Sunday, June 14, 2009

Now That The Shoe Is On The Other Foot . . . .

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, four councilors and their supporters have been treated to much whining and gnashing of teeth by Brocato supporters. Many complaints center around the process by which Mr. Brocato was removed, citing a lack of public input and that the action surprised some with it's suddenness. The Baker City Herald picked up on the theme, first brought up at Tuesday's Council meeting by Brocato patrons, in Friday's editorial, "Council didn't quite make its case." See

While the Herald acknowledges that the Council, by majority vote, "can fire the city manager any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all" their Editorial Board stated that "The four councilors should have told Brocato on May 26 that if he didn’t substantially improve in the areas where his ratings were lowest, and within a reasonable time — two months, say — then he could expect the Council to consider a motion to fire him."

I'm a bit of a process freak myself, so I'm not going to say its a bad suggestion for a Council to consider, but neither I, the Herald Editorial Board, nor a group of disgruntled employees and other patrons, happen to have been elected to make the hard decisions for Baker City--the Council was.

Assuming for a moment that public input, warnings and giving time for an employee to improve their performance are worthy standards to be followed in such matters, why not inquire as to how Mr. Brocato himself, and earlier Councils have measured up to those standards?

As for public input, Mr. Brocato has been the individual most often involved in denying input from members of the public who disagree with him. The Vicky Valenzuela incident comes rapidly to mind, but there are many others. One is the way he denied help and representation to Ron Calder at the May 26th Council Meeting. Recently in fact, one might think that the ex-City Manager invented the phrase "Point of Order, Mr. Mayor" due to the number of times he has used it to deny public input at Council Meetings.

And what about firings without warning?

You may remember the sudden firing of both City Attorney David Fine and City Planner Evan McKenzie by then City Manager Brocato. Here is how the Herald described the situation in their article "City loses two more administrators" from September 25, 2007. (

"Brocato, in an e-mail Monday, announced that he fired Planning Director Evan MacKenzie and City Attorney David Fine on Friday.

Brocato declined to say why he terminated the two, although he said there was no specific incident that led to either MacKenzie's or Fine's termination.

"This is a personnel matter, I can't really talk about it," Brocato said.

The article also mentions that "Troy Phillips, the economic development coordinator for Baker City and Baker County, resigned" at Mr. Brocato's urging just a month earlier. Mr. Brocato's explanation, in one of his famously mysterious moments: "My style is moving in a different place than Troy's circumstances." I see.

The Case Of Mr. Zimmerman

To the best of my knowledge, the last City Manager, prior to Mr. Brocato, who was actually asked to resign/fired was Gordon Zimmerman. In any event, Jayson Jacoby wrote an article about the firing on March 12, 2003. See "Council forces city manager out"

On the element of surprise, Mr. Jaycoby wrote: "It started as a routine Tuesday for Baker City Manager Gordon Zimmerman, but before noon his 4 1/2-year tenure, to his surprise, had ended. . . . . Tuesday's announcement shocked city officials."

He had been at one point, a few years earlier, placed on probation, but as his evaluations were continually improving, there may not have appeared to be any reason to suspect an imminent change in employment status. The article states, in contrast to specific reasons cited by some members of the current Council in Brocato's case, that "Ellingson declined to list specific reasons why the council sought to replace Zimmerman."

While the article states that Ellingson discussed the matter individually with Councilors at the time, there is no indication that anyone thought it proper to sue the Council for violating the public meeting law, as Milo Pope and others seem to think it is in this case.

Contrasting again with the Brocato case, Zimmerman, however, was gracious in accepting the request for resignation: "When the council says it's time to go, it's time to go," he said. "There comes a time when the council wants to choose their own man." (ibid)

So while the standards cited may be reasonable, it is clear that Mr. Brocato has not, in important cases, seen fit to rise to them, and neither has the City. I guess that's the way democracy works here, even when the shoe is on the other foot.

More Video and Information on Brocato Firing

Councilor Bonebrake Responds to Milo Pope
In this video, Councilor Aletha Bonebrake responds here to wild statements, threats and intimidation issued by Councilor Pope. Mr. Pope had previously gone through a long list of complaints and alleged violations of statutes related to four of our City Councilors voting to remove City Manager Brocato.

"There was no public meeting.... it doesn't matter how many statutes you cite."

"We did not vote to retain Mr. Brocato--we simply voted to accept the evaluation."

"Mr. Brocato ... is very defensive and will not really receive information nor permit people to impart information."

"Its really inappropriate to be forced by word and action to move more quickly on a topic than we are ready to do--we are after all, the policy group for the City, and policy is our job."

"Even today, as we went into Mr. Brocato's office, . . . the first thing that happened was that we were berated . . . without even finding out why we were there. This is the nature of the dysfunction of Council and City relationship."

"I find it next to impossible to do the job I was elected to do with the stonewalling that I receive in trying to simply to get information and ask questions."

Councilor Bonebrake Responds to Milo Pope

Bryan Suggests Successful Councilors "Incompetent" etc. -- Pot Calling Kettle Black?
Councilor Andrew Bryan berates Council--Appears to Violate City Ordinance 3407.

Councilor Calder Responds to Andrew Bryan
In this video, Beverly Calder reminds the Council that City Ordinance 3407 requires that Counciors treat the public and each other with respect after Andrew Bryan announces that the Council is "incompetent" and etc. She also reminds Andrew that three of the sitting Councilors have over four years under their belts.

Interesting also that Mr Bryan would use the word incompetent with reference to successful business people and a woman who is largely credited as being the driving force behind the creation of the Baker County Library, and who was its director during the time it developed into a greatly valued public institution. While not the only way to establish competence, being able to run successful businesses for several years, as well as being able to establish and run a County library, certainly shows that a person is competent enough to be a Councilor. It is also worth noting, that both Beverly Calder and Aletha Bonebrake were the top vote-getters in their respective runs for office.

Councilor Calder Responds to Andrew Bryan

Friday, June 12, 2009

Council Declines to Reconsider Firing of City Manager

In a special meeting of the City Council this morning, four Councilors stuck firmly to Tuesday's decision to fire former City Manager Steve Brocato. The large crowd, primarily consisting of Brocato supporters, was far better behaved than that observed Tuesday, with only one large outburst during the meeting. The following YouTube video is of the vote at the beginning of the meeting, along with a reminder to Councilors about the decorum required. The latter has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks, with Councilor Bryan going to far as to call the Council incompetent at Tuesday's meeting.

City Manager Collins explains Explains Charter to Council
At the emergency meeting held this morning to discuss the City Manager position, there were questions raised about whether 3 members of the Council, Mr. Pope, Mr, Bass, and Mr. Bryan, could force Councilors Dorrah, Calder, Bonebrake and Button to take up reconsideration of the firing of Mr. Brocato simply because the three had put that item on the agenda. Mr. Collins explained that a majority of the Council could decide not to reconsider the firing yet again.

[In this video, Mr Collins disappears from the screen about half way through. That wasn't in the original video on YouTube which can be seen at .]

More may be posted about this meeting as time allows.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brocato Fired! Pope to Sue. . . . Divisions Likely to Deepen. (Updated)

Last night, in what must be one of the most remarkable displays of courage by a Baker City Council in many years, four Council members stood up in the face of well orchestrated opposition from meticulously groomed and some say, bought-off, City employees, and other minions. To the surprise of many, they voted to fire the City Manager. After 2 plus years of turmoil and poor treatment by the City Manager of Councilors and citizens alike, a majority of the Council finally said "Enough is Enough" and elected to exercise the power given them by the City Charter. What follows are a few short excerpts of the meeting, which do not include what appeared to be unprofessional attitudes displayed by City employees toward the City councilors who voted to remove the man responsible for their recent generous bonuses, salary increases, and other perks in the face of our current deep recession.

Milo Pope, with Andrew Bryan's Support, Vows to Sue Fellow Council Members

Milo Pope alleged that there must have been a violation of the State's public meeting laws and stated, "I'm going to sue you all!"

Planning Director Resigns

Planning Director Don Chance was brought in from elsewhere by ex-City Manager Steve Brocato. His charge, under the umbrella of revamping and "modernizing" our planning ordinances, was to change the face of Baker City so as to make it more appealing to those not comfortable with the lifestyles of Baker City's low income residents. He is a primary architect of the new property maintenance ordinance created largely at the behest of real estate and redevelopment interests, and those who don't understand that many low income people here are simply doing the best they can with the hand that they have been dealt in life. If the ordinance passes in its current form, the poor will likely be swept out of Baker City, and unfortunately, for many, there is no where else to go. All this to make their town more attractive to outsiders like Mr. Chance and his assistant, Mike Pena, so that developers and speculators can attract more buyers from urban areas.

Mr. Brocato went out of his way to accommodate the needs of Mr. Chance so he could live in Washington State. Although Mr. Brocato promoted Mr. Chance as a person with a stake, and with concern for the people of Baker City, according to the Assessor's records, he doesn't own property in Baker County. Mr. Brocato arranged to privatize the Planning Department under Mr. Chance so that He could spend more time at home with his wife in Washington.

Patronage in Baker City

Mr. Brocato purchased his constituency on the backs of Baker City taxpayers by giving promotions, bonuses and raises to the city staff that works directly under him, by giving generous cost of living raises to contract employees, and by providing an expensive new building to the Police Department. Not all city employees care for Mr. Brocato, of course, and many chose not to participate in the spectacle, despite pressure from above. The impression given by many higher echelon employees at the meeting, and reiterated by some on the Council, was that the worth of Baker City all revolves around the administrative city staff, and that they, instead of elected officials, should be making the decision about whether the City Manager goes or stays. Among the recipients of the raises, bonuses, and/or promotions, included, among others, Jennifer Watkins, Jeanne Dexter, the Police Chief and the Fire Chief, all of whom were very vocal supporters of their patron at the Council meeting. But even then, their public statements may not reflect their true feelings in every case, because after all, if Mr. Brocato had been retained, their continued employment would still be at his whim. If asked to show up to defend him, what were they supposed to do?

Jennifer Watkins, the new Assistant City Manager, who was a triple winner last year, with a promotion, a bonus, and a raise, clearly stepped outside the bounds of professional conduct in her advocacy for Mr. Brocato during the meeting. Others were disruptive beyond anything seen in recent years at a City Council meeting. For better or for worse, their well orchestrated show and disruption was not seen by Baker City residents, as they likely intended, because the meeting was not broadcast, apparently due to technical difficulties.

The following is a clip of some of their antics. Note that the words "Point of order, Mr. Mayor," are not forthcoming from Mr. Brocato, Mr. Bryan, or Mr. Pope. Those words are reserved for viewpoints they don't like. Also note that as the camera whizzes by, both Mr. Brocato and Ms.Watkins have joined in the disruption by clapping, which is behavior Ms. Watkins engaged in throughout the proceeding. It was good to see her finally becoming a protector of free speech when the Mayor decided not to cooperate with the spectacle that the city employees had arranged. Notice also how Rich Langrell was removed from the area of the Council by the Police Chief when two other citizens were allowed to harangue the Council at their seats.

Giving unwarranted or ill-advised bonuses, raises and promotions to City employees is a legal form of the patronage system made famous by ex Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and many earlier scalawags. In this case, city employees, most exceedingly well compensated by Baker City employment standards, were asked to come to the Council meeting by department heads or others to engage in political activity on behalf of their patron, Steve Brocato. It is a game that is as old as human civilization itself, and most Baker City citizens can clearly see right though the self-serving, obsequious behavior.

One such citizen was Richard Langrell.

Langrell on the "slimy underbelly" of Baker City:

Langrell on Property Maintenance Ordinance:

At the end of the meeting, three Councilors talk about the decision and the Council.

For a good Herald article about Brocato's removal, see City Council fires Brocato, .

I hope to fill in the blanks as time becomes available, but the rest of the week is tentatively booked.

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)