Much ado about something?
Port Commissioner Larry Ericksen apparently takes exception with the concerns of the citizens who spoke at the Port meeting on Jan. 18.
I attended that meeting. Commissioner Ericksen attended by phone, as he was in Hawaii.
My first reaction when I entered the meeting room was: Look at all the suits. Global Partners LP had rather impressive representation in order to take care of what was billed as a minor housekeeping issue.
For those of us who recall long oil trains suddenly appearing in the county without any notice given to the community, we should all be very wary of Global Partners and their intentions.
I applaud Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich for taking what the rest of the commissioners may regard as an unpopular vote on the terms of the lease between Global Partners and the Port.
I wish all the commissioners had done their due diligence.
Donald Trump vs St. Helens City Council
Donald Trump in his presidential speech indicated the government was now an open partnership with the people and the governing bodies. When the operation of the St. Helens City Council is looked at somewhat closely, it is obvious this is not true. Much of the limitations in place to keep this from happening were put in for "good sounding reasons," although the actual effect is just the opposite.
Let us start off with the publication of the agenda of the two meetings that make up a St. Helens City Council meeting — the work session and the regular council meeting.
This agenda is published a week before the actual meetings and, in fact, many of the decisions have already been many before they are presented to the public.
In these published works there are instructions for how you are to speak to the council, how you are to be allowed to speak, and the time you are allotted to speak.
The council has the right to cut you off or deny you your right to speak at any time. This speaking time is only at the front end of the meetings. Once the main business of the meeting starts, the public does not have the right to comment on the subject at hand.
A further limitation on speaking at the work session comes with its timing, one o'clock in the afternoon. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau about the city of St. Helens indicates that 80 percent of the workers have commuted to jobs outside the city and are not available to attend this meeting. Add to that the local businesses that are operated by employees, not owners, thereby eliminating them from attending, and about 95 percent of the voting population is excluded from the work session.
Back in the old days when most of the St. Helens population worked at the mill, taking the afternoon off was not possible — again limiting the involvement of citizens from being a part of the city's governance. Could a better partnership be forged if the work session was held at night?
The evening council meeting has the same instructions on how the public communicates with the city government. It is interesting to note that what was discussed in the work session is not continued in the evening council session. In fact, some of the items to be voted on in the evening session are never discussed with the public present.
In state law, there are a number of requirements when discussing spending money, raising taxes or changing ordnances that requires the public to be present. In the published agendas, there is no reference to when these were publicly discussed, or if they were even publicly discussed.
In the city charter there are rules for how executive sessions are to be held, and the publication of the actions of the council in these sessions. The state guidelines also suggest the allowance of news reporters in these meetings. The present City Council excludes everyone from these sessions with no public postings of the minutes (see "Editor's note").
These council meetings are televised. The televised program has some strong shortcomings. First, you cannot participate when you are watching from home.
Second, while the sound has improved, most of the conversations cannot be heard.
The presentation on the home TV screen shows the faces of the City Council, the side of the head of the citizen presenter, and none of the city departments heads.
During a presentation, none of the visual projections or the faces of
the city departments heads can be seen.
A physical arrangement is also in place to intimidate a presenter in the council chambers. The council sits behind a wall, the bench, to the right of the presenter; the city department heads sit behind a wall, the bench, in front of the presenter, and the fellow citizens sit in chairs to the left, while the presenter is all alone behind the small podium. For those who are afraid to speak publicly, that position in the chamber is a scary place to be. Not a place that opens a pathway
for good and complete communication between the public and the council.
Now, if in this day of miniature cameras in cell phones and TV conferencing, why is it not be possible for those at home to view all of the proceedings happening in the council chambers? Why could not comments from the viewers be brought into the council's proceedings?
Or is it the intention to limit the public's partnership in the operation of the city by restricting timing and imposing procedural rules and physical barriers.
It has been said by the council president that they must keep control of the meetings and the committees that they set up.
As an example, during the first council meeting of the year, the president of the council pointed out that a committee was needed to oversee next steps of the waterfront development. About 10 members, or two more people, for the council and the city department heads make up the main body of the committee, just as they did when deciding the form of the waterfront development study that was finished last year.
The openness of the St. Helens City Council to allow active involvement with the community by structure, procedure and tradition is anything but inclusive.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Regarding St. Helens City Council executive sessions: Oregon law allows news journalists to sit in on executive sessions of public bodies such as city councils, but places restrictions on what journalists can report about the content of those sessions — assuming the public body approporiately cites such restrictions at the beginning of the executive session. In our experience, the St. Helens City Council does not bar news reporters from attending its closed executive sessions, which would be a violation of law. DS
Commendation for 'Snowmageddon' response
The Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission wishes to commend Mark Buffington and the maintenance personnel of Region 2 in Clatsop and Columbia counties for the exceptional job in Northwest Oregon during the recent "Snowmageddon" events. Before the snow and freezing rain even began, they were applying de-icer to Highways 30, 47, and 202. Their prompt attention to the forecasted storm conditions and their coordinated efforts with county and municipal roadworkers allowed our residents to return home safely from their places of employment.
Driver preparedness, or the lack of awareness on their part, was perhaps the biggest problem during the events. The use of the de-icer when combined with the application of gravel helped to make driving much safer. Unfortunately, the sheer depth of the snow did not help drivers, as they packed it down to heavy ice.
When possible, the Oregon Department of Transportation and local crews cleared much of the snow and ice as soon as possible.
We heard many comments from drivers about the difference the conditions were beginning at the Multnomah County line at Watson Road. That is where Region 1 began on Highway 30. There had been no application of either gravel or de-icer until the second day at the earliest, except at the Portland city limits.
Many Columbia County residents work in Beaverton and Portland and, with the emphasis on Portland roads, travel on Highway 30 was extremely dangerous. But in Region 2, with the cooperative efforts of all the crews, it was very different. And we wish to thank everyone.
To all our ODOT, Columbia County and city public works personnel, a big "thank you" for the long hours you endured to keep us all safe.
Lynn Chiotti, Recording Secretary
Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission, St. Helens