News and Stories From the Community

Voices From the Crowd: My Thoughts on Vernonia Schools

  I’ve had a year to reflect on the choice we made to uproot our family after seventeen years and move to Vernonia and away from everything we know and everyone we love, including our schools and familiar teachers in the Hillsboro and Beaverton School Districts. 

When recently asked what our thoughts were on our new school situation, my first initial idea was, “I thought I was moving to a nightmare but possibly ended up finding a little bit of heaven.”

We moved from extremely overcrowded schools. My kids succeeded much more in the class rooms in the grade school when they had a good student/teacher relationship. In other words, the teachers knew the kids. In Washington County, once my children hit middle school and high school, it became visible that students became numbers. Classes were overflowing and with these high numbers came a disconnect between student and teacher. With higher numbers, individual needs were next to impossible to meet. This brought the question, “Is the time spent at school truly worth the 6 ½ hours that my children are there? Is it even worth the teacher’s time?” Even the sports programs were overcrowded. Extremely talented players were not able to play because there were simply too many students crammed up into the schools. Deserving players missed the opportunity for experience and scholarships due to the fact of the overcrowded issue. Some of my family described it as “suffocating.”

As a parent, I felt I couldn’t breathe. I was subsequently consumed at all times; consumed with finding other options for my children’s education; consumed with trying to find tutors; consumed with searching for other opportune moments in sports; consumed with over-volunteering to try to help out; consumed with politics to try to fix the budget problems and help avoid cutting programs; consumed with keeping up with my own budget because all the money was going somewhere else to make up the difference missed in school and sports, the very system that I was pouring taxes into already. It was, in fact, suffocating and frustrating.  Read More

Voices From the Crowd-Summer Adventure

SummerAdventureSisters-webHere’s some of the fun and work of capturing new images; climbing the Middle Sister, Oregon.  It’s a monster all day hike on boulder fields and navigating glaciers.

Rockfall danger was bad.  We dodged several falling boulders.  I watched one tombstone at my friend.  I yelled a warning and John quickly dodged it.  It rolled between his legs!  Freaky!


John and Fernie at the Middle Sister summit.

John and Fernie at the Middle Sister summit.

The summit push was tough, steep and somewhat exposed.  We had to climb on all fours, clawing and crawling our way up a loose pumice gravel field that slowly avalanched as we moved.  Fernie,  the  Swedish hound dog, had the advantage here going straight  up on all fours.  But we had to carry her up some steep boulder fields.  Twelve year old dog.  She made it, no problem.  And she ate my Cliff Bar when my back was turned!

Peter Nelson at sunset on Middle Sister.

Peter Nelson at sunset on Middle Sister.

It was so windy at the summit. Blasting lava dust in our eyes.  Almost unbearable, but so awesome to be there.  To shoot photos, hold steady on a rock.  It was cold, my hands were numb. I was getting drilled in the face by dust.  Impressed the photos came out so good, but it’s true, film cameras are tough.  The night was coming and we had to hustle, but the windy sunset skies were so spectacular we kept stopping and awe-ing.  The brilliant alpenglow lasted a few minutes.  Pink, orange and red glowed off the summit.

Darkness fell and we nearly lost the trail.  Two more hours we swiftly walked under fragrant pines and twinkling stars.  It was so much warmer and drier down here at the bottom.  The trail was never ending; are we lost?

Home after a long day on the mountain.

Home after a long day on the mountain.

No, the trail opened up and we were home.

What an amazing day!

Voices From the Crowd-Defending the Co-op

I was once West Oregon Electric Cooperative’s most vocal critic. But now I am hearing criticism so far out that I find myself defending the co-op. Below are statements recently made, followed by a comment:

•  “No entity – Federal, state, county or city has any jurisdiction over co-ops.”  Not so. The co-op operates under the laws of the State of Oregon, ORS Chapter 62. The PUC generally leaves the co-op alone, but comes down hard if we fall behind in our tree trimming. When we borrow money from RUS, a service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have to jump through their hoops. And then there is the IRS, OSHA, etc.

•  “The co-op is undemocratic.”  Not so. The members of the Board of Directors are democratically elected by the membership and represent us in doing the business of the co-op. The board consists of our elected friends and neighbors, trying to do the best job they can. I have not had a problem talking with individual board members. Even if I disagree with their decisions, they deserve my courtesy and respect. Read More

Community… a Continued Series. Time to turn your old treasures into cash!

In our series on community events that bring fun to not only ourselves but to people who come to visit we turn our attention to the very popular Vernonia Community Sale organized by Helen Bateman.garage-sale

In a recent interview with Helen, she told me that Ken Bateman, Gayle Rich Boxman, and Robin help her by taking information from people who call in to sign up. She says that even though the event is separate from Vernonia Realty, it is helpful to have the use of the office, equipment and resources, as well as a nice downtown site for ease in facilitating the event.

I asked Helen what funding was needed to organize the event and she said it really doesn’t take much. The Bateman’s pay for the advertising themselves which includes putting ads in Vernonia, Astoria, St. Helens, and Forest Grove newspapers along with an ad on craigslist the week before the event. She also added that Vernonia’s Voice is great about putting a notice in the paper in the first part of July and running it until the event. Read More

Voices From the Crowd: What I’ve Learned in Six Years as a WOEC Director

This article is a personal effort by me alone to truthfully clarify and inform you about what I think may not be understood or appreciated by many WOEC members.  No other member of the Board, staff or any employee is responsible for its content. The other Board members approved my request to write before I started it.  This courtesy was granted since I’m one of the Board whose term expires in August and there are innuendoes and rumors circulating that need to be cleared up.

Normally the Board of Directors depend on our General Manager, Marc Farmer, or a senior member of the staff responsible for a portion of the co-op’s activities to act as WOEC spokesperson for all information provided to the public in general and our membership in particular.  Why?  Because they are the professional, contracted and paid individuals employed to execute democratically decided and agreed upon plans, policies, rules, regulations and bylaws.

We, the Board, are the members’ representatives and the staff works for all of us.  We are a cooperative.  The fundamental precept is to cooperate.  In part that means that the Board recognizes that the professionals do their job best when we don’t duplicate their efforts.  We don’t work for you, they do.  We are your elected representatives; you don’t employ us.  We accept the challenge and, to the best of our collective abilities, act on your behalf.  We ask for information, examine the facts and make decisions based on the combined desires, opinions, needs and requirements – not of any one individual, faction, district or even our individual selves – but the entire 4,000 plus membership.

If you attend a monthly business meeting of the co-op (one other than the August Annual meeting), you will observe that even though the actions taken by the Board are most times a consequence of unanimous agreement, often they are arrived at only after pro and con discussion and deliberation.  Even when agreement is not unanimous, the results are uniformly represented and enforced – we are a group with no appreciation much less tolerance for dissension once an agenda item is decided.  As circumstances change and the business of the co-op is conducted over monthly, annual, triennial and other cycles, subjects are reviewed and the resulting actions taken may be continued if warranted or modified or reversed as circumstances and specifics of our current situation dictate a change.  Cooperation is the foundation to our existence, but consideration of member resources and how to sustain the efficient, reliable delivery of electric power at the lowest cost drives our decisions.  WOEC is a registered Not-For-Profit, membership owned entity.  The Board and employees never forget that we are spending other peoples’ money.

I think that the last topic is a fundamental reason why we, the Board, have for some time and seemingly continue to be at odds with a small but vocal number of our membership (largely in the Vernonia environs) that has published their intention to (my words here) ‘take over and fix’ WOEC even if it takes three years to do so by electing new Board members as the terms of the present incumbents expire.  When the same questions are asked or explanations are requested and then answers are provided, over and over and over and over – yes, at least four times – it seems to me that the questioners either are not listening or aren’t really looking for answers and information.  Instead it appears that the whole exercise is an effort to instigate and then perpetuate an argument.  This was especially true when the questioners resorted to name calling after about the third time that the answers were provided; as in characterizing the Board members as being either lazy, stupid or dishonest as documented in a letter to the Oregon Attorney General requesting that WOEC be investigated for possible, “… either malfeasance or malpractice.”  I think you will agree that this sort of provocation is not a constructive way of cooperatively identifying and fixing problems.  The answers to many questions may not please anyone but never the less are true when they are factual.  What purpose does an argument serve other than to distract efforts from solving all of the problems at hand?

Paying your bill doesn’t only pay for the power you consumed in the last billing interval.  It pays for the operation, maintenance, repairs, necessary improvements and everything that entails.  That includes the loans that provided the funding for those expenses up to and including thirty years ago.  Cooperatives for Rural Electrification are financed by credit, not by taking funds out of a savings account – we don’t have one.  This way those members who belong to and use the facilities today are paying for the service, not only those who were members when the work was done.  But, the federal financial system that provides the low interest rate loans that make this possible have very strict requirements not only to qualify for and establish the loans, but also to prevent defaulting on repayment.  Parameters that measure and report everything from minutes of outages per member per month to the defaults on WOEC’s accounts (numbers and dollars) by past members who vanish without settling their outstanding bills are monitored as indications of our solvency and trustworthiness.  Too many negatively trending parameters and management control by local Board and hired staff is removed.  Then the federal experts take over with their primary goal of preventing losses.  If that occurs, membership rates and satisfaction become a secondary, at best, consideration.  My reason for including this is to remind you that it isn’t only the decisions made in the last few years that drive the Cost of Service.  Significant contributions that make up your bill are the result of what was and wasn’t initiated or done a generation or more ago.

So, with more expressions of unsatisfied members than those stopping to thank me on the street and the continuing anxiety of all the excruciating details that constitute the responsibility of a Board member that I’ve found out about in the past six years – why have I accepted nomination for a third term?  That is also something I started six years ago and continue to learn about – the people who I work with and those that work for all of us.  It seems that we all notice their service during outages that are fortunately fewer this year.  What I get to experience and grow constantly in appreciation of is how such a small number of people do a phenomenal job.

The Operations, Engineering, Financial and Front Counter employees are my heroes.  I’ve paid attention and noted that membership appreciation is highest when we’ve experienced calamities and ebbs when the power is most reliable.  What I have seen is a team who put membership needs ahead of private concerns during emergencies.  During normal days they’re collaborating in the field, on the phones and in meetings to promote important lessons and striving to find, correct and benefit from any past mistakes.  Safety, efficiency, avoiding waste and protecting membership investment – all the time with a limited, fixed budget – I cannot understand why they have not been recognized as Vernonia’s Citizens of the year.

Management Staff get little credit.  Four dedicated and extremely professional individuals who with twenty employees serve all our needs with diligent leadership, patient and exacting research of requirements and all possible solutions, and never shirk fulfilling the complex requirements to satisfy the federal, state and local industry demands for ever increasing information and reports.  Sustainability isn’t just a motto on the wall.  It is the result of Marc Farmer, Steve Scott, David Western and Sarah Rossi attending to the details now and for the welfare of our future membership long after we are all replaced.

The other six members of our Board of Directors provide a range of individual, professional and life experience and a true practical appreciation for the concerns, preferences and financial constraints of all members.  Sharing insights and observations throughout the month electronically between regular meetings, serving on committees as the needs arise for budget, labor and building issues; always diligently collaborating with the goal being the most effective return when your money is spent.

Last of all, please do ask questions, attend our meetings, study issues and most importantly vote.  Don’t wait for anyone to tell you who to vote for or why to not vote for someone.  Make your own decision based on whatever criteria you have for yourself.  I know some members are still unhappy about the new co-op buildings and the extra $3.00 that is a result in your monthly bills.  Not all Board members were in favor of moving and building new after the 2007 flood.  We studied and examined all the possibilities but initially agreed to only clean up and rebuild the old until two things happened.  First we were ordered to move and build new at the risk of not getting FEMA assistance in the future when flooding occurred again; we could have taken a gamble and at least waited until the economy improved.  But second, a minority of members who voted overwhelmingly did so in favor to move and build new when the Board asked for specific choices by the survey we sent every member.  We ask, listen, learn and act based on membership expressed desires and input in every case when it isn’t destructive.  For the system to work, you need to do your part.  Voting and accepting the consequences is your job.


Bob Paleck is a Representative of the West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC) Board of Directors for District 5 (Timber – Buxton – W. Vernonia) and has been nominated for re-election in August.

Voices From the Crowd: We Need to Support the Arts in Our Schools

Let me first start by saying that I know times are hard and money is scarce, but it’s not going to get better any time soon. Excuses can continue to be made, but it’s time to bring back the support for the arts in our community before they are cut all together.  Our community use to thrive on the Arts, from community theatrical Melodramas to outstanding artists.

Many of you know or remember me as the Art teacher in Vernonia from 1977 – 2004.   I was teaching there when the Arts were supported on every level from the School Board, superintendent, principals and community.  Darrel Proehl, superintendent at the time of my hiring, went out of his way to make sure that Vernonia had one of the strongest art programs in Oregon, if not the nation.  I will be tooting my own horn here a bit and may sound as if I’m bragging (which I am), but from 6th- 12th grades our program gave the student’s everything when it came to mediums in Art.   Read More

Voices From the Crowd: Marijuana Under the Microscope

The article on marijuana in the April 4 edition of Vernonia’s Voice contains so much false information that it is difficult to know where to start, so let’s begin with the headline.  “Science of Drugs: Marijuana” implies that marijuana is a drug.  It is not a drug.  It’s a plant – and a relatively innocuous one at that.

The article rightly states that the plant is illegal under Federal law.  A little history lesson is appropriate to understand how that came to be.  Prohibition of alcohol ended in 1933 with the repeal of the 21st Amendment.  One of the immediate effects of repeal was that several thousand Federal law enforcement officials were no longer needed since there were insufficient illegal intoxicants to justify their continued employment.  Enter one Harry J. Anslinger, who relentlessly spread propaganda about a powerful new threat among us – a mysterious “drug” known as marijuana.  Among the claims he made are, “Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”  And, “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.  Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

That was the justification used to make marijuana illegal. Read More

Voices From the Crowd: Anton Killed the Boar!

My grandfather Clint used to reminisce about his youth in a small Iowa farming town that was settled by Swedish immigrants.

He was part of a pack of teenage boys who were prone to getting into trouble if they weren’t fully employed doing some kind of useful work.

The boys, on this particular day happened to be at Anton’s family farm.  Anton’s dad gave the crew a job.  He told them to go and butcher a hog.  These young men had grown up helping to make meat so this should have been a routine request.  But unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Anton, with the maul and knife, left his accomplices at the gate and tiptoed into the hog lot.  It was full of sleeping pigs.  He picked out a large, fat one and with a mighty swing of his big hammer, dealt a crushing blow between the eyes of his intended victim.

The rest of the pigs erupted and scattered in a squealing mass of confusion.  Poor Anton was left standing alone over what he now realized was the herd boar.

The pedigreed boar was the most valuable animal in the pen.  Unless a boar has been castrated and allowed to heal for several months it’s meat is inedible.

As Anton began to grasp the seriousness of his mistake there arose from his buddies, just outside the fence, the now famous cry, “Anton Killed the Boar!”

Knowing a bit about teenage boys I suspect that they were both horrified at the trouble they were in and delighted by the cosmic joke that they had been privileged to participate in.

The story quickly spread around the community and over time became part of the local folklore.

More than fifty years later, when visiting back home, grandpa stepped onto main street and with an exaggerated Swedish accent shouted out…

“Anton Killed the Boar!”

A white haired loafer on a bench laughed and gramps knew he’d found a member of his old gang.

Voices From The Crowd: Just Another Day in the Life of a Timber Faller

I was working for Don Hood back in the early 80’s.  We were on a job off of Keasey Road where we were thinning a fifty year old Douglas Fir stand that had big old growth cedar snags scattered throughout.

One morning my boss led me up to the biggest snag on the claim.  It was situated just below the top of a deep canyon.  There was a skid road pushed to within 100 feet of the snag’s base.  The boss asked me if I thought I could wedge it uphill onto the skid road.

I looked it over pretty carefully, walked around the snag a couple of times, judged it to have only a slight downhill lean and told him I thought I could. Read More