Friday, June 5, 2009

Democracy In Baker City, Plus Calder Update (YouTube)

Events in the last few weeks here in Baker City provide a glimpse of how "democracy" functions in my small town. Given the way Ron Calder and myself have been treated, I want to allow interested people to watch what goes on for themselves. To do that, I have created a few YouTube videos about two related incidents that readers can view. The first may provide a little context for those that follow.

The first video concerns the commitment to citizen participation shown by the City Manager and some Council members, and raises questions as to whether any of them read and follow their own guiding principles. The clip is from a Council "work session" about our new "war on the poor" property maintenance ordinance that took place on Tuesday, May 19, 2009.

On April 23, 2009, Assistant City Manager Jennifer Watkins wrote to me saying that "These work sessions are open to the public. However, as you will note in the principles, the Council decided to limit public input during these particular sessions." She also attached the "Work Session Principles.doc" for me to read, which I did.

The second paragraph states:
"These principles have been created by the Council to ensure that the public may participate in the process while providing the Council an opportunity to dialogue with staff about decisions that are significant to the entire community."

Under "Rules of Procedure" the fifth rule states:
"• At the end of each work session, ten minutes will be set aside for the public to comment on the item at hand. Comments should be brief, lasting only a few minutes per person."

OK, fair enough. It's a work session, so they don't want to add a lot of public discussion while they work through an issue amongst themselves. They do however offer the public an opportunity to comment on the subject of the work session at the end of the meeting. So how well did their expressed desire "to ensure that the public may participate in the process" work out?

The first thing is that they scheduled them at 9 AM in the morning, thus eliminating participation by most working people. The second is that Assistant City Manager Jennifer Watkins sent a notice to the local paper announcing that the work session was going to be held on the day after the session was actually going to take place. The paper dutifully reported what they had been told to alert the public of the meeting, and so the public thought it was on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, which is when it occurred. Then lastly, after I was the only citizen to show up, they denied me the opportunity to participate at the end of the meeting.

I believe the clip shows how Baker City government shuts down public participation by people they dont think support their agenda, which I often don't, and they are aware that I do not support the new ordinance as written. In the video you will see the ex Circuit Court Judge, Herr Pope (he's the guy in the baseball cap who said "Nein!"), the Mayor, who adjourned the meeting, and the City Manager (He's the fellow with his back to the camera) deny me the very right to speak that is proclaimed in their own work session guiding principles. What you don't see, due to the direction of the Camera, is the City Manager immediately shaking his head to indicate "No" when I asked if they were going to allow public participation.

The City Manager tried to rationalize shutting me down by mumbling something about comments having to be in writing, but that restriction (rule 4) is for people who want their input considered during the work session discussion:

"• Interested parties may submit written comments to the City Recorder no later than the Friday before the work session. These comments will be shared with the Council for their consideration."

You see, in Baker City, public participation is all about whether or not certain Councilors and the City Manager think they are going to like what you have to say. If they think you are supportive of their latest project, you receive a fine reception. (It is my understanding that the City Manager actually solicits friends and acquaintances to provide positive public comment on his favored projects.) If you are not supportive, or if they consider you beyond the pale, etc., they shut you down ASAP, often in a hostile, rude, or provocative manner. Note also that although the elected Mayor is supposed to be in charge, the ex-Judge and the City Manager made the immediate decision to violate their own guiding principles. Later the Mayor told me it wouldn't happen again, which, so far, is as close to an apology as the marginalized can get in Baker City.

City Attorney - Ordinance "Silly" & "Inane"
Ron Not Notified of hearing - Brocato says "I don't know what else we can do."

Prior to Ron Calder's appeal hearing, the City Attorney advises the Council and describes the Discarded Vehicle 0rdinance, 2686, which was used to cite him, as "silly" and "inane" (and later "goofy") because the Ordinance, a city law, states that the appeal is to be heard in front of the City Council. The audio gap in the clip is there because I removed the name of the attorney who spoke with Mr. Calder at the point after the City Attorney says "I received a call at about four . . . ." (Some cities object to indecency in a citizen, the powers that be in Baker City object to oppositional decency or simple fairness rearing its ugly head. Therefore, I don't see any reason to focus attention on a decent person who offers to give legal help to an essentially powerless human at this time.)

The City also suggests that Ron Calder was advised verbally of his right to appeal to Circuit Court and of the date for a hearing in front of the Council. Ron remembers neither. At his previous court appearance, he was given a copy of the ordinance which advises that his appeal is to go to City Council, which is why he appealed to them. I was with him when he turned in the Appeal to the City and I don't recall him being informed of a hearing date--that's why Ron didn't know about it until the night before the hearing. He was out of town that day and he heard about the possibility when he got home that evening. I had advised his girlfriend that they may hold his hearing after looking at the Council agenda and reading the newspaper that afternoon. The City Attorney apparently wasn't even sure of it on the day of the council meeting.

When Councilor Calder, no relation to Ron, brings out an admission by City staff that they didn't give Ron written notice of the appeal hearing date, City Manager Brocato lamely and arguementively responds that "Its on the agenda—I dont know what else we can do." (Whoops, someone forgot to shout "Point of order, Mr. Mayor!") The ex-Judge, Milo Pope, seems unconcerned that no written notice was given because he says, "He's here." The thing is, Mr. Calder showed up with little time for preparation not because he though it was proper not to give him written notice, but only because he figured they might deny his appeal if he didn't appear. Turns out it didn't matter because the lawyer who offered to help him on short notice couldn't appear, and the majority of the Council apparently doesn't think due process is important. We'll hopefully find out from a higher court that due process is still alive in Baker City and that what they could have done is what any reasonable and lawful governmental agency would have done—send Mr. Calder a timely written notice of when he was to appear at an appeal hearing so that he would have had a chance to be ready to defend himself.

Kangaroo Court for Ron Calder
Let's Get This Show On The Road!

The next video shows how City Manager Brocato and his assistant, took advantage of Mr. Calder, and how the Mayor, among the silent Councilors, allowed them to do it. It is important to remember that City Staff and the Council had been informed of Mr. Calder's disability and his cognitive issues in the written appeal (only a small portion was included in the clip). Also, please keep in mind that while the City Attorney described Officer Shannon Regan as meticulously prepared to defend the City's actions, Mr. Calder was not given written notice, did not know about the hearing until the night prior the Council meeting, and was not given the opportunity to be prepared.

(please note also how the City Manager shuts down a simple question to the City Attorney by a polite citizen in the audience with "Point of order, Mr. Mayor!")

What viewers, the audience, and the Council probably didn't know was that the lawyer who spoke with him in the late afternoon had given him instructions on what he should say to the court, and also, that Ron had asked me to help him do that. He asked me to help him with the appeal hearing for three reasons. Because of some personal issues, including difficulty reading and writing, he had me help him write the original appeal to the Council, and if needed, he wanted me there to help explain questions. Secondly, because he had difficulty reading, he asked that I read what the attorney had just that afternoon written for him to tell the Council. Lastly, he has difficulty hearing--he wasn't even sure what was being said some of the time! I was prepared to read the new information and assist him with his appeal in front of the Council. Again, Council and staff had been informed of the personal issues and should have understood he needed assistance.

After Ron approached the Council and had almost nothing to say, I said "Excuse me, may I say something?" That was an effort to let them know Ron needed and had asked for my help. The Mayor, without hesitation, loudly said "No!" I felt that it was my duty to tell them then that Ron needed help with his statement. In watching the video, please note that when the Mayor asked him if he needed someone to assist him with his statement, he answered "OK" and looked at me for that assistance. He also turned toward another person in the audience who had been helping him. At that moment, the City Manager interrupted and diverted attention from the fact that Ron wanted assistance. He did so by offering to read the earlier appeal. Instead of the Mayor acknowledging that Ron had indicated he wanted my help, the Mayor allowed the City Manager to prevent assistance to Ron and he had the appeal read. Of course Ron had no objection to the reading of the appeal when asked, but the fact remains that he indicated he wanted my assistance and was denied it.

After more protests, the Mayor followed-up on his earlier threat to have me removed. He justified his behavior by saying "Mr. Calder had . . . an offer to have someone come forward and he chose to read the appeal instead." Well, no, what actually happened was that he allowed them to read the appeal after they ignored and interrupted his indication that he did want my assistance. If the following video does not display all the information, you can view it at:

As you know, Ron was granted a 60 day extension by the Council, with only Aletha Bonebrake and Bev Calder having voted to dismiss. (Both had made statements about the situation, not all of which are presented here.) Councilor Bonebrake pointed out that the citation didn't comply with the ordinance in that it didn't identify which vehicles were inoperable, that there was no evidence presented that vehicles were inoperable, that officer Regan could have asked for a warrant to further inspect the property, and that Ron was not informed of his right to a trial by jury as outlined in another ordinance and in State law. She also noted that the City would need to cite every other person in the City who finds their self in a similar situation, that due to abatement costs even existing cases could prove to be very expensive for the City in at least the short term, and that that the 6% per annum interest applied to liens on properties might result in the City owning homes outright when a person dies. Councilor Calder cited the fact that Mr. Calder wasn't given notice and thus was not prepared to defend himself, that he hadn't been notified of his right to a jury trial, and didn't understand his rights. She also noted that specific vehicles were not identified, that he had made good progress in recent months, and that the City could use a more organic and positive approach and offer assistance to troubled property owners.

Councilor Button had offered an amended motion that included the notion that Mr. Calder would have to forfeit his constitutional rights so that a police officer could have access to his property, without a warrant, so as to inspect for further violations. His motion was approved by himself along with Councilor's Bryan, Bass, and Dorrah. After Baker City citizen Steve Culley noted that the provision was unconstitutional during his comments to Council, Mr. Button acknowledged that, and apologized for authoring that section of the approved motion, saying it was a "grave error." But, contrary to what was written in the paper on May 27, i. e.: "Button later withdrew that part of his motion due to questions about whether it is constitutional," that language had not been withdrawn from the motion, and no new motion had replaced it, by the end of the meeting. Although Councilor Button talked about an additional bit of business (to alter the motion I presume) that needed to be conducted, that business was not conducted. Mr. Brocato instead told the Council that staff would review the language, make sure that Mr. Calder's rights were communicated to him, and pass information about correction to the court. Is staff then going to vote on their corrections before communicating with the court? Seems a bit odd that staff would be rewriting Council motions and then bypassing the Council's role to approve it with a new vote, don't you think? Well, not too odd, considering that the City Manager and his assistant are already, for all intents and purposes, running the "show" anyway.

As it now stands, in a gesture of unusual generosity for Baker City, a local attorney has told Ron that he will handle his appeal to the Circuit Court for no charge. Perhaps he will be able to bring due process back to Baker City.

A few citizens commented on the property maintenance ordinance.

Steve Culley commented on the ordinance and also commented on the treatment received by Ron Calder.
"I've been out cruising around NE Oregon looking for a place to live so that I can eliminate one level of government from my life. . . . The first thing here is that a lot of this is just plain subjectivity stuff, you know, . . . I just see a demographic change in my part of the country . . . and I've got a lot of new progressives coming in and they don't like the way my town looks and all that, and I'm really sorry about that.

. . . there's an appeals process, and what I watched tonight I don't like. This guy . . .clearly needed some legal help. I think he asked Chris Christie to either to represent him, or at least help out, and he didn't get a chance to do that, and I think that was . . . kind of a violation of his civil rights. . . . And then you've got Clair . . . talking about . . . . you have to allow the police free access to . . . You can't do that--I mean we have a constitution of the United States. I mean if a guy says no, don't come on, go get a . . . warrant.

All of this stuff is just as subjective as you can get. . . . There's going to have to be some representation, legal, if a guy needs it . . . . . Usually people who get into this kind of situation . . . are near broke. Where's he going to move those trailer houses? Who's going to pay for it? He doesn't have the money. And democracy is limited to three minutes."

Barbara Fleming stated that she thinks "Baker City likes to be perceived as a friendly city" but "if they micromanage big brother government on private property. . . they might not be ... friendly. . . . The people most likely to get a fine are the ones who can least afford them. . . . You already have all the laws you need to protect citizens for health hazards. . . . I see us playing off each other's fears. . . . I think a friendly hand is more appropriate in these economic times." She suggested "mutual cooperation" as a better model.

Russ Murphy told the council of concerns that "it could become extremely subjective. . . ." "I'd like to see it be very objective with details spelled out." He also said he'd "like to see compassion" and "patience" for people, citing Councilor Calder for being compassionate. He "would like to see a citizens review board" made up of the various socio-economic groups" and the enforcement should "not be nit-picky."

Corrected "County Judge" in paragraph 8 to "Circuit Court Judge." 6/8/09

(Blog in progress)

1 comment:

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