 60 to 80 per cent off your energy costs."

Although the home is heated by a gas condensing boiler rather than a more fashionable biomass burner, it is designed to be as warm as possible in winter but cool in the summer.

"In a normal home, the air is replaced around ten times every hour," said Mr Milne.

"So you are heating the air and letting it escape.

"Here, the air is replaced just once an hour."

Last week Gordon Brown, the prime minister-in-waiting, announced plans for 20,000 carbon-neutral homes.

Inspecting the Sigma at an exhibition of sustainable homes in Watford, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said: "A quarter of carbon emissions come from our homes. That is why zero-carbon homes are so important.

"We need a complete revolution in the way we design and build our homes."

Here's a sample of the latest comments published. You can click view all to read all comments that readers have sent in.

It probably "only" cost 2 million pounds.

- Graeme Carter, London, UK

If they are all south-facing, that would mean you are looking into your neighbours' back windows and since there would be no ariels or satellite dishes, instead of a night's viewing Big Brother, people could have their own reality show - out of their front window, watching the neighbours. That should save a few quid on running the telly.

- Drew., Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway.

I notice you say could save £800 not will.

I do not want a wooden house in Britain - I want traditional brick. The whole thing is a trick for people to buy cheap and nasty housing. Have a look at them in 10 years compared to brick.

- John, Norfolk, UK


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Election reform, Oregon-style

State lawmakers have approved a new, first-in-the-nation law that they say will enhance competitive elections. Critics, however decried the measure as anti-democratic. Under the new law, candidate elections will only be held for offices that are vacated due to death or retirement.

"Uncompetitive elections don't prove anything," said SEIU Local 503 spokesperson Patty Wentz. She said that greater experience among office-holders will make Oregon politics more responsive. Acting Gov. Randy Leonard supports the bill, and quietly signed it into law yesterday.


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Expert news source admits Clackamas robberies

A onetime skinhead who became a nationally recognized activist was sentenced today to 7-1/2 years in prison for robbing Clackamas County restaurants to support a heroin habit.

Steven M. Stroud, 39, of Milwaukie was convicted on three counts of second-degree robbery and one count of second-degree theft in Clackamas County Circuit Court. Stroud robbed several chain restaurants - Shari's, Denny's, and Subway - in Clackamas County with his girlfriend, Heather N. Pruitt, 25, also of Milwaukie.

"It's disappointing to see that your addiction has landed you in this kind of trouble because you had been leading a productive life and probably making a difference in other people's lives," Judge Robert Herndon told him. Apart from entering his guilty plea, Stroud did not address the court.

Pruitt pleaded guilty to similar charges this afternoon and was sentenced to nearly six years in prison. Owen said Stroud and Pruitt may still face charges in Marion and Multnomah Counties related to robberies in those jurisdictions.

Before his arrest, Stroud was better known as a former skinhead who, along with Randy Blazak, a Portland State University professor, founded Oregon Spotlight, a Portland-based organization that tracks hate groups. Stroud appeared on "Oprah" and was often quoted in The Oregonian discussing hate groups and his own racist past.


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June 12, 2007

Engineers Local 701 files charges against Hoffman

Pickets by union drywallers continued this morning at construction sites around the region as the strike by the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters entered its 11th day.

Union spokesman Eric Franklin said no new talks have been scheduled with drywall contractors. He said the union, representing 1,300 drywallers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, brought in staff from five states to help with picketing.

Ed Charles, executive director of the Associated Wall & Ceiling Contractors of Oregon and Southwest Washington, Inc., which bargains for 12 of the region's largest unionized drywall contractors, said he was meeting with his members this morning to strategize what their next step would be.

"They're going to try to figure out some way to man the jobs by the end of the week," Charles said. "They're getting behind.

He declined to elaborate on their options.

"They'll be making a decision probably by the end of the week what they're going to do," he said. "The union might not like what they decide."

The association set up a website to try to further their arguments. They say they last offered the union increases of $1.75 and $1.85 an hour. Union officials, who've been posting updates on their website since the strike began, want an increase of at least $2.45 an hour the first year.

Union members say they expect several condo, hospital and commercial construction sites to slow significantly by the end of the week as plumbers, electricians, plasterers and painters run out of wall frames and sheetrock to work on.

"Without us, nobody can do their jobs," said David Szlavich, one of the 1,300 "interior-exterior specialists" represented by the union.

Portland police this morning escorted three members of the local operating engineers union off The Casey condominium construction site in Portland's Pearl District this morning, union officials said.

Crane operator Lonnie Land and his brother Charles Land, an elevator operator on site, say they stayed off the job much of last week over concerns about safely crossing the carpenters' picket lines. They say Hoffman Construction Co. has since laid them off and asked them to reapply for their jobs.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 filed charges last week with the federal National Labor Relations Board contesting Hoffman's actions as violating federal labor laws.


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Sen. Betsy Johnson liked "the open checkbook"

State Senator Betsy Johnson was under scrutiny Monday for her personal connection with a land deal she tried to influence. According to the Oregonian, the deal in 2002 involved about 435-acres of land next to the Scappoose Airport that a Lake Oswego developer wanted to buy and use for an industrial park. The report said Johnson sold the same developer another piece of property next to the airport two years later.

A critic of the deal, Jeff VanNatta, videotaped the 2002 meeting with Port of St. Helens and Columbia County officials. The former Columbia County planning commissioner gave a copy of the tape to the Oregonian.

It showed Johnson, who was then a state representative, criticizing port officials for not working with developer Ed Freeman. "If development for the highest and best use is what you want to do, why are you hunting for other developers when you’ve got one with an open checkbook?" Johnson said on the tape.

Records showed Johnson sold a 36-acre plot of farmland next to the airport in 2005 for nearly $119,000 more than she paid for it three months earlier. A few weeks later, Johnson introduced a bill to the Legislature to promote special airport access for private landowners. It was something Freeman needed to create an industrial park catering to the aviation industry.

Johnson admitted last week she failed to disclose her ownership and sale of the farmland at the time, as required by state law. She reported the deal to the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission after being interviewed by the Oregonian. She also said there was nothing improper about the land sale.

Johnson told the Oregonian she was merely a “link” between Freeman and Stanley Wagner, the former owner of the land she sold. She said her interest was in creating jobs in Columbia County.

Freeman confirmed he agreed to buy the larger parcel of land. He said he’s not sure when the sale will close.


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Busted OEA member released, re-arrested

Clackamas County authorities dropped the most serious sexual abuse charges against Lake Oswego High School swim coach Don King during arraignment today and scheduled him for release.

But as he left Clackamas County Jail about 6 p.m., he was re-arrested by Lake Oswego police on behalf of Albany Police Department and transported to Linn County Jail.

During arraignment in Clackamas County circuit court today, the sexual abuse charges were reduced to two misdemeanor counts of third degree sexual abuse involving a girl, who is under the age of 18. Lake Oswego police on Friday originally arrested King, 66, on felony and misdemeanor sexual abuse charges.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Regan, however, told the court that King was the subject of an ongoing investigation and could face further charges in Clackamas County and other jurisdictions.

In Linn County on today, King was lodged on accusations of two counts of first degree sexual abuse and two counts of first-degree attempted sexual abuse and four counts third-degree sexual abuse. The counts were related to a videotape taken of King at a swim meet in Albany two weekends ago

Lake Oswego police on Friday arrested King, a 40-year-veteran coach and central figure in local swimming communities, after parent complaints about his behavior. At a swim meet in Albany earlier this month, an Albany detective videotaped King and forwarded the tape to Lake Oswego police, which led to the arrest.

Through the weekend, parents and others flooded police and media phones with calls either supporting or criticizing King.


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June 11, 2007

Ethics panel to consider Sen. Johnson's land deal

Democrat Betsy Johnson is known as a state senator with solid policy chops, a wicked wit, and deep roots in Oregon politics. Her father was Sam Johnson - a long-time member of the Oregon House. Now, the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission is considering whether to investigate Betsy Johnson's role in a 2005 land deal.

Last week, the Oregonian newspaper reported that Johnson earned $119,000 from the deal and waited two years to report it Johnson also sponsored a bill that could have affected the land she had just sold. Colin Fogarty reports.

Before we get to state Senator Betsy Johnson, first a word about small town airports. There's a legal term small town airport people know that's relevant to this story. Ingress or egress access is also known as "through-the-fence" access. That's when the owner of a piece of property right next to an airport can legally drive planes through a gate right on the runway for take off. Planes that land there can just taxi back over too. "Through-the-fence" access makes a development just off a runway far more valuable.

Betsy Johnson knows all about small town airports. She's an accomplished pilot and former state aviation director. Johnson and her husband founded an aviation company that sells airplane fuel next to the Scappoose airport. Johnson is also a former commissioner at the Port of St. Helens, which operates the airport.

In 2002, she met Ed Freeman, a Lake Oswego developer interested in staking a claim in Scappoose. Three years later, Johnson brokered a deal between Freeman and a family friend, who owned land next to the Scappoose airport. As reported in the Oregonian, Johnson made $119,000 off the deal. But she says her aim was economic development.

Betsy Johnson: "I make no apology for the fact that I have been interested in creating jobs at that airport - not only creating, but retaining, jobs. We didn't expect to make money on this deal. But we also didn't want it to cost us money. And we accumulated costs, consultants, attorneys, surveys, rezone."

But Johnson concedes those costs did not add up to $119,000. After the deal was complete, Johnson went on to sponsor Senate Bill 680.

Here's where the idea of "through-the-fence" access become important: Senate Bill 680 created a pilot program at three rural airports to allow through-the-fence access as a way to encourage economic development. The Scappoose airport was later included in the program.

The idea of through-the-fence access is controversial because it appears to give those developers special access and could raise airport security concerns. But Johnson believes it spurs economic development.

Betsy Johnson: "The bill was introduced not in an attempt to confer special rights on an individual or a development. It was introduced to say, 'The state of Oregon recognizes that having private entrepreneurship at airports and the investment of private capitol at airports can lead to development jobs and opportunity.'"

Public officials in Oregon are required to name all their financial interests because state law prohibits them from benefiting financially from their public positions. Johnson reported the $119,000 after Oregonian reporters asked her about it.

Betsy Johnson: "We reported. We reported in the wrong year. And I have taken complete responsibility for that. We've amended my filing to economic interest. We made a mistake. Period."

Johnson says the owner of the 36 acres was a family friend and wouldn't sell to anyone but her. She also says that bill to encourage through-the-fence airport access didn't help the Freeman because he already had through-the-fence access under rules at the Scappoose airport.

So far, Johnson's colleagues in the state Senate are reserving judgment. But Vance Day, chair of the Oregon Republican Party, wants a formal investigation

Vance Day: "I mean, when you look at $119,000 profit for being quote unquote 'a link' between two people, why did they need a link in the first place? And then she didn't claim it. Secondly, three four weeks later, she puts legislation on the floor in order to help the guy that she sold the property to. That at least needs to be looked into."

The Oregon Government Standards and Practice Commission will decide whether to do that at its next meeting, June 22nd.

The decision comes just as the ethics commission is getting a boost in funding. In fact, Johnson has supported that funding increase in her role on the budget subcommittee that decides how much to spend on ethics enforcement. The same subcommittee has been considering funding for OPB.

Ethics commission director Ron Berson says the commission will decide whether to start a preliminary review of any possible violation of the law.

Ron Berson: "Before we actually do an investigation, it's hard for me to say whether there was one or not. But at this point, right now, it at least comes to the level when I'm going to come to the commissioners on the 22nd, and ask them to open up that preliminary review."

Johnson has been talked about as a possible candidate for governor in 2010. She hasn't taken that idea off the table. Johnson says she has to first clear her name with her Senate district constituents. And in her words, "After that, we'll see."


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Hoffman backs AFL-CIO over Carpenters

Federal labor regulators say they are moving swiftly to investigate charges that striking drywallers violated federal labor law while picketing Portland's downtown and South Waterfront this week.

Hoffman Construction Co. of Oregon alleges in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board that the carpenters union, among other things, illegally blocked construction site gates, targeted workers not involved in their contract dispute and failed to limit pickets to areas close to the dispute.

Federal law prohibits unions from picketing firms not involved in their contract dispute, something called secondary picketing. Charges of secondary picketing are given expedited review and can result in the NLRB going to court to stop the action, said Richard Ahearn, the agency's regional director in Seattle.

About 1,300 drywallers represented by the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters went on strike Friday against drywall contractors who erect studs, hang sheetrock and install ceilings for Hoffman and other large construction firms.

Pete Savage, regional manager for the carpenters, could not be reached immediately for comment this afternoon.

The alleged incidents took place at The Nines hotel renovation inside downtown's historic Meier & Frank building and at three condo building construction sites along South Waterfront, the charges say.

"When you're an employer like Hoffman, you understand when there is these disputes, there's a protected right to picket," said Paula Barran, an attorney with Barran Liebman representing the construction firm. "But there are also rules to be followed."

Ahern said he expected to complete investigation of one of the charges on Friday.

Construction sites become complex in a strike because they hold multiple companies working on site they don't own, attorneys say. Hoffman and other general contractors deal with the situation by setting up union and nonunion gates.

"The name of the game is to always set up separate gates and keep them pure," said Ross Runkel, law professor emeritus at Willamette University in Salem. "If employees are starting to go in willy nilly, then all the gates are fair game."

On Monday, Hoffman isolated union pickets by setting up a gate specifically for unionized drywall contract workers while directing electrical, plumbing and other trades -- both union and nonunion -- through other gates.

On Wednesday, the carpenters union picketed all the gates, saying it had evidence that gates had been contaminated by drywall subcontract workers walking through other gates to avoid their pickets. Hoffman does not believe the gates were contaminated, Barran said, and as a result filed one of the charges.


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June 10, 2007

Oregon's unethical state Legislature

Employing an arcane bit of legislative gamesmanship, Senate Republicans have presented Senate Democrats with a thorny dilemma - D's must choose which means more to them, the possibility of new taxes or permanent funding for an ethics watchdog.

At issue is a piece of legislation called House Joint Resolution 14, an attempt to refer to the voters a constitutional amendment that would end the quorum requirement - the so-called "double majority rule" for tax elections.

(In 1996, voters approved a ballot measure requiring any new property tax increase needed not only the approval of a majority but that a majority of voters must take part in the election.)

Most Oregonian politicians despise the quorum requirement because it prevents them from pushing through local tax increases simply by scheduling oddball election dates when few voters participate. And the ethical code of a state lawmaker includes hostility toward the initiative process, as Oregon's Legislature typically seeks to have voter-approved measures repealed.

So HJR 14 - aimed at repealing the quorum rule - sailed through the House in April but has now become a little more complicated in the Senate.

Yesterday, the Senate Revenue Committee approved the bill but two Republican members, Bruce Starr of Hillsboro and Gary George of McMinnville attached a minority report, essentially a different version of the bill.

Here's where things get interesting: the minority report calls for appropriating $14.5 million for the permanent funding of the Government Standards and Practices Commission, the state's ethics watchdog.

Demos - including Sen. Betsy "lapse in judgment" Johnson of Scappoose - defeated a similar amendment earlier this session in the Senate Rules Committee and attached a different funding mechanism to Senate Bill 10, which contains a number of ethics reforms.

Before senators can hold a floor vote the version of HJR 14 the Revenue Committee approved, however, they must first vote on the minority report. That vote could put them—and particularly Johnson, who has been under the microscope lately - in the embarrassing position of voting against permanent funding for a stronger ethics agency.

Republicans say they are simply offering a funding method that is simpler and more certain that the Democrats proposal, which would assess government entities across the state to fund the GSPC.

"We think it's a great opportunity to separate our ethics watchdog from those whom it’s is supposed to be keeping accountable," says Michael Gay, a spokesman for Senate Republicans.

Rem Nivens, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, says that a time when the budget is nearly set, the Republican proposal is not a serious option. "It's unclear where the $14.5 million they asking for is going to come from," Nivens says.

As for a Republican effort to embarrass Johnson and other Democrats, Nivens is skeptical such an effort will convince anybody.

"I think it's going to be hard to argue that we don’t care about ethics reform," Nivens says.


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Flying across the ethical line

An experienced pilot and veteran lawmaker like Sen. Betsy Johnson ought to know her way around aviation security and Oregon's public disclosure laws for elected officials. But Johnson seems to have blundered in both areas.

The Oregonian's Brent Walth and Harry Esteve reported Thursday (May 31) that in late 2004 Johnson purchased, and then sold at a hefty profit three months later, 36 acres of farmland in her hometown of Scappoose next to the local airport. Before the land deal even closed, Johnson introduced a bill in the Legislature to promote special airport access for adjacent private landowners.

Johnson revealed nothing about the deal on disclosure forms required of legislators.

When reporters questioned Johnson about the deal this week, the four-term legislator admitted, "I made a mistake," and after the interview was finished, reported the deal to the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission.

Better late than never. But this is a serious ethical lapse by one of the Legislature's most respected lawmakers. Johnson has spent two terms in the House, is midway through her second term in the Senate and was one of two legislators to serve on a 2006 commission charged with proposing new ethical guidelines for the Legislature. Her name comes up in every discussion about likely candidates for governor and other high office.

This isn't a matter of ignorance or inexperience.

Here's what Johnson failed to disclose: In October 2004, Johnson and her husband, John Helm, purchased 36 acres of farmland next to the Scappoose airport for $635,000. In January 2005, the couple sold the land to a developer, Ed Freeman, for $754,950. That's a $119,525 profit in three months.

In February 2005, Johnson introduced Senate Bill 680, which sought to require the state Department of Aviation to promote "through the fence" access at Scappoose and five other rural airports. Such access allows neighboring landowners to move airplanes through the security fence at the airport at will -- and enhances the value of land adjacent to rural airports.

Johnson and other supporters of the bill insist that it was meant to encourage economic development around rural airports. Johnson's bill was amended to make special access voluntary, and the bill identified only the Aurora airport and two rural airports to be named later. Scappoose was later chosen as one of those airports. When the bill came to the Senate floor, Johnson declared a conflict of interest, and voted for it, as Oregon law allows.

All this demands a full investigation by the ethics commission. There may be nothing more here than a failure to properly disclose the land transaction. Johnson insists that Freeman, the developer who purchased her property, would have gained special access to the Scappoose airport with or without her bill.

But such open access is controversial in aviation circles. The Federal Aviation Administration contends that special access raises serious security concerns. Ann Crook, director of the Klamath Falls Airport, said granting special access to public airports is "bad policy."

Johnson served as Oregon's aviation director in the late 1990s, and she's been a pilot for years. She's also one of the most capable lawmakers in Salem.

In this case, though, her sense of navigation failed her.


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