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Letters published July 15, 2016

CRFR fostered a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture

Clean Columbia County has a radio program on KOHI every Odd Friday (also the name of the show). On our last program, July 1, we mentioned there was a particularly salacious issue brought up at a Columbia River Fire and Rescue meeting. The phones immediately began to ring and the entire program was sidetracked. Calls kept coming even after the program was over. More than a few listeners called to say these rumors had been around for years and they were glad to know it was finally getting some attention.

It seems there is a secret at CRFR. It involves sexual harassment at the most, or sexual misconduct at the least, that went on for years. The perpetrator, no longer employed at CRFR, was in a position of authority. The secret has lived in the shadows until recently.

We know this much for fact: The CRFR board of directors was concerned enough to authorize an independent investigation. The final report of the investigation was submitted some time ago. What does it say? Well, both private citizens and media have filed requests under the Oregon Public Records and Meeting Law, but these requests have been ignored. When asked why, the former board president said it was under advice of their lawyer.

I immediately thought of all the emails that became public in the former Gov. John Kitzhaber/Sylvia Hayes scandal. I’ll bet their lawyers advised them not to make this information available to the public either, but they had to. Why? Because they are public figures and therefore this is public information. It is no different at the fire department. The only difference is money. The public’s right to know, it seems, now has to be enforced by someone hiring a lawyer.

At this week’s board meeting the former board president also made a stunning remark about forgetting the past and moving forward. If this issue were just a “mistake” he might have everyone’s agreement. However, this issue, if true, involves a systemic disregard of appropriate oversight at the level of the agencies Human Resources department and the chief of the district. Their failure to act in a timely manner left no redress available to the victims and fostered a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

There is hope for transparency at CRFR under the direction of a new chief and a new board president. We encourage and support them not to leave this issue in the realm of innuendo and gossip where it will never be resolved and will continue to foster a culture of distrust. Open it to public scrutiny. Deal with it. Then, and only then, can you hope to move on and put it in the past.

Nancy Ward

Clean Columbia County

Where is the openness and transparency?

I received a phone call a short time ago from a person who had some interesting information for me. I was told the city of St. Helens was considering purchasing a piece of land located at 970 Oregon St. I also learned the owner’s name and the approximate amount of the asking price — $300,000.

I decided to check it out.

The property turned out to be full of high grass, gravel and rather decrepit metal buildings apparently used for storage.

I then went to the offices of the county assessor and the county clerk.

I received a copy of a contract signed in December 1986 executed by Citizens Financial Services and Joint Ventures in the amount of $165,000. I then was able to locate a quitclaim deed filed in June 1992 indicating the contract had been paid in full.

I expect you are wondering why this information is of any interest to you and to me. The buyer on the contract and the grantee on the quitclaim deed is none other than St. Helens’ 28-year incumbent Mayor Randall R. Peterson.

It is my understanding from talking with previous and current council members that the mayor insists all council members agree on a proposal before it is presented to the public in order to present a unified front. I have never heard of dissuasive arguments among the council members.

I have no problem with what Peterson owns. I do, however, have a problem with him offering the property for sale to the city when he is the mayor of St. Helens.

I then had a conversation with City Manager John Walsh. He assured me Peterson would have nothing to do with the negotiations if and when the city decides to purchase the Peterson property. I find this hard to accept.

Mr. Walsh was forthcoming in admitting that this deal has been discussed in executive sessions of the council meetings and no information has been released to the public. He did admit that his preference would be for more open discussions rather than the executive sessions in which the public is not allowed.

Councilperson Susan Conn joined us briefly and asked if my objection was that the property was owned by Peterson or if I objected to the property being purchased in the first place.

That answer is twofold. First, I would object to any publicly elected official having a say over where my tax money is spent if it is going to be spent to benefit that elected official. That is just common sense of propriety.

Second, when asked the purpose of purchasing this property, once again Mr. Walsh answered my question willingly. It seems the city now owns property, consisting of approximately 5-6 acres, beginning at Deer Island Road and including all the city shop property — with the exception of the Peterson property.

According to Walsh, adding the Peterson property would be an “assemblage” of this area and would provide a “larger, more meaningful” package in order to possibly relocate the city shops and sell the property as a strip mall or another Wal-Mart type box store.

This area is closely adjacent to railroad tracks with a rock quarry across the road. Even light industrial development would be hard to come by. The Port of St. Helens has been unable to attract clean industry for many years. I cannot imagine how the city of St. Helens believes they can.

Does it not even enter the minds of our public officials that limiting this type of negotiation to “executive sessions” and making this kind of decision without input from the community is not exactly the forerunner of openness and transparency?

Does the City Council even consider that there are over 30 closed and second-hand businesses on the main street in St. Helens?

I believe the city is playing a poor hand of poker with the taxpayers’ money and I definitely object to that. My uncle taught me how to play poker when I was five years old. He told me to never bet on what’s coming if you do not have a good foundation to begin with.

Openness and transparency has been the mantra of most every person running for office in the past year. Almost every candidate’s campaign flyer declared that was their main goal.

What happened to that promise?

Nancy Whitney

St. Helens

Buglers wanted

Every day, 1,800 veterans pass away. They were promised “Taps” when they were buried. A live performance of “Taps.” But with the downsizing of the Armed Forces, most are being buried with a recorded “Taps,” or none at all.

This could be stopped.

A nonprofit organization called Bugles Across America is looking for trumpet or other horn players in our area to play “Taps” for our veterans. Members volunteer to play “Taps” at veterans funerals and other events honoring our fallen heroes. The volunteers range from grade school age musicians to retirees in their 90s.

We hear businesses and others saying, “Thank you for your service.”

If you play a trumpet or other horn, you can make sure our veterans get this last honor with a live performance of “Taps.”

The local American Legion Post 42 and the Catholic War Veterans are requesting local musicians sign up and take the audition with Bugles Across America at www.buglesacrossamerica.org and volunteer to give our deceased veterans this final honor. At this time, we have one “Taps” player in our area. If you play a horn please go to the website and sign up. The veterans served you, now you can serve the veterans by playing “Taps” for them.

Our motto, “Lungs Not Batteries,” can also be yours. If you are interested, go directly to the website and register. Locally, you can call me at 503-706-6693 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

If you do not volunteer, who will?

SFC Bernard Offley

U.S. Army, Retired

St. Helens