Tag Archives: An Opinion

An Opinion: Firefighters Need Us to Respond

Vernonia area first responders were busy last week.  In the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 25, local fire fighters from the Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District (VRFPD) fought a structure fire, a single story apartment building, with assistance from the Mist-Birkenfeld and Banks departments.  Late the next night law enforcement officers were called to the scene of a fatal shooting.  

Both these events were tragic, but thankfully are rare occurrences in this community.  They were a stark reminder of the importance of our local first responders, who are called to help us at our worst moments.

The VRFPD just announced two ballot measures for the May 19 election that would help address several critical issues currently facing their department.

Vernonia Fire Chief Dean Smith is a long time member of the department, a dedicated volunteer firefighter and officer that the VRFPD Board of Directors thought so highly of that they promoted him to Chief several years ago.  Smith is VRFPD’s only paid responder.

Smith has been expressing concerns about the need to address several issues for many years.  According to Smith, call volume is increasing annually and is at an all-time high.  Volunteers from the VRFPD don’t just respond to fires, they are also trained to be rescue and emergency medical responders as well, assisting with medical and other emergency assistance situations. Meanwhile community volunteerism is slowly declining, not just in fire departments across the country, but within our communities in general.  The VRFPD currently only has eleven volunteers. Smith says he often has a shortage of volunteers available to handle the calls they face.  State requirements for training also continue to increase and are becoming more difficult to reach and maintain.

In addition, the costs associated with the  purchase, operation and maintenance for firefighting apparatus continue to increase while current equipment ages and no longer meets recommended safety standards.

The VRFPD Board of Directors, working closely with Smith,  have crafted two measures they think will help address some of these concerns.

One measure would fund a paid Training Captain position.  The second, a tax levy, would pay for  the purchase of a brand new water tender/pumper.

Both these measures make sense for so many reasons. Read More

An Opinion: Council Needs to Pull Together

Vernonia has hired a new City Administrator, which is good news. The bad news is they also have a problem on their hands. 

The City has been without a permanent City Administrator for over eight months, since the City Council voted to fire previous Administrator Bill Haack in December of 2013.

Council always has a tough decision when they choose a new City Administrator.  This time the choice was complicated by who was among the candidates.

The new hire, Gian Paolo “Paul” Mammone will arrive on September 1st with an impressive resume and list of credentials.  He is upbeat about his new position and seems in tune and suited to dealing with the needs of the community.  He does come with some baggage as he has held four positions in four communities during the last six years.  Vernonia also does not have a good track record in bringing in “outsiders” to be our City Administrator.  Without going through the long list of recent Administrators who have come and gone, let’s just say this scenario has had mostly mixed results.  So the choice of Mammone does raise some eyebrows and opens the door for some questions.

Since Haack was fired, Mayor Josette Mitchell has unselfishly stepped in to act as Interim City Administrator.  Mitchell also filled in as Interim City Administrator when Haack was previously fired and then brought back to the position in 2011.  During her time filling the dual roles of Mayor and unpaid City Administrator Mitchell has accomplished a lot.  She has organized City Hall and dealt with the day-to-day operations of City business in a way that has not happened in many, many years.  She has managed several difficult projects with success and worked on repairing relationships with several city partners. She has been responsive to public issues as well as to the needs of city staff and the many City Committees which advise the City Council on policy.  She has been a positive force for the City and has been willing to learn when she has not had the background or training to deal with the specifics the position calls for.  Mitchell stepped up and did an excellent job and deserves praise and thanks for  her effort on behalf of the citizens of Vernonia. Read More

An Opinion: How Do We Solve the Jail Issue?

Columbia County’s current jail problem is both controversial and profound. There are those who seemingly aren’t able to afford the tax needed to support the levy, I get that, these are tough times. But unless you are weak on crime and/or have a soft spot for criminals, then you too agree we absolutely need a functioning jail like any other legitimate community. If communities didn’t need to incarcerate their criminals, we would see prisoners being released, jails and prisons all over America shutting down daily to  save money.  

I tend to look at issues like these pragmatically and without emotion.

First, we must block out the name callers and screamers  who spend their days parading around from meeting to meeting aroused by the sound of their own voice. You know who I mean. They make no articulate points, they bring no solutions to the table. This is exactly what is making politics dysfunctional and folks sick of the whole process.

Secondly, let’s include all folks — for or against the levy — who are willing to come forward and help to solve the problem in a civil tone. Conservative, moderate or liberal folks are welcomed to have a seat at the table, as long as they understand the debate will remain respectful. In order to have your ideas considered, you must listen to others.

Thirdly, linking this issue to the past, is irrelevant and does not solve  this problem.  If we miss this one, it will drive up our home owners insurance, car insurance, endanger our children, allow drunk drivers to own the streets, and more. If you cast this warning off as a “scare tactic,” then you aren’t paying attention. I am a very open-minded person and I will certainly entertain all concepts that arrive at the solution; as long as we do create a solution.

Calling people names is the mark of a weak mind who cannot articulate themselves effectively. Once the frontal cortex begins to process information, it is quickly overloaded and like a garbage disposal that isn’t functioning properly, it spews out a continuous flow of putrid, lurid sewage.

Making articulate points and arriving at solutions takes skill, but that’s what this country was built on. Small, rural communities of the pioneer-past had many significant problems, but they put their minds together to find those pertinent solutions. Sure, they also had the to deal with those who had nothing constructive to contribute and festered on the excitement of seeing their names in print and hearing their opinions over others, but they were quickly cast aside and concentrated on those who were serious problem solvers. This is what we must do now.

Even if you are against the current form of funding, that’s fine, your opinion is respected. If you don’t  care for the levy, but  express your concerns respectfully, that  is good because that is where we start to negotiate. These other noise-makers and name-callers are of no help to the process.

ALL smart and responsible people certainly agree we need a jail — unless you are soft on crime and you want to reward criminals — so let’s only focus on the constructive thinkers.


Randy Sanders is a photographer and blogger.  He occasionally writes for Vernonia’s Voice and can be reached by email:  Randy.Sanders@Live.com.

An Opinion: Oregonian Article Not Fair to Vernonia Schools

A recent five-part series of articles in The Oregonian, written by Betsy Hammond, featured the Vernonia School District in Part 3.  That particular article  has caused quite a stir around our town.  Hammond’s series, titled “Empty Desks”  looked at attendance issues through out the state of Oregon and was especially critical of the Vernonia School District  administration, staff and parents.

Although the article was somewhat of a black eye for the community, it was also somewhat inaccurate in its portrayal of the Vernonia School District (VSD) and their concern about the issue.  The article ignored key factors that have led to poor attendance and brushed aside current efforts being made by the VSD to address the issue.

The article featuring Vernonia was a main topic of discussion at the February 13 Vernonia School Board meeting, as audience member Amy Ceiloha, who, she says was unfairly quoted in the article, asked if the School District would have a response to the article.  Superintendent Ken Cox said there would not be any official response, but was happy to discuss the issue, as was Elementary School Principal Aaron Miller, School Board Chair Bill Langmaid and other School Board members, most notably, Ernie Smith.  High School Principal Nate Underwood was not in attendance.

It is obvious that the VSD is aware they have an attendance problem, even though early in the Oregonian article it was inferred that the District was oblivious to the issue.  Superintendent Cox did refer to a previous Oregonian article from two years ago which identified the VSD as the second worst district in the state, behind Banks, for absenteeism.

In response to an observed problem, the VSD has instituted a new attendance policy this year which requires staff to contact parents when students  have missed 4 days, 8 days and 12 days.  Students are considered chronically absent when they miss more than 10% of school days, and the new “call policy” seems to be having a significant impact.  Elementary Principal Miller reported that attendance in kindergarten and first grade has increased from 84% last year to 92% in the first half of this year.  Chronic absenteeism has dropped from 49% to 27%.

School Board member Smith pointed out that analyzing statistics is a tricky business and that you can manipulate them in numerous ways to reach almost any conclusion you wish. Cox noted that the exact figures the Oregonian referenced were actually not available to the School District from the state, but were  in fact numbers the Oregonian created themselves based on data they collected and collated.  As Smith and Miller pointed out, with such a small base of students, (approximately 540) one student who is not attending but on the attendance roll,  can skew the data; several can skew it significantly.

The fact that two years ago The Oregonian  pointed out Vernonia’s poor absenteeism record does make a reader wonder why the Administration and School Board didn’t do something then about the issue.  But, as the Oregonian article  fails to acknowledge,  two years ago  the Vernonia School District was deep in the process of finishing construction of the new schools campus and preparing to move from their old campus to the new one.  And they were also dealing with some big fundraising, as well as yearly operation budget  shortfalls.  In other words, they had some fairly big issues already on their agenda.

One could also easily believe that, as the Oregonian article does acknowledge, attending classes in modular classrooms did have an impact on absenteeism rates.  The flip side is that school administrators probably believed that opening a brand new campus would automatically help increase attendance.

The VSD has tried to address the needs of students and boost engagement through creative programing.  The new Sustainability curriculum is innovative and progressive and the Forestry program offers training in a regionally significant employment field.  A recent grant the District received for $250,000 will help address the lack of a shop facility and expand technical training.  These are all factors that help keep students interested in attending class.

A lifestyle factor the Oregonian article mentioned as impacting attendance, hunting, should be taken with a grain of salt.  Oregon is an extremely rural state and hunting is part of the culture everywhere except Portland.  Kids take time off from school to hunt with their families all over this state.  This should  not be used as a reason that Vernonia is behind other school districts.

In reading the comments concerning the Oregonian article at their website, I was impressed with the thoughtful commentary that readers brought forward.  One concern was bullying; kids won’t go to school if they don’t feel comfortable and safe.  This is also an issue the VSD has attempted to address in a serious manner.  Students at Vernonia Schools have received numerous professional trainings and awareness programs over the last several years, thanks in part to the great work of, and funding from, the Vernonia Prevention Coalition.  Certainly we can’t say that bullying has been eliminated from our schools, but the issue is definitely on the radar and being addressed.

Another point raised in the comments is the role of parental responsibility. In the opinion of some readers, our society has embraced the passing off of raising our children, and some parents no longer take responsibility for student achievement.

This may be the biggest factor in school attendance.  As was noted at the recent Vernonia School Board meeting, school staff can only work with and teach students if they show up.  Parents need to see the value in, and encourage their children to be in class everyday, and make sure they arrive at school ready to learn.  It needs to be a priority for both the parents and the students.  How the School District can impact a parent’s values is somewhat limited.

Following the flood in 2007 and then the economic downturn, Vernonia saw a large increase in students who were, in fact, “homeless,” with parents who had moved away to find work.  Numerous students lived with friends and “couch surfed” without a strong parental influence in their life.  This factor also had an influence on attendance figures.

The Oregonian  gives the impression throughout most of the article that the VSD is unaware  they have a problem and concludes that they aren’t really all that interested in addressing it. They only briefly touch on the progress and improvements that has been made this year, and  ignore several important factors unique to Vernonia.

While the Vernonia School District needs to continue to improve their efforts in confronting absenteeism, they were attempting to address the issue, even before The Oregonian so harshly, and somewhat unfairly,  pointed it out.  Let’s hope it remains a priority and we continue to see additional improvements.

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