Voices From the Crowd: Columbia County at a Crossroads

There was a time in America when partisan politics had limits. Republican President Ronald Reagan lay motionless in his hospital bed after losing half the blood in his body from an assassination attempt that had pierced his lung, leaving the bullet lodged an inch from his heart. The first person the President received was Speaker of the House Tip O’Niell; a Democrat and staunch liberal. Taking the President’s withered hand, O’Neill knelt at the bedside and recited the twenty-third Pslam, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as the President whispered the words along with him. Once finished, the Speaker kissed the President on his forehead and left the room; tears welling up in the big man’s eyes. It’s sad to admit this, but it’s unlikely such an encounter would happen today.

Columbia County is at the crossroads of an issue swept under the rug for almost a decade; public safety. This is an issue that should unite both sides of our partisan divide. Voters have repeatedly denied the funding necessary to operate a safe and effective sheriff’s office, including the jail. Each time the levy has failed, no one who voted against it has stepped forward to provide solutions. I respect those arguments claiming money is already in the county coffers to pay for the jail; however, you must explain “where” and “how.”

We all knew this preverbal can was being kicked down the road; now it’s reached the dead end. Our jail will close by early summer. What exacerbates the problem are the employees who currently work there, leaving, to seek stable employment. Having to refill those positions by removing patrol officers from the road makes us less safe and creates more issues.  Read More

An Opinion: Some Other Ways of Looking at High Electric Bills

By Scott Laird


Did any of you experience a little sticker shock when you opened your West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC)  bill last month?  Many of you have expressed surprise when you opened that  bill right before Christmas.  Everyone knows we have high electric rates in Vernonia.  We can debate the reasons and whether they are fair or necessary until the cows come home.  Unfortunately, at least a portion of those high rates are just part of living in a rural area with an extremely rural service district like ours.   There are reasons our rates are so high, reasons we have little control over.  But there some areas over which we do have some control.

Over the last few weeks I have talked with numerous people about their electric bills and followed several discussions on Facebook.  Obviously some people are upset at the high bill they received; others are more understanding.  Still others didn’t experience a huge increase and are basically satisfied with their local utility.

In other words, there are a myriad of ways Vernonians can view their electric rates as well as  ways we might try to deal with those rates.  If we can’t control high rates, at least we can try to understand them.

First of all, electricity is a wonderful convenience that offers those of us who live in the modern world many comforts and amenities.  Just think about all the ways you may use your electric service in any given day.  Your alarm clock goes off; you turn on lights around your home; turn on the heat, air conditioning or fans; turn on your coffee maker, take a hot shower; cook or make your breakfast, using food from your refrigerator and freezer,  on your stove or in your blender; run a load of dishes in the dishwasher; turn on your computer and check and send emails; turn on the cable television to check the news; put in a video for the kids to watch; wash and dry a load of laundry, run the vacuum cleaner, run power tools in your shop, fill your car tires with air from your air compressor, charge your cell phone, make copies on your printer… and on and on and on.  Hopefully you get the idea.

Many of us were without power last week when a log truck knocked down a power pole on Bridge Street and once again had the opportunity to experience firsthand living modern life without the convenience of electric power.

If your electric bill was $300 last month, you paid $10 a day for all those conveniences.  When I look at it that way it actually seems like a pretty good deal. I feel like I get a lot for my money and others have told me the same.

That’s one way of looking at your high electric bill. Read More

An Opinion: It was Time for a Change at City Hall

On Tuesday December 11, 2013 the Vernonia City Council voted to fire City Administrator Bill Haack.  This somewhat surprising news caught most citizens off guard.  While some locals greeted the news  with open arms, others were shocked by this seemingly sudden decision.

Although unexpected, the dismissal of Haack by the Vernonia City Council was not sudden and was the right move for the City.

Haack’s three-and-a-half years as Vernonia City Administrator have certainly been tumultuous.
He has been an enigma in many ways, popular and capable, yet often difficult to understand and work with.  In the end, it was this difficult-to-work-with component of his persona that led to his falling out with the City Council.

I can’t discuss all the details that went into Council’s decision to fire Haack, as this is a private personnel issue.  All of the discussion by Council took place in several closed Executive Sessions.  But it was obvious in recent public meetings that  Council was growing unhappy with Haack’s administrative style.  Trouble was already brewing during the budget process last spring, as Council and Haack grappled over management of  tight finances.  Haack’s manner and communication style were grating on some members of  Council.  It all came to a head when the Council expressed displeasure with the project management on the Wastewater Upgrade Project and decided it was time for a change of direction at City Hall. Read More

An Opinion: No Support for Sheriff…Again

Another Columbia County public safety levy has failed, this time with a lowly 39% voter turnout. “Get a gun,” is the answer that echoes from the very bottom of the intellect barrel. This is nothing more than a short-sighted remedy, mostly from angry Face Book trolls who waste hours of their lives posting tough-talk rhetoric with gun graphics depicting these grand scenarios of just exactly what could happen if thieves dared enter their home.

Frankly, this is a tired, ill-witted response based on pure ignorance. I own a gun — actually a few of them — and yet this still doesn’t make me a crime fighter or you either. If owning a gun is a substitute for a competent sheriff’s department, then owning a garden hose is a substitute for the local fire department. It’s no secret that criminals who break into homes also have guns that are just as powerful as the gun the home owner carries.  Perhaps at that point, it just might not be a bad idea to have a few of those deputies they insist on not supporting, respond to their calls while they attempt to defend themselves?  Read More

An Opinion Pass the Jail Levy

On November 5, Columbia County residents will be asked to vote in a special election.  On that ballot will be Measure 5-234 which proposes a tax levy to raise funds for operation of the Columbia County Jail.

In 1998 Columbia County voters approved funding for the construction of a new jail with a 225 bed capacity.  The jail had no corresponding funding for operations.  The county  has depended on renting beds space to the federal government which is an undependable source of revenue.

The County meanwhile has had to cut bed space they fund due to a General Fund deficit, leading to space shortages and the early release of prisoners.  Right now Columbia County is only able to fund 25 beds in their own jail.

The proposed levy of  $0.5797/per $1,000 of assessed value would provide funding to restore 75 beds for local use as well as funding additional staff for the jail.

Columbia County residents have been notoriously unwilling in the recent past  to support funding for the Sheriff’s Department,  twice rejecting  levies that would have provided additional patrols on our county roads.  This levy is somewhat different as it directly impacts city police as well. Read More

An Opinion: You Don’t Have To Like the Rate Hike, Just Understand It

On September 17th the Board of Directors at West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC) held their regular monthly meeting and were scheduled to consider a rate increase.  The membership of the co-op was invited to attend the public meeting to take part in the discussion and a  large, overflowing, and very vocal crowd gathered.  The board, management and staff listened patiently to their members for almost two hours and then the board voted to approve a 14% rate increase which began on October 1, 2013.

WOEC General Manager Marc Farmer has explained why this rate increase is needed; you can read his explanation in this issue on page 7. Without going  into all the details here I can say this-I may not like the rate hike, but I can see and understand the reasoning behind it.

Every time this community sees utility rates increased it dies just a little bit.  We have high electric rates.  Not as high as some people would have you believe,  but certainly they are high.    These high rates obviously make it hard for residents to live here and  for new people to chose to move here.  It also makes it hard for  businesses to stay here and hard for this community to attract new industry and business.  I don’t like these higher rates and I don’t like the implications for our community.

That being said, I have heard and listened to the Board and staff explain the reason behind these increases and understand the implications of not implementing them.  They make sense.  What I found hard to understand is the way some co-op members are responding.  When the issue of higher electric rates was brought to them for comment in a public meeting, certainly there were some ideas presented to the board and management by members in polite and respectful ways.  There were also reasonable questions asked and valid concerns raised, which is certainly the prerogative of the membership and was the point of the meeting.  But there were also numerous uninformed accusations, and lots of finger pointing.  Read More

An Opinion: It Does Take a Village

Another Jamboree has come and gone in Vernonia, and hopefully all of you enjoyed a weekend of fun, festivities and friendship.

Many of you may be surprised to learn that the Vernonia Friendship Jamboree and Logging Show doesn’t just happen spontaneously and on its own.  It takes a lot of work and planning.  It also takes money.  And it especially takes a lot of volunteers.  In fact, it almost takes the entire town to make this weekend come together and happen.

And “come together” is the key phrase here.  Because that’s what has to happen if we are going to host a successful Jamboree weekend.  What we see every year at Jamboree time is our community working together in the name of friendship and pride.  Numerous groups and individuals band together, invite visitors and old friends to return and enjoy our hospitality and then put on a three day celebration for everyone to enjoy.

It’s because so many people give selflessly that Jamboree and the Logging Show happen each year. Read More

An Opinion: Consider Yourself Asked

One of the things that make life in a small, rural community so interesting is that we have to create our own opportunities.  We manage to find ways to entertain ourselves, our families and our friends even though we don’t have access to all the resources, organizations, and facilities that folks in the city or suburbs have.  We don’t have the population base to support and fund a lot of infrastructure and so we are often left to make do with what we can piece together from what we already have.  We often have to create our own entertainment, build our own organizations, and support ourselves to create our own vibrant and active community.

One of the ways that we can judge vibrancy is by the activities that we are able to provide for our youth.  Creating organized activities for children is one of the really big challenges for rural communities.   I have often heard that “…there is nothing for kids to do in Vernonia.”  It is true that we don’t have movie theaters, bowling alleys, sports teams for all ages and jobs for teens that want them.  What we do have are a lot of parents and volunteers who give a lot of their time to organize and provide activities for our children.  We have very active groups like the PTA, Boosters and Scouts who support activities for youth in our community.  We have a host of volunteer coaches and parents who help with youth sports,  including Little Guy football, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball.   Read More

From the Editor

When we started Vernonia’s Voice six years ago, we did so with the intention that this newspaper could be the voice for all of our community.  We have purposely asked for and received content that reflects many divergent opinions, thoughts, and ideas about issues happening in and around Vernonia.  We have welcomed Letters to the Editor, articles, stories and regular columns from all types of people, with all types of viewpoints, about all types of issues and interests.

We have also occasionally rejected content for various reasons-the quality of the work, the specific message it contained, or because it was just not something we wanted to see in print in a publication that has our name on it.

I am learning that printing other peoples work, especially if the editor and publisher don’t agree with the author’s point of view, can be very tricky business.  We, the publishers, in the end, are responsible for the content we publish.  Even when someone else’s byline appears on the article.  Even if we don’t agree with the content or the message in an article or column that we decide we should publish. Read More

An Opinion: These Teachers Will Be Missed

Last year, when autumn rolled around and the new school year started, Vernonia High School students had a lot to look forward to with the opening of the new school campus.  There was a lot of excitement as a new era dawned on the community.  It was a big change for students, teachers, and families.

This year, when the school year starts again in September, there will be some different changes for the students at Vernonia High School.  And I would venture to guess that the students won’t be quite as excited this coming school year.

At the June 13, 2013 Vernonia School Board Meeting, Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox announced, and the School Board accepted,  the resignations of three staff members: band instructor Rob Izzett, social sciences teacher Brad Baker, and administrator James Brookins.

All three of these men have been popular among students, have had an impact not just in the classroom,  but also outside it, and each of them will be missed by the students, the staff and the community. Read More