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Governor can make difference

The case of 2-year-old Gabriel Allred provides but the latest example of an appropriate — and timely — opportunity for Gov. Ted Kulongoski to flex his executive powers and intervene when necessary in the affairs of the agencies and boards he oversees. One of Kulongoski’s roles as governor should be to ensure that state agencies and boards act in a manner that reflects the best interests of the public and individuals living in Oregon. We don’t believe that the Department of Human Services fully met that test when it recently decided to separate Gabriel from his Lincoln County foster parents — the only family he has ever known — and deport him to Mexico to live with a grandmother he never has met. The DHS decision is based on the legal assumption that blood and culture, not the existence of a loving family, must trump other considerations when deciding custody. That’s an outdated notion — at best — in a world where families formed by adoption number in the millions. We hope the governor will use whatever authority he has to guide DHS to a more humane solution. At the same time, we would like to see Kulongoski exercise similar executive muscle in regard to other matters of immediate importance to Oregonians. Boards deal with matters of safety In particular, three recent issues have generated widespread concerns among citizens of Oregon: the need for greater security on the MAX light-rail system in the Portland metropolitan region; the lax oversight of the nursing profession by the Oregon State Board of Nursing and the recent decision of the state parole board to release a confessed serial rapist from prison after he had served only one-third of his 60-year sentence. These issues have three things in common: They all involve matters of safety; they all have grabbed the attention of Oregon citizens who want action; and they all fall under the control of governor-appointed boards. While Kulongoski isn’t directly responsible for the actions of the nursing, parole and TriMet boards, the members of the boards serve at his pleasure. In the case of the nine-member nursing board, Kulongoski did — after more than a year of reporting in this newspaper about the board’s failures — finally launch an investigation that led to the departure of the agency’s top two staff members. Reform of the nursing board still has a long way to go, and we hope that Kulongoski will remain engaged. Likewise, the governor should take a more active role in reviewing decisions by the parole and TriMet boards, and he should insist that the people he appoints to these significant public positions are listening to the citizens of the state. Kulongoski has chance to be active The three-member parole board did not have to release Richard Troy Gillmore, 47, who originally was sentenced in 1987 to serve 60 years in prison — but it has voted to do just that. And the TriMet board has a responsibility to protect both the public’s safety and its investment in MAX light rail by insisting that TriMet administrators do a better job of providing train security. When Kulongoski campaigned for each of his two terms as governor, he talked like an activist governor who wanted to do what was right for ordinary citizens. However, he hasn’t always governed that way, preferring at times to stay an arm’s length from legislative processes and the actions of his appointees. We hope his potential involvement in the foster-care case is a sign of renewed activism on Kulongoski’s part and that he will extend his activism into other issues that are of equal public concern.