Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 22, on keeping auditor vote simple
It's hard to find anyone who is overtly hostile to the idea of an independent auditor for the city of Eugene. Plenty of people, however, have questions about details of an initiative measure that would create an elected auditor on steroids. The measure has qualified for the May 2018 ballot, and the Eugene City Council is debating how to respond. Its best course is to do nothing: Let the voters decide the fate of the initiative, and consider the next steps based on the result.
Aside from doing nothing, the council has three options. It could endorse the initiative measure. It could recommend a no vote. Or it could place an alternative proposal on the ballot, one that responds to the most salient concerns about the initiative.
City councilors, collectively or as individuals, can express their opinions on the initiative any time before Election Day. But the council would have to move quickly to write, review and submit an alternative proposal for the May ballot. And no matter how hard the council tried to present its proposal as a fair-minded effort to present an improved version of the initiative, it would be perceived as an attempt to sabotage the competing measure.
The initiative measure includes or omits several provisions that voters will want to examine closely. The cost is high — a fixed 0.1 percent of the city budget, which in the current year would amount to $677,000. With a yearly salary of about $153,000 plus benefits, Eugene's auditor would be the highest-paid elected official in Oregon. Or maybe not in Oregon: The initiative includes no residency requirement, so it's conceivable that the auditor would phone in from somewhere else. The auditor would be free of any kind of oversight except by the voters; there's no citizen advisory committee or any other mechanism of accountability.
To the backers of the initiative — several former City Council members among them — those are features, not bugs. A healthy budget, placed beyond the City Council's reach, would ensure a robust auditing office, they say. A high salary would attract well-qualified candidates, and the lack of a residency requirement would open the position to a nationwide pool of talent. A lack of oversight ensures that no one, particularly the city manager or City Council, could meddle in the auditor's affairs.
It's already certain that voters will weigh these arguments — sponsors submitted nearly 13,000 petition signatures last month to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The council should stand back and await that judgment. The initiative has its genesis in a deep distrust of city government, and those suspicions were widespread enough to result in a successful all-volunteer petition campaign. No matter how well-intended, an attempt by the council to offer an alternative version would be greeted as an attempt to dilute or derail the initiative.
If voters reject the initiative by a wide margin, the council could conclude that voters aren't interested in having a city auditor's office. If it fails narrowly, either the council or the initiative's sponsors could return at a later date with a proposal that addresses voters' chief reservations. And if it passes, the auditor's office would begin its work and either the council or citizen petitioners could propose a charter amendment to address any problems that come to light.
The council should stand back and trust the voters to make a sound and simple up-or-down decision.
Corvallis Gazette Times, Nov. 22, on lower health costs possibly being a SNAP
For years, we've been hearing public health officials make this argument: If you want to lower health care costs in the long run, you need to make investments in programs that help promote healthful habits.
The argument makes sense, but it can be hard in tight fiscal times to fund a program with the idea that the program's payoff will come years, or maybe decades, down the road.
Which is why we were so intrigued by a recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital looking at the link between the U.S. government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program we used to call food stamps, and lowered health care expenditures. (Results of the study were published in November's edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.)
The researchers aimed to explore the links between food insecurity, SNAP and improved health outcomes, as measured in expenditures for health care.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines "food insecurity" as "limited or uncertain access to adequate food." In Oregon, estimates are that 14.6 percent of households experienced food insecurity in the three-year period from 2014 to 2016; that's higher than the 12 percent national rate reported in 2016. (Sadly, it is not at all unusual for Oregon to surpass the national average in a number of these hunger statistics.)
Previous research has shown that, considered separately, both food insecurity and SNAP participation were associated with obesity and a lower-quality diet. That's not a surprise, and there are a variety of reasons why that's true, some of which may not be readily apparent: For example, it sometimes can difficult for low-income people to regularly gain access to nutritious food.
Other research has shown that when those two factors (food insecurity and SNAP participation) were considered together, SNAP participation was linked with a lower body mass index and improved nutrition. Again, that stands to reason.
But the most recent study attempts to put a dollar sign to those earlier findings by examining the association between SNAP participation and health care spending.
The results of that study suggest that, to recast a cliche, an apple a day (or similar nutritious food) can keep the doctor (or at least some medical bills) at bay.
Consider some of the findings:
. SNAP enrollees spent an average of $1,409 less on health care per year than those not enrolled.
. The cost savings also were seen in subjects suffering from chronic ailments: For example, SNAP enrollees with hypertension spent, on average, $2,654 less than nonparticipants with the same ailment. SNAP enrollees with coronary heart disease spent $4,109 less than nonparticipants with the same disease.
The researchers suggested that one possible reason for these findings was that SNAP benefits allowed participants to purchase healthier food that allowed them to manage those conditions at least partially through diet. That would be our guess as well.
But here's where the long-term payoff starts to click in: Compare that money saved with the average monthly benefit per person, which in fiscal year 2017 was $125. You can do the math: We're basically recouping all of that $1,500 annually in reduced health care payments. And for someone with a chronic ailment like hypertension or chronic heart disease, we could be coming out thousands of dollars ahead.
These aren't academic questions in Oregon or the mid-valley. Statistics from the state Department of Human Services from January 2015 suggest that 20 percent of Oregon households — 1 in 5 — were accessing SNAP benefits. In Linn County, the number was 25 percent. In Benton County, the number was 11 percent, but that suggests to us that not enough people in the county are accessing the SNAP services to which they're entitled.
SNAP cuts into the hunger that still stalks the mid-valley, and all of America. That's important. This new study suggests that the program also makes sense as a long-term investment in lower health care costs.
The Oregonian/OregonLive, Nov. 21, calling for the resignation of Sen. Kruse
Apparently, Roseburg Sen. Jeff Kruse has a hard time listening.
When a female lawmaker complained he had touched her breast, her thigh, hugged her and kissed her cheek, the Legislature's top lawyer and human resources administrator sat Kruse down and told him to stop. Other colleagues told him to his face that his actions were inappropriate or witnessed his behavior and chastised him. Yet Kruse kept on touching.
Now, after a month of these controversies and others surrounding the veteran Republican lawmaker, even some of his once-loyal constituents and his local newspaper are asking him to step down.
This time, Kruse should listen.
Sen. Kruse should resign his seat. Kruse owes that to the people of Roseburg, who — because of his bad behavior — have lost their voice in the Oregon Senate. President Peter Courtney wisely stripped Kruse of his committee positions last month as punishment for his flagrant disregard of state laws against smoking in his Capitol office and the allegations of his repeated, unwanted touching. Without those committee roles, Kruse is unable to introduce or shape legislation — and he's not up for re-election until 2020.
Kruse has yet to apologize or demonstrate that he understands that he's made his colleagues in Salem feel humiliated and uncomfortable. When he has commented on the allegations, Kruse had played dumb or spouted old-school lines that these women are just being overly-sensitive and misunderstood his good intentions.
No, Sen. Kruse, society is finally - and thankfully — moving forward, even if slowly. There are rules about behavior that lawmakers and others in powerful positions must play by.
But that's not what Kruse is used to. When asked about his 2016 meeting with the legislative lawyer and human resources administrator about his behavior, Kruse told The Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Fedor Zarkhin that he could have followed their directions better.
"I probably forgot a lot," he told Zarkhin, "I just go back to my normal stuff."
That's not acceptable. And, it's not an answer that's likely to make women who work at the Legislature feel particularly safe, which is a right they have in their workplace.
Unfortunately, Kruse seems to think this episode is a joke. During the interview with Zarkhin in his rural home, Kruse pointed to the TV where a professional baseball player jokingly attempted to kiss his coach. "That was sexual harassment, by the way," he told Zarkhin.
This isn't a joke. Since Kruse can't acknowledge that others don't appreciate his touching and change his behavior, he should clear the way for someone who can take this important role more seriously.
In fact, Kruse didn't have far to look for an example of how to better handle these accusations. Around the same time as Kruse's behavior came to light, state Rep. David Gomberg also acknowledged two informal complaints had been lodged against him for using inappropriate humor, invading people's space and hugging.
The Democrat, who represents the central Oregon coast, responded within hours to the allegations saying that he planned "serious and immediate" steps to address his behavior. He told The Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Gordon Friedman that Oregonians should "expect model behavior from elected officials," and added that to anyone who "I may have offended or made the least bit uncomfortable, I am fully and sincerely sorry."
Only time will tell if Gomberg and others learn from this experience and the high-profile cases playing out nationally in political, entertainment and media circles. Oregon's Legislative leaders promise more sexual harassment training and a review of the legislature's complaint process. That work is well-timed.
But Kruse had a chance. Twice. And by ignoring the earlier complaints and associated warnings he undermined the chance he had to acknowledge his mistakes privately, make adjustments and keep his job. He chose to continue playing by his own rules.
Touching, he told Zarkhin, is a normal aspect of collegial interactions at work. He continued that he wouldn't resign because he's not guilty and "I still have work to do."
So do the elected officials in the Capitol who have wasted time in recent years carefully choosing how they navigate the halls and where they sit to avoid unwanted contact. Please vacate your seat, Senator, and make room for someone who will respect their colleagues and can actually get the work done.
East Oregonian, Nov. 20, on helping each other cope with the perils of aging
America's growing population of older people is often in the news. Nationwide, an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day. And although many have years of good life ahead, there's no getting around the fact that eventually we all need an increasing level of assistance. Since different generations of families often now live far apart, there is more need for locally provided aid, especially in relatively isolated areas like ours.
Physical isolation is a fact of life in rural America. The percentage of Umatilla and Morrow County residents living alone increased considerably from 1990 to 2010, when the last formal census was conducted. And the percentage of people 65 and older jumped by more than 11 percent in Umatilla County from 2000 to 2010 alone.
As we consider our aging population, especially those who become afflicted with dementia and/or Alzheimer's, we know some who are fortunate to have a robust and caring group of friends. This undoubtedly helps people remain independent at an age when others might have been forced to move in with family or seek a professional care setting. Neither option is easy. What used to be called "old folks homes" are few and far between, victims of a changing labor market, more stringent regulations and other factors. At the same time, a lot of seniors are understandably reluctant to leave familiar and well-loved settings. Few want institutional care or to inconvenience family members.
Rural places — including much of Eastern Oregon — have to do an ever-better job of creating and supporting informal networks of people to watch out for one another. Faced with astronomical increases in elder-care costs, governments at every level must support such hometown efforts by adding visiting nurses, coordinators, mentors and trainers. Ensuring that most seniors remain safe and content in their own homes will be expensive, but might be only a small fraction of what institutional care could total.
There are strengths and weaknesses to the "Silver Alerts," which are issued for people who are older than 60, suffering from dementia, and known to be driving. When a vulnerable adult goes missing, local police can choose to alert state authorities. Alerts can then be shared between law enforcement agencies, the media and citizens who have signed up for notifications.
Yet its main tools — illuminated signs on highway overpasses and text messages to cellphones — aren't adapted to sparsely populated areas. At best, perhaps issuing an alert can inspire more intense on-the-ground efforts near a missing person's home. Volunteer search and rescue groups might be key in some future local lost-person case. It's possible to imagine a phone-tree system that would essentially create a posse to fan out and walk every trail and road looking for clues to the missing person.
Planning and prevention
Planning and coordination in the early stages can prevent tragedy later on. Relatives should make sure friends, neighbors and church members know whom to contact in an emergency involving a person whose memory is lapsing. It's also helpful to have people check in on a consistent, predictable schedule.
ID bracelets and GPS navigation devices for affected people who are still driving can make relocating and identifying them much more likely.
As a society, we must not try to pretend these issues won't become more common in the years just ahead. Ours is a place with a proud tradition of self-help, but that doesn't mean we should allow anyone to be forgotten or go without the care they obviously need.
The Daily Astorian, Nov. 20, on Gov. Brown's approach to climate change
To understand why Gov. Kate Brown traveled to this month's United Nations climate change conference in Germany, look back to a meeting of West Coast governors in June.
Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and California Gov. Jerry Brown gathered in Sacramento with Fiji's prime minister, Frank Bainimarama.
Oregon's governor returned home from that meeting energized. Bainimarama had told the governors how their states' efforts to combat global warming gave hope to the Fijian people.
Climate change is real in Fiji, which is why Bainimarama was heartened by the environmental efforts of individual states even though the U.S. officially has backed away from the Paris climate accords. The sea level around Bainimarama's island nation is rising .2 inch each year, forcing villages to relocate, inundating ancestral burial grounds and increasing the salinity of water for agriculture.
Bainimarama is president of this year's climate change conference in Bonn, called COP 23, which ended Friday.
Despite the skepticism of the Trump administration, a U.S. government report released this month says that global warming trends will continue, it is "extremely likely" that human activities are the dominant cause, and the resulting tidal flooding already has affected dozens of U.S. cities.
Oregon officials echo that assessment, saying the Pacific Ocean along the state's 363-mile coastline will rise one to four feet by 2100. The federal report also links climate change to this summer's devastating wildfires in the West.
The three West Coast governors spoke at COP 23. Jerry Brown said most people have other things on their minds, so it's critical to help them understand the urgency of confronting global warming. Inslee characterized the West Coast as a blueprint for "how you build a thriving, innovative economy that combats climate change and embraces a zero-emission future."
Continuing that theme, Kate Brown said that a small state such as Oregon can have a global impact by being a petri dish for innovation.
We hope that she returned from COP 23 energized to confront climate change in concrete ways that help the state's economy — especially in rural Oregon — as well as the environment.
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