Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part 2--Thoughts about the Council Work Session of August 29, 3013

[Edited previous post and split it into two parts, added material about the 2004 forced resignation of Public Works Director Dick Fleming to the end of this part, 8/31/13. Again, if the YouTube videos don't play, just click on the link above them. Updated 9/2/13 & 9/3/13]

Councilor Dorrah did a good job of getting the Council to focus momentarily on need to keep cows out of the watershed in order to protect our drinking water and exemption from filtration, but here's the problem. A few Councilors called the meeting, not to address the problem of cows in the watershed, not to solve how we got into a crisis that has caused Baker City to endure hundreds of illnesses and serious financial pain, not to talk about how staff has kept information about so many relevant and pressing problems from us, not to talk about the apparent lack of qualifications held by any staff member, or their incompetence in protecting our watershed over the last several years, but apparently only to talk about how some Councilors are uncomfortable about how other Councilors refer to staff when speaking or writing about the problem.

This video contains the gist of that self-righteous discussion, which took up an almost unendurable portion of the meeting:

After the meeting, I told Council that my opinion was:
Anyway, I  appreciated Dennis' reporting to the Council what he found and did about it , otherwise the meeting WOULD HAVE BEEN A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME!

Guess what--Council etiquette on intra-Council emails ISN'T THE PROBLEM. Don't make yourselves the issue! YOU'RE NOT! hate to watch Councilors of equal station lecture each other on their values and tell others how to act, while completely ignoring a major problem--The staff doesn't tell you what you need to know and they are not taking care of business. If everyone just keeps on being polite to each other, after a three year record of incompetence, the citizens are going to get screwed again!   The problem is not Council etiquette on email, the problem is that Public Works is not communicating with upper staff and Council, the Public works Director should still be a secretary and be replaced by an engineer, and that specifically, PW didn't tell Council twice about major problems in the watershed.  ENOUGH ALREADY!

The Council is elected by the people to take care of the problem for the people, not to serve the sensibilities of staff and sensitive Councilors.
Yes, I'm frustrated, and I think others are too.
[More background: Section X(B) of the Baker City Watershed Management Plan states:
B) Personnel Education/Experience:

(1) Minimum education of key personnel in Watershed Management:

(a) Director of Public Works minimum qualifications: Graduation from a four year college or university with specialization in civil engineering and three years of progressive responsible professional experience in public works administration including supervisory capacity; or any combination of experience and education that demonstrates provision of the knowledge, skills, and abilities listed above.
Additionally, please view this YouTube video which shows Mayor Langrell discussing the need to keep cattle out of the watershed and the fact that he had just learned that morning that Public Works was supposed to build a new fence back in the spring of 2012 to keep the cattle out and was wondering if they might want to move that up in their priorities. Here's the link:

8:27:13 Baker City Council Meeting--Mayor Langrell on cattle fence that was not not built ]
                  Michelle Owen responding to Mayor on unbuilt cattle fence

Now Back to Councilor Button's response:
What you missed, Chris, was that we asked for the meeting to discuss council activities that were happening behind the screen of privacy.  At various times, individual councilors (who were most likely communicating among themselves) have been conducting policy without the consent or approval of a majority.  We either have representative democracy or we don't.  Looking out for the "people" includes preserving our form of government.  If an individual or a minority can inflict major change on the administration of government without the knowledge of the public, then we would be accused of dishonesty or being asleep at the wheel.  Minority rule is not acceptable. 
Some of us believe that the affect of losing our city manager and some primary staff right now would be a serious setback to the progress of what we can accomplish in the next year.  It would be a huge diversion from focus on solving our immediate crisis, and could spark another year or two of community conflict.   Worse, it would be a setback to the proper function and rule of government. We are trying to get beyond political manipulation to an era of cooperation between reasonable and honest council members who put the community above personal animosities and power politics.  It is not just about feelings, but about your rights as a citizen to expect all members of government to respect the law and process of representative democracy. 
I think the cryptosporidium crisis is being used for political purposes, and the process of minority rule was kicked into gear months ago. What you saw was a polite attempt to speak reason to all parties without being part of the polarization and factionalism that is growing once again.    Some times you have to fight two or more battles at once when that is forced upon you. The interconnections are not always clear, but it is debilitating and distracting from unity of purpose. Some times, the right thing to do is to fight with one hand tied behind your back to set the example you want others to follow.  The bottom line holds. Minority rule is not acceptable.  We are not a dictatorship, and all parties owe it to the public to be open and honest about what they are doing.  Others can pretend they do not know why we called the meeting.  They can continue to hide what they have been doing.  If they succeed, we all bear the consequences. 
My opinion in response was:

Clair, I appreciate that you have responded, but without any specifics, it is impossible for me to evaluate your argument. 
How are individuals or a small minority "conducting policy without the consent or approval of a majority?"  What minority rule?  Nothing has changed, there has been no open discussion of the role of staff in helping to create the crisis and current predicament, let alone holding anyone accountable. If anything has been consistently hidden, it is accountability. 
What "major change on the administration of government" has been afflicted?  You won't even address the incredible communication problems that have kept Council and the public they are supposed to represent in the dark for three years. Again, Nothing has changed. 
I for one would not call for a change in City Manager, but it seems clear that the Public Works Director and one of her staff members bear a good deal of responsibility for our incredibly serious crypto crisis due to their failure to communicate known problems to the City Manager (either that, or Kee is a liar), Council and public for three years and for a negligently lackadaisical attitude. You, the rest of the Council, and Mike should have also known that the Public Works Director was unqualified [by the standards of the Watershed Management Plan when she was put in that position] to serve in that position and she has overseen  three years of incompetent response to a serious threat. Would you like to characterize my concerns as political?  Look at the facts.  Not only that, why don't you start talking about the facts instead of diverting attention to some conspiracy of political manipulation?

No one is indispensable and there are backup certified personnel in the water department as well as an engineer on staff. This problem started when Gilham got rid of a good engineer and put Tim "Scenic Vista" Collins in charge and then Gilham's secretary, Owen, replaced Collins.  For the Council not to rectify the situation by suggesting changes in staff, after the damage that has been done to our community, would be akin to criminal negligence. Mike Kee wasn't elected, Council was, and they can replace him if he doesn't correct a situation that led to the Crypto Crisis.
I haven't received a response from Councilor Button, but Councilor Dorrah noted that:
not only are we not supposed to voice negative opinions publicly or by email, we are not to voice them directly either. 

Sounds like the classic dysfunctional family to me.

OK, so I'll never get a response from a Councilor again. Well, they don't normally respond anyway, and I thought it would provide a needed window into what was  going on.  Their votes, and statements at Council meetings are quite revealing enough in any event. If one becomes a Councilor, they should know that their views should properly be open to all their constituents. After all, as Councilor Button might say, we wouldn't want anything to occur "behind the screen of privacy."

All the handwringing about a possible shakeup in Public Works seems a little odd when you contrast it with the forced resignation (more like a summary execution) of Public Works Director Dick Fleming back in April of 2004.
The April 5, 2004 Baker City Herald article quotes Fleming as saying "I did not receive any explanation" I really don't know" when asked why City Manager Gilham asked him to resign. 

In addition to cutting the city's payroll, Gilham told the Baker City Herald at the time that:
"Gillham said he sought Fleming's resignation "not so much for performance reasons as work style:
"I like to move at a more aggressive pace, to see more action in certain areas"
Gilham said he was comfortable moving Collins into the public works job because he believes the job requires management skills, but not necessarily technical ones.
 Say what? So he gets rid of an engineer as Public Works Director, which is what the Watershed Plan asks for, and puts then City Attorney Tim Collins in charge? About two years later, Michelle Owen, who I am told had worked for the city in secretarial positions for three years, lastly as City Recorder, was appointed Director of Public Works. I was also told that prior to that she was a checker at Albertsons.  Unfortunately, Ms. Owen's professional and educational qualifications pertaining to civil engineering, and any certifications, do not turn up in any of the annual watershed reports, as required. 

While Mr. Gilham gave some rather odd reasons for his summary execution of Dick Fleming, I have heard that it may have had something to do with a letter he sent to Scenic Vista developer Steven Jones almost a year earlier.

In the April 21, 2003 letter from then Baker City Public Works Director Dick Flaming to Scenic Vista developer Steven Jones, Fleming detailed problems he had with the construction of the Scenic Vista water tanks and other aspects of agreements between the developer and the city.

The City Attorney at the time, Tim Collins, went ahead and accepted the improvements in the subdivision, including the water tanks, a little over three months later, on July 31, 2003. This act made Baker City responsible for the tanks that the state and Mr. Fleming had problems with.

Mr. Fleming was asked to resign less that a year later, April 2004, by then City Manager Jerry Gilham.

Mr. Tim Collins has had a home in the very small (7 homes?) subdivision for about 6 years, and in 2012, the city was forced to pay to replace and upgrade the faulty tanks to the tune of nearly $200,000.

One last item.

In the 2010 Watershed Management Report, dated September 29, 2010, Water Supervisor Larry McBroom wrote that:
In accordance with EPA and DHS, the City is currently sampling raw surface water for Cryptosporidium and Giardia for the long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Treatment Rule. As of this date, lab reports are all negative for Crypto and Giardia. 
We learned later that crypto had been found in the Baker City Water supply as early as April of 2010. If he didn't know about the positive test, who did?

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