Letters published Feb. 5, 2016
With the PUD, sometimes the miniority is right
Being intrigued by the effort to recall Columbia River Peoples Utility District Board Director Craig Melton, I attended the last PUD meeting on Jan. 21.
One comment I heard repeatedly reflected surprise that so many people were in attendance, and where was everyone months or years ago?
As for me, turmoil that results in a recall coupled with higher costs for my energy provider finally got my attention. Friends of the CRPUD, the group opposing the recall effort, suggests that a ratepayer cannot really understand whats going on at our PUD without attending meetings. They claim David Ehrenkranz, who decided to initiate the recall of his representative on the board Melton as a resident of Subdivision 2 is proof of this.
Its like suggesting one cannot know Congress is dysfunctional without attending sessions of Congress, or newspaper reporters really dont report, and ratepayers cant read.
In some matters of financial and policy consequence, we have a split PUD board. Its as if sides have been taken regardless of the merit of the issue.
Jake Carter, Harry Price, and Craig Melton form the majority. Dave Baker and Richard Simpson make up the minority.
As an example, at the last meeting Richard Simpson opposed immediate adoption of a newly written board governance policy. After reviewing it during a recent four-hour work session, he went home and considered it further. And decided he wanted more time. In a 3 to 2 vote Baker and Simpson were denied further review. As passed, Section 3.9.2 of this policy muzzles Board members from communicating with the public particular (controversial) issues until the Public meeting which certainly diminishes public awareness and transparency.
The PUD has a new liability insurance provider. Ultimately, an upper management purge resulted in a lawyers dream suit. While Melton ran on a platform of transparency, what may have became transparent to Special Districts Insurance Services was stability trumps turmoil, especially when turmoil resulted in a $7 million lawsuit as four terminated PUD managers (accounting and finance, engineering and operations, risk and administration, information and technology) are alleging, among other things, wrongful discharge. All claim exemplary work records. SDIS did not renew the liability policy effective January 2016. Costs for insurance have risen, along with deductibles.
Life often shows us that, among other things, experience matters. The trinity voting block on the Board (Carter-Price- Melton) have a total of five years experience as CRPUD ratepayer representatives.
The minority, Baker and Simpson, hold 42 years experience. Since December 2014 there has been three interim General Managers. Pure upheaval. What once was a highly respected PUD has disintegrated into a swamp of litigating bedlam.
Sometimes the minority can be right.
Three things seem obvious to me, having no familial attachments or acquaintances at the PUD. One, the ratepayers deserve to know that David Ehrenkranz, the involved ratepayer and activist, along with Board members Dave Baker and Richard Simpson are working in their interest. Two, while attending board meetings may help an individual in understanding personalities and group dynamics, anyone believing they are getting full background on the most contentious issues is mistaken. Three, if you are a friend of chaos at our PUD, maintain the status quo.
If you believe, as I do, that the efficiency of the PUD for at least two decades had been remarkable, then recall Craig Melton for a beginning to the end of this mayhem.
Friends of CRPUD has voters best interest in mind
The Friends of CRPUD gives facts to voters. The recall committee misleads them. For an example, heres whats wrong in recall committee member Darrel Purkersons latest letter:
The $1 million the PUD spent on the building expansion in 2013-14 was not because of a moisture problem. That problem was dealt with in 2009, when Purkerson was board president. The upgrade to the fire suppression system was only necessary because of the building expansion.
Did the PUD need more space?
Many employees didnt think so because there were plenty of empty cubicles around.
Purkerson cant blame Craig Melton for Kevin Owens and the attorneys quitting. They left before Melton took office, and never gave him a chance as a board member.
When Owens left, he got a settlement for $130,000 from the old board. They did this knowing he was being investigated by the Bureau of Labor and Industries for illegal employment practices, and the findings would be released soon. A few days later, BOLIs report found substantial evidence against Owens. Maybe the old board knew that was coming.
The recallers also mislead people about the general manager changes. The first GM asked to resign. The second GM asked for a guaranteed contract and a big raise, even though he knew the board was completely against it. When the board said no, he ranted to employees that Owens did the right thing in giving other managers guaranteed contracts contracts the current board didnt know about. Its no wonder they replaced him.
The current general manager, John Nguyen, is doing a great job. Purkerson ignores Johns 28 years with the PUD, and the fact that he is trusted and well-respected by employees, who are happier now. John has also done what management couldnt do the last few years balance a budget.
How can Purkerson place blame on the new board when it was the old board that approved the 2015 budget with a $2 million cash drawdown? The new board stepped in, cut costs, and approved a balanced budget in 2016 to keep our rates and cash steady.
Nobody, including Purkerson, seems to know why Special Districts Insurance Services (SDIS) cancelled the PUDs coverage, but its not because of litigation costs. Clatskanie PUDs settlements have cost SDIS millions more in the past few years, but they never got dropped. Maybe it was because former PUD manager Val Koss was on their board of trustees. Its ironic that SDIS now has to defend the PUD against claims from Koss.
Purkerson continues to claim that board decisions are being made outside of meetings when thats completely false. If he took the time to review minutes, he would see that every decision was voted on at board meetings. The board members who are now complaining to him are the ones that are getting outvoted, and have joined with him on the recall efforts.
I think Purkerson still holds a grudge for losing his board seat to Jake Carter. Purkerson liked the board member perks like PUD health care and trips to Washington, D.C., and Alaska, which were paid for by the customers. Lucky for us, new board members Melton, Carter, and Price are not like that. Theyve made it a point to cut these kinds of expenses.
Please join me in voting no on the recall against Craig Melton.
We cannot support a recall thats ruining the PUDs reputation and doesnt help this community succeed.
What is the recall group really trying to do, anyway? They arent making anything better for anyone.
I am writing in support of a special transit district
I have read letters against the proposed ballot measure written by retired people and disabled veterans. Perhaps they are fortunate enough to still be able to drive or to have family members who provide transportation, but that can change. My sister lost the ability to drive and now relies on me and on public transportation. Without the help CC Rider provides, I would be overwhelmed. She does not count among the pathetic 1 percent ridership letter-writers cite, based on an article in the Chronicle. That article referenced a survey of commuters, 1 percent of whom rely on public transportation.
However, CC Rider also serves many non-commuters who rely on it for rides to appointments, the pharmacy, the grocery store and visits to family. For those on a fixed income myself included paying taxes is hard. But I look at it as a kind of insurance. The tax I would pay each year for the special district would be less than the cost of one round-trip by taxi between Scappoose and St. Helens ($30). Round-trip by taxi to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland costs $120. I would rather pay the taxes now and know that public transportation will be there for me if I need it than worry about being faced with prohibitive transportation costs down the road.Deciding how to vote on last years rock depletion fee measure was one of the hardest choices Ive ever made. Much as I value public transportation, I didnt think a fee for one industry was a fair way to support it. A special service district is much fairer, and will provide the stability CC Rider needs.
Were the only county in the region that doesnt have a tax for public transit. I hope that the many people who voted for that measure will support this one.
No more Hyding; Tardif for change
If you are tired of the same old failures and business as usual, it is time to replace Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde with Alex Tardif, a graduate of the University of Portland with a degree in accounting. Mr. Tardif is a candidate who will bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas to the county, including a plan to incorporate all communities in discussions, which will result in a better overall county a candidate who demands transparency, financial responsibility and sustainability through well-managed growth.
We have the chance to make a positive change for Columbia County. Please consider voting for Alex Tardif for county commissioner, Position 3, this May.
Here are a few reasons why I will be casting my vote for Alex Tardif for county commissioner, Position 3.
County Commissioner Tony Hyde has been part of and orchestrated some very inept economic decisions in the last 20 years which have been a detriment to the financial stability of the county and to its taxpayers.
Commissioner Hyde must shoulder his responsibility for his part of these failures, which have cost the taxpayers in the county millions.
Do we want to continue down the same path of failures and poor decision-making when the results are county debt of approximately $70-plus million and a 20 percent loss of non-farm related jobs?
Do we want to continue supplementing corporations who either do not need tax abatements or are not financially sound to begin with? Several companies have come and gone at the Port Westward money pit under the leadership of the last 20 years.
Also, under the same leadership, a jail was built too large for our needs but was built on the Field of Dreams theme build it and they will come. This jail was going to be enlarged to 500 beds if Commissioner Hyde had his way. Thankfully, the moneylender disagreed with Hydes poorly thought out proposal or we would be deeper in financial straits than we already are. Our current jail obligations are losing money at this time.
I could continue on with the history of poor decision-making by Tony Hyde, but space is limited. Its time for a change. Its time to move in a positive direction. Vote Alex Tardif for county commissioner, Position 3.
A breath of fresh air
Have you been outside lately, when the clouds have parted and the sun shines for a few brief minutes? If so, have you taken a deep breath and inhaled the faint hint of spring, new life and vitality?
Of course this is a metaphor, and I will use it in this letter.
Let me remind you of a few instances of new life and vitality showing up in Columbia County. Last May, we elected two new Port of St. Helens commissioners who are already making an improvement in the transparency at the Port.
Earlier last summer, the legalization of marijuana was passed by the voters. I am not saying I agree or disagree with this but when the city and the county did not want to accept the decision of the majority of the voters, a younger generation of citizens came out with an impressive demonstration to voice their indignation at the majority vote not being accepted ... another breath of fresh air.
We just heard last week that Global Partners LP is not going to continue to ship Bakken crude oil through Columbia County. This appears to have occurred only because it has ceased to be profitable to Global and not because of any interjection of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners or the Port of St. Helens. I doubt Global Partners will sink millions more into Port Westward to reopen this failed venture.
So, go outside and take another deep breath. At least you do not have to worry about crude oil explosions. You just have to worry about paying for the approximately $50 million to $72 million already sunk into Port Westward by most of your current elected leaders.
Another particularly exciting breath of fresh air is a man from Scappoose named Alex Tardif. I had the pleasure of meeting him today at one of the meetings to help kick off his campaign to win Position 3 on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
Every person at the meeting was profoundly impressed with Mr. Tardif his ideas to bring Columbia County out of the rut in which it has been ensconced for 20 years, his knowledge of what is right and what is wrong with our county, and, most importantly, how he can help to fix it. All of us at this meeting signed on to help Tardif in his run against Tony Hyde, the incumbent commissioner.
Hyde has been in office far too long for one person to hold an elected position. If he could not complete his goals in four years, or even eight years, then he needs to move on to something else. Twenty years in office is unacceptable.
Take a deep, deep breath of fresh air and make a point of listening to Columbia County Board of Commissioners candidate Alex Tardif. He will change your view and hope of what an elected official can and should be.
Show me the money-handling
Tony Hyde is, presumably, running for another term as county commissioner. And he is being challenged by someone much more qualified.
First, the more qualified candidate. Alex Tardif earned his bachelors degree in business administration with a degree in accounting from the University of Portland. He later became a tax professional and worked as a tax auditor for the state of Oregon. When he left the public sector, he began working as a tax consultant specializing in departmental cleanup and organization in the private sector.
Translation: this guy knows math.
During Commissioner Hydes tenure, the Depletion Fee Ordinance was approved by the voters to compensate the citizens of Columbia County for the loss of a nonrenewable resource and for road repair. It was never enforced. Voters were ignored and the commissioners, including Mr. Hyde and the gravel companies, got it their way. As if we didnt need the money.
Now the commissioners, including Commissioner Hyde, want to establish a special district to be funded by property taxes in order to fund the CC Rider. This will be on the May ballot. Another property tax.
Mr. Hyde was one of the main supporters of the new jail. It was built but it soon became apparent that the county could not afford to staff and operate it. Property owners were asked to throw in additional property taxes, being fearful of the threat of increased crime. It was passed and now, three years later, they want more money.
The jail houses federal prisoners. This was intended to be a money-maker for the jail, but that doesnt necessarily appear to be the case. Columbia County receives significantly less than Multnomah County receives to house federal prisoners, and what we charge has not increased as has Multnomah Countys, despite inflation. This would be funny if it werent so pathetic the commissioners dont know if they make money or lose money on the federal prisoners. They have had three years since the last ballot measure to find out, but they cant do the math.
And then the hospital, that never-received approval from the state of Oregon but the former Columbia Health District board bought and improved the property on Millard Road anyway. And the state did not approve it. We all received a pittance in the form of a credit on our property taxes.
The commissioners, including Commissioner Hyde, have given the property to the city of St. Helens rather than selling it and refunding taxpayers.
But $8 million has gone missing from the hospital debacle. If anyone knows where it is, nobodys telling. Poof!
Commissioner Hyde has been in office for nearly 20 years. During this time, Columbia County has lost nearly 20 percent of our non-farm related jobs and our county indebtedness has risen to over $72 million.
I bet Alex Tardif wouldnt have sided with the commissioners on these debacles that have cost taxpayers millions, because he could have done the math. Lets elect someone who is qualified to handle our money. This is the most important skill a commissioner can have.
[Presidential candidate Ted Cruzs] ... theory that he can win ... with a hard-edged conservative message, as quoted in the article Trumped in Iowa, published in the Feb. 2 edition of the Wall Street Journal, may be true, but theres more.
From the jump, Cruz was the only candidate to tell corn farmers he would repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard ethanol subsidy. That he never wavered on this was underlined by Iowas governor late in the campaign, when he said not to vote for Cruz because of it.
Could it be that Iowans were impressed by Cruz because he demonstrated a courage to do whats best for the country and not give in to the most pressing special interest which at that moment was, well, Iowa?
Our very own armed violent occupiers
With the armed gang occupation of the Harney County Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility now finally ending, perhaps Sheriff Jeff Dickerson would be willing to learn from the experience. He could at least make an attempt to address the group of armed and violent fools, thugs and criminals who believe they have the right to occupy and harm private property in the forests of Columbia County. Land that they do not know, own, take care of, or care about.
The group that pretends they are honest men trying to feed their families, when the reality is that they steal their family resources so they can get high on booze and drugs, play illegally with their guns, and destroy a valuable public resource for their love of killing. The freezer is empty, and so is the bank account, and those of us who actually do care about the forest, the community, the wildlife, and laws, rules and morals, suffer.
We cannot continue to pretend that the reason the forests have been hidey-holes for criminal activity is due to a lack of funding for law enforcement. It is not for decades, the problem has been a simple lack of will by a law enforcement entity that is heavily laden with supporters of the group that causes the problem. Data sources and relationships that could significantly help in removing criminal activity from the forests and rural areas of the county are simply ignored. There are too many hunting supporters in the organization and too much propaganda by the real corporate villains the violence industry that can only survive by assisting in harming the people and the natural world.
The local media also bears blame they profit from the harm. Over the last few months, various entities have claimed that big, mean corporate forestland owners are stopping access to their land because of a tiny amount of garbage dumping. Here is some news, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter: The standard hunter phrase that, A hunter that commits a crime is no longer a hunter. He is a poacher. All hunters are good, is done. A poacher is both a hunter and a criminal. Hunters are the majority of illegal off-roaders, illegal target shooters, log thieves, armed trespassers and many others.
I urge non-hunters that wish to regain non-harmful access to watch and count. The forests of Columbia County are 94 percent privately owned, and about a third of that is owned by smaller forestland owners, such as us. The wildlife is owned by all the public, and it is not in good shape there are lots of young ones, and zero mature animals. Every year, hunters do the wildlife equivalent of going to the local high school and killing all the senior class.
As a forest owner, here is the situation: If I came to your home, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, and did the rotten things that you have done to us, you would want me dead. You do not provide a financial benefit to our county, and your behavior has forced the closure of the local forests to all because your group continues to live in a nasty, ignorant, arrogant, deeply dishonest and routinely criminal fantasy world.
Get the armed fools out of the forest and maybe Columbia County can regain safe access to some of the most enjoyable areas in the world.