May 24, 2004 11:00 pm

Dedicated prosecutor

To the Editor:

Commitment has been a term that District Attorney Birnbaum has tossed about at his forums. He became a district attorney following retirement for the second time, or perhaps the third time.

First he was a medical clerk during the Korean War. In his eyes, qualifying himself as a Korean War veteran, although in my cousin Tom's eyes you were a veteran only if you experienced combat in the field or the battle itself as my cousin did.

Thereafter he was a teacher, from which he retired. Then he became a lawyer, first in a district attorney's office and then as a defense attorney, from which he retired. But for his political appointment by former Gov. Kitzhaber, he would have been hard pressed to qualify as much more than an entry-level prosecutor. His lack of success as a prosecutor in complicated cases demonstrates his lack of experience.

Alternatively, Janie Burcart prosecuted criminal appeals for the Oregon Attorney General's office for five years. She was a deputy DA prosecuting sexual crimes and crimes against children in Clackamas County for four years.

Burcart was the chief deputy prosecutor in Union County under Russ West until his election to the bench. She has since been performing as a prosecutor in Malheur County. Contrary to Mr. Birnbaum's mischaracterization, Burcart became an American citizen in order to continue doing the job she has always had a talent and a passion for — a professional prosecutor and district attorney.

Elect Burcart who is committed to the job of prosecution of criminal law violators.

Beverly Long Penz

La Grande

Maintain firmness, fairness

To the Editor:

To maintain firmness and justice blended with kindness and integrity there is only one candidate who can truly satisfy the needs of our court system in Union County for district attorney.

Please help us elect Martin Birnbaum.

Howard and Cherie Elmer


Keep alternative school

To the Editor:

My name is Vanessa Love, and I go to the La Grande Alternative School.

In my last year of middle school I had almost strait Fs. The thought of making it through my first year of high school seemed almost impossible.

Instead of going to the high school, I enrolled in the alternative school. If I need help, I get it one-on-one. I hardly have any troubles with my schoolwork. In fact, I'm getting better grades than I have ever gotten. All the students here love the school so much that they actually want to go to school every day.

The alternative school consists of about 28 students, two teachers and a secretary. The two teachers who work here are great. I have never had teachers I have loved as much as I do these. Jo the secretary helps us out, too. She helps with math, and sometimes even teaches it.

My favorite class is my last block, Community Service. We help out at the animal shelter, with Habitat For Humanity and with the playground project. Sometimes we even go out and pick up garbage around the community.

When I talk about school, I talk about it like it is my home. I think everyone here would agree that the alternative school is like a second family, somewhere you can go and not care what other people think of you, because we don't judge. That is why we all love it here.

Next year, my second home might not be here. Without the alternative I wouldn't be going onto 10th grade, and I can't imagine what it will be like for the kids like me next year who won't get this opportunity.

I wish more people could see how important this school really is.

Vanessa Love

La Grande

Experience means a lot

To the Editor:

Our society requires that when we want to enter a profession, we are required to gain knowledge through education, experience or a combination of the two. I believe that we would all agree that to be a credible professional those would be the minimum qualifications. Saying I want to be something without experience or education is a dream or goal but yields us little confidence in the abilities to perform the job now.

The same is true of those who desire to serve the pubic in our representative form of government. Being a full-time representative of the people is a staggering responsibility that requires knowledge, experience and an understanding of the issues that affect the people you represent.

It is all too easy to be an armchair critic, taking potshots at those who are endeavoring to make things happen, that given benefit of time will improve the community you represent. It is easy to pass judgment on programs and the people who created them without having contributed any time or effort yourself.

We should all be thankful that we live in a country in which tens of thousands have served in war and in government to preserve and improve our way of life. It takes a great deal of commitment to do either, and although we have the right to question those people, decisions and programs we disagree with, we then have even a greater responsibility to understand the current leadership and become educated and committed before we offer alternatives.

This brings me to my questions regarding the desire to be a representative of the people. I was recently left a flyer by a candidate for county commissioner. I found this flyer to be filled with plenty of criticisms for the incumbent. Unfortunately, instead of comments that were filled with answers to perceived problems, I found vague comments that lacked explanatory answers to the criticisms. No real answers or proposals.

Whoever you vote for this election year, remember, there is no substitute for commitment, education and participatory experience.

Marc Stauffer


Step plan too costly

To the Editor:

I believe that the Union City Council needs a fair and objective process for evaluating city employees and for giving them salary increases when warranted. Employees who do outstanding work should receive a salary that reflects those accomplishments.

A salary step plan is not the way to do that. Like so many socialistic entitlement programs, a step plan evens out the playing field and does not reward excellence. In fact, it is contrary to the work ethic that built our country and encourages workers to be "average.''

The original step plan proposal was based on data provided by LGPI. It suggested salary ranges based on data that included salaries in the Portland Metro area. Many local governments do their own study by contacting a group of cities or counties close to their own size, gathering salary data and averaging the numbers to see how they compare. Of the six cities I talked to that are comparable to Union, only one had a formal salary step plan table.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the proposed step plan is the fact that Union just can't afford it. Our tax base for 2003-2004 is $185,000. Our current payroll is $411,000. We're already upside-down, because we have to use water and sewer money to make ends meet.

A 3 percent increase in payroll would cost us $12,330. Our allowed 3 percent increase in taxes will be $5,550. You and I can't spend money like that without going broke.

Moving to a step plan is a bad idea. The city can't afford it.

The council members tell us that the next council can just decide to change it or throw it out. It won't be that simple. The employees will not take it lightly if they take it away in a year or two. They are working on a complicated, cumbersome plan that is going to create more problems than it solves.

For the sake of the fiscal soundness of the City of Union, I hope they will take a more objective look at this before they vote to put it in place.

Debbie Clark


No valid reasons for denial

To the Editor:

David Whitson, in his letter to The Observer April 19 gave an impressive list of figures. True or not they really are not relevant.

Mr. Whitson objects to $27 million of our local economy being sent to Bentonville, Ark., each year by Wal-Mart. But what's the difference whether it is sent to Bentonville or to the home office of Safeway, J.C. Penney, Albertson's, Les Schwab, Commercial Tire, any of the five banks in town, the Carnation Company or Rite Aid?

Many of the firms mentioned have been here so long that people think they are locally owned. Believe me they are not, and their profits are sent out of the valley the same as Wal-Mart's.

If you have a truly valid reason for a Wal-Mart superstore not being built in La Grande or Island City, I'd like to hear it. But so far in all the letters I've seen in the paper there has not been a single valid reason to deny the application.

David Larson

La Grande

Fundraising opportunity awaits

To the Editor:

Are you a school or youth group, civic organization, team or club of some type looking to raise much-needed money in some type of fundraising event?

Well the Union County Fireworks Action Committee might have some help for your group. We have our annual fundraising raffle in place and need some help ourselves in selling raffle tickets.

This year we have three fabulous grand prizes, a 5-minute $1,500 shopping spree at Albertson's, a $1,000 shopping spree at Don's Jewelry and a 1996 Dodge Stratus from Legacy Ford.

Many other local merchants have donated very generously to bring our total prize pool to almost 60 prizes.

Anyone participating with the UCFAC in ticket sales will split the ticket sale proceeds 50-50. If your group or organization is interested in this fund raising event please contact me at 963-8842.

Steve Combs

La Grande

Signs placed in public space

To the Editor:

I was surprised when I returned to La Grande from a recent vacation to find that the Birnbaum for district attorney campaign had progressed to a new low.

Some of you out there might not know that there is a city ordinance prohibiting the placement of campaign signs in the parkway areas, that grassy area between the street and sidewalk.

Those areas belong to the City of La Grande. Perhaps the city is supporting Mr. Birnbaum? This is something they, of course, cannot do. I know that phone calls have been made to City Manager Wes Hare informing him that his former city attorney is doing this. Mr. Hare has not done anything to correct this.

Is Mr. Birnbaum above the law, or is he using his former position as city attorney to benefit his campaign? Everyone else seems to be abiding by this law with the one exception, Mr. Birnbaum.

Here is a partial list of locations: 601 N, 901 N, 602 0, 1503 1/2 Washington, 700 block of Fourth, 2806 N. Spruce, 402 Aquarius and, at First and M, a sign each way.

There used to be one at the hospital but Mother Nature blew it over. Perhaps she knew that not all members of the hospital staff support Mr. Birnbaum for district attorney. Many actually support Janie Burcart for district attorney.

Janie Burcart is clearly the best candidate for district attorney of Union County.

Arthur Bingham

La Grande

Union County well served

To the Editor:

I have been asked by so many people over the years why I drive so many thousands of miles each legislative year to Salem. The easiest and most obvious answer is that Eastern Oregon has only 12 legislators out of 91. That is 12 for over half of the state. If Eastern Oregon is to have any voice at all in the process, someone has to be there to help our 12 representatives.

Each legislative session over 4,000 bills are proposed. Perhaps 300 to 600 will actually be passed and signed. If we're not at the table, it is very difficult to change or stop a harmful bill.

Each year state agencies approve hundreds of new administrative rules. Many of these have unintended consequences for Eastern Oregon. If we are not at the table it is very difficult to change or stop harmful rules.

It is easy to oppose elected officials' travel to Salem and even easier to oppose travel to Washington, D.C. I can tell you, making those trips year after year is hard on the person making them and their families.

Those of us who do this work do so out of conviction, and we do make a difference.

Colleen MacLeod is one of these elected officials. The hours and days she puts behind the wheel of a car and in a red-eye flight to D.C. are made out of conviction. She is a public servant in the best sense of the concept and a fighter for her people. She uses energy, intellect and humor to move mountains. The most recent proof of that is the executive order that Gov. Kulongoski signed in John Day last week.

If Commissioner MacLeod had not traveled to the meetings for the past five years and worked tirelessly, this would not have happened. Did she do it alone? No. But she was one of the strongest fighters for it. She makes a difference. The people of Union County are well served.

Judge Laura Pryor

Chair, Eastern Oregon Alliance

Support Union measure

To the Editor:

Union is not a town divided but democracy at work. Until 1977 Union had a mayor and council form of government similar to what Measure 3148 proposes. We have the same number of people now and less industry. There were and still are plenty of qualified people for the offices.

We are wondering why Union can't combine the city recorder and administrator position as so many other towns our size in the area and state have done. Whey do we need two people when they only need one?

Dave Thomas, our mayor, mentioned at a council meeting if we combined these positions we wouldn't have to raise our water rates. This statement was ignored by the council.

At the April council meeting a resolution was presented for the council to vote against the measure. It was written by City Administrator Bill Searles. It had never been discussed by the council until that meeting. Some of the members didn't know anything about it until they got their packets the Saturday before the meeting.

Let's put control of our city back in the hands of the people instead of an administrator. If we go back to a mayor and council government maybe our concerns and ideas will be listened to.

We are voting yes on Measure 3148 and encourage other people to do their homework and vote from knowledge rather than emotion.

Ken and Joy Ann Smith


Phone records off limits

To the Editor:

We recently experienced an ugly situation where a minor child, entrusted to our custody, was missing from our home.

We knew within 1 1/2 hours that she was gone. Searching for clues, we sought access to our long distance telephone records.

Did you know that Verizon will not give you access to your own long distance telephone records — even though you have a police case number, which we did — nor fax them to the police without first obtaining a subpoena?

We were told we should just wait for our phone bill, which would arrive in about two weeks. Not very helpful!

We appreciate the efforts of Union Officer Ronetta Prince who retraced our trail with Verizon, as a police officer, only to be met with the same frustrations and more.They told her they would charge $150 to get us the records even with a subpoena.

There are a lot of things wrong with our government and/or the policies of establishments we do business with. They are so concerned with "our rights to privacy" thatmillions of trees have been wasted requiring us to sign papers agreeing to the "privacy act," while at the same time denying us rights to our own personal records when we need them.

Verizon is out of line and should modify their policies to be more user-friendly to customers having a valid and time-sensitive need. Their "can't do" attitude and lack of response could put the life of a child in jeopardy when time is of the essence.

We write this letter to alert others who may have a similar need in the future and encourage anyone who is interested to write to Verizon protesting their current policy.

Thanks to prompt action by the Union Police Department our situation with custodial interference was resolved with professionalism and sensitivity.

We didn't need Verizon's help.But you might.

Donna and Ralph Patterson


Emotional thinking?

To the Editor:

While I am comfortable in what I am voting on via Union's Measure 3148, I wonder what others, not so acquainted with the issue, think when they see the following signs along Main Street:

"Trust God Vote yes Measure 3148"; and "Vote yes Measure 3148 Don't be a Slave"?

Is this emotional or factual thinking?

Susan Briggs


Skills to do the job

To the Editor:

I encourage voters to elect Janie Burcart for the position of district attorney for Union County.

I met Janie while she served as Union County's chief deputy district attorney. She was assigned to my daughter's case. I had very little experience in the court system and the case in which my daughter was a victim was highly sensitive and emotional. Janie was extremely helpful to my daughter and me. Her professionalism and capability of working with me and my daughter in a caring and understanding manner, helped both of us through a very emotional process and the unfamiliar court proceedings.

When I worked with Janie, I recognized her genuine caring attitude and know that she has the skills, the desire and the courage to provide fair and superior service to the residents of Union County.

Beverly Sherrill

The Dalles

Shame on Cheney, Bush

To the Editor:

I watched a segment of news recently and I couldn't believe what I was hearing from Dick Cheney, vice president of the United States.

Here was a brazen, egotistical, pompous corporate lackey challenging the service record of John Kerry who served with honor during the Vietnam conflict. Cheney flunked out of an eastern university, returned to Wyoming and got special treatment deferments, married quickly and stated he had higher priorities to fill than serving his country in the military. Being a good Republican, it was adios, Wyoming, and hello, Washington.

John Kerry earned the right to question and challenge the mismanagement of the war in Vietnam, and he has earned the right to look Dick Cheney in the eye and ask him where he was during that period of history.

Do Cheney and Bush really believe that by questioning the credibility of Kerry's service in Vietnam it takes away the guilt they must feel about how they handled military service at that time in their lives? Shame on them!

Gary Feasel

La Grande

All veterans deserve thanks

To the Editor:

I take exception to the attitude displayed in the letter by Beverly Penz regarding Martin Birnbaum's qualifications for office. She has every right to be for or against anyone she wants to.

However, I think she really reached out of bounds when she tried to sully his service record and besmirch his claim as that of a Korean War vet.

There are far more support troops in all the armed forces than the combat soldier. Most of us veterans served our time with honor and were proud to be a member of the armed services. I too am a Korean vet and never served in Korea. I served four years active, four years reserve, joined the Navy Reserve while in high school and spent a year there. Even joined and served in the Oregon National Guard here in La Grande for three years. I am a Korean-era war veteran, proud I spent all those years in active and reserve time and I am only joined by millions more who served in non-combat service.

We didn't run to Canada or outside the country to evade the draft. Those who did have that to live with and can salve their own conscience

Ms. Penz owes Mr. Birnbaum and the rest of the non-combat veterans a vote of thanks for service in medical, clerical, tech, police, food service, supply and all the others who were there and are there all over the world. We all didn't have the means or opportunity to do otherwise.

I don't know Mr. Birnbaum, but you can bet that I will give him extra consideration as a fellow Korean war veteran.

Jim Wimer

La Grande

No justification to change form of government

To the Editor:

I think I should be very afraid, afraid that changing to the strong mayor form of government will change the character of Union and the way of life in this town.

I believe that the city of Union was doing very well, making progress in a number of areas until a group decided things were not going their way. That's when things in Union got turned topsy-turvy.

The backers of this measure have not produced substantiated, documented facts of wrongdoing. They appear to be like children who have not gotten their way about something — what, I don't know, and they aren't saying. I do not believe there is justification enough to change our form of government.

I keep wondering why someone would move to Union if they don't like the way Union was. And why they don't move somewhere that suits them better.

I feel that TOTAL is trying to badger people in Union to change our form of government, as opposed to working through channels to solve their problems. I do not like being badgered into anything, especially for the personal agenda of someone else.

I have attended city council meetings off and on for more than 10 years. Until recently, council meetings have been sparsely attended.

I urge you to get what facts you can, consider carefully and join me in voting no on the strong-mayor measure, a vote to retain our current form of city government.

Evelyn Merriman


Knows local issues

To the Editor:

We are pleased to hear that Colleen MacLeod has once again become a candidate for Union County commissioner. We have asked her to include our names as two of her proud endorsers.

As members of Oregon's Legislative Assembly we have had the privilege of working with Commissioner MacLeod. Whether in Salem or at home she has proven she is a winner. She supports the traditions and values that are vital to Union County.

Perhaps most important, Commissioner MacLeod realizes the issues we face in Union County. We have every confidence that she will keep fighting for the things that matter most, like better schools for our children, safer streets for our families and better jobs for hard-working folks.

We know that she will keep bringing her common-sense management style to the very complex issues facing Union County.

As you can tell, Commissioner MacLeod has truly earned our respect and a reputation for honesty, hard work and dependability. She understands the realities of Union County and we know that she will continue working hard to support our rural way of life.

We are supporting Commissioner MacLeod with our personal endorsements. We urge you to do the same.

Ore. Sen. David Nelson

Ore. Rep. Greg Smith

Tough, fair experienced

To the Editor:

Trust, fairness, political justice. All those things are only words when you or someone you care about becomes the victim of a crime. That is when you need a person to help navigate the court system on your behalf. That is when you need Janie Burcart.

Janie Burcart is my choice for district attorney. She communicates easily with citizens who need an advocate to support their rights in court. Janie has talent, experience and, most of all, the compassion to help victims have their day in court.

The processes of court and trials can be a frightening labyrinth for any of us. It is worse when children, the disenfranchised and the disabled are the victims of crime.

Janie ensures that everyone has their day in court. Then she goes the extra mile to make sure that day in court is a positive experience, and gives victims informed and caring support through all stages of the legal process.

Janie does what she says she will do. That is integrity. That is why I support Janie Burcart for district attorney.

Janie is passionate about assisting victims and making sure they receive tough, fair and experienced advocacy in court.

The right man for this job is a woman. Her name is Janie Burcart.

Zee Koza

La Grande

Not personal triumph

To the Editor:

I attended the candidates forum sponsored by the Blue Mountain Forum and the La Grande / Union County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night. I think the format allowed too much self-promotion by the candidates, so I was a bit disappointed. The turnout, though, was large, which was heartening.

The worst performance was by Janie Burcart, running for district attorney against the incumbent, Martin Birnbaum. She answered a question about the Connely case, which had resulted in charges being brought against her with the Oregon Bar Association.

I live in Elgin and know the family. The tragedy is that the case was dragged on for six months after charges of sexual abuse were recanted. A video interview with the accuser was so unprofessionally prepared that it could not be used in court.

Burcart appeared to find some kind of personal triumph in the case, positively crowing that there was nothing "unethical" proved against her. It sounded like a charge she had experience having to answer.

I think that Burcart needs to move on, and to stop trying to use the tragedy of the Connely family to build a career for herself. This is not what public service is about. She owes the family a profound, public apology, which I hope she will submit to The Observer.

Ron Brand


Setting record straight on signs

To the Editor:

During every election season, political signs find their way into La Grande's public right of way. While this practice is a violation of the city's sign code, many candidates and campaign supporters are unaware of the ordinance.

Candidates for city council are briefed about the ordinance, but we do not have the opportunity to personally discuss the issue with statewide and county office seekers.

City practice for the nearly nine years I have served as city manager has been to notify the candidate or campaign organizers when a violation of the sign code takes place.

We do not patrol the city looking for violations because we usually notice or hear about them soon after they occur. Candidates and campaign workers have generally been prompt in correcting problems after we notify them.

A recent letter to the editor incorrectly claims that I was called regarding possible violations by a specific candidate. In fact, the city's Public Works Department was called and they contacted the candidate in


The problems identified by the letter writer have been corrected and, in most cases, were corrected before his letter appeared in the paper. The idea that I would extend preferential treatment to any candidate is as offensive as it is untrue.

Wes Hare

La Grande city manager

Necessary qualifications

To the Editor:

I would like to say a few words in support of Martin Birnbaum who is seeking election to the office of district attorney. I've known Martin and Linda as long as they have lived in Union County.

I find Martin Birnbaum to be experienced, full of patience and courage.

Cutting down on budgetary items is never easy but very necessary in this economic environment.

I have appreciated his fairness and his integrity. He has quietly improved the office of district attorney.

This is a much larger job than it used to be so new ideas are needed and I feel he has shown his skill as an administrator and has the necessary qualifications for election at this.

E. Gerda Brownton

La Grande

Instills important values

To the Editor:

As a mother my vote goes to Ken Johnson for Union County commissioner.

Ken is my children's karate instructor, and I can say he is a remarkable man. I see firsthand what a difference he makes in families' lives by teaching our kids a sense of self-worth, dignity and respect for themselves and others, while striving for the best out of life. Ken instills these values in our kids because he possess them himself.

Remember our kids are the future.

Ken excels in many areas. He runs a small business, stays informed on local issues and serves the community in many ways. He is extremely hard-working, fair, honest and reasonable, always listening and weighing both sides before making a decision.

Ken is very concerned about attracting new businesses that offer family-wage jobs and about keeping and helping existing businesses to expand.

My family loves La Grande, and it concerns me when I see our friends forced to move away because of downsizing and layoffs. It's time for a positive change.

Union County will be blessed to have Ken Johnson as a Union County commissioner.

Margaret Lindsey

La Grande

Acknowledge sacrifice

To the Editor:

Many of us will remember forever Karen Silkwood, who bravely exposed abuses in the nuclear power industry. We will also remember Tami Silicio, whose photograph showed the American public the reality of the war in Iraq, the harsh reality of our soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins.

Our soldiers deserve the respect and honor of a nation knowing of their sacrifice, not a silent coming home in the dark of night and a blackout of the media.

Karen Silkwood lost her life for her audacity. So far, Tami Silicio has only lost her job. She has my respect and thanks.

Catherine Matthias