March 2, 2010
Grants Pass, OR. has been in the national news a few times in the short twenty years that I have lived here. One was the famous William Tell incident where a local man put an arrow through his buddy's cranium while attempting to shoot a beer can off his head. One was the Kim incident where a man drove his wife and two small children late at night into the snowy entrapments of Bear Camp road, ultimately losing his life while his family narrowly escaped the same fate. Another was the Christine kidnapping their own children at gunpoint from children's services who had them in custody.
These are the first three that come to mind - Grants Pass stories garnering national attention which play toward the idea that this is a kind of scary place where ignorance abounds. Never mind that nasty caveman statue, torched by vandals, and other public art pieces which are continually stolen, damaged or upended - this is my Grants Pass in spite of the ongoing embarrassments and I intend to overlook the negatives in lieu of it being such a great place to live.
It has been most difficult to ignore, however, the most recent Grants Pass embarrassment—and while it has hardly aroused local media attention, it has stupefied those who pay close attention to it. What I refer to is the ongoing succession of events around the recent recall of five city councilors.
Initially it must be said that the success of the recall effort, based on microscopic, nitpicking charges was an extremely lucky shot – a basket from half court. Unfortunately there was a pitiful lack of support from the voters which earlier had decisively elected these five to council seats - reformists out to reshape a misshapen city government. This reformatory notion had appealed to a great many Grants Pass voters, and against all odds, a brand new "reformist" quorum was elected to the city council. The city administration and the old guard were stunned. This was the first time that anyone can remember that the serious power base in Grants Pass had lost the handle on controlling the destiny of our town.
Once elected, though, the new councilors discovered that things don't "reform" that easily. Within 6 months an insider-based recall campaign had generated some steam, and against all odds, just like they were voted in, they were voted out.
The entrenched power base – the "insiders" of our little river hamlet – could not wait until the next election to throw out the new guard. By the time the newly elected could get their chairs warm a recall campaign had been formed, some charges fabricated, a special election arranged – and with the help of the Daily Courier, KAJO radio and voter apathy the citizens of Grants Pass handed control of the city back to the insiders. The ignoble recall effort had succeeded on a mere handful of votes.
Ironically – even comically - the chief complaint against the newly elected councilors had been that they were disruptive to city business. Now, with five gone in one sweep, Grants Pass faced the biggest disruption that the city had ever seen. A crippling blow had been dealt to the city in the name of restoring it to its rightful game. Disruption, however, is not a serious issue when the right people are in control.
As a matter or procedure, it has always been normal political process in Grants Pass that any city councilor resigning, stepping down, or otherwise disappearing will be replaced by appointment. If one resigns, a new and "favorable" councilor is selected by the remaining council. Some say internal interests and preferences have been maintained in such a way. All too often it is not the qualified that gains the new appointment, but the connected.
Following the recall, however, the council had been so seriously gutted that there were only three left out of eight. Three does not constitute a required quorum (needs to be five) to appoint new councilors. What happened next certainly should qualify this story for Grants Pass's next embarrassing sachet into national news.
With no ceremony whatsoever - there were no announcements, no applications, no interviews, no reviews and absolutely zero citizen input - Mayor Mike Murphy just picked up the phone, made five phone calls and bingo! - a temporary but fully decision-bearing city council was formed to carry on city business until the next election. In other words what we have watched happen here in Grants Pass is a coup. The elected government is tossed out and replaced by a handpicked one – handpicked by the same power that co-opted to throw out the elected councilors.
We have stepped over the line, folks. The City of Grants Pass is no longer being governed under principles of the American constitution.
My curiosity drove me to look up the word fascism in a favorite book called "A World of Ideas – A Dictionary of Important Theories, Concepts and Beliefs." In a universe of many "isms," I keep this book handy so I can sort them out.
The basic definition of fascism is this: "…a nation in which individual interests must yield to national goals." It didn't cause any surprise in me.
I read further: "…use of myths to unify the populace." Ouch! I was fully aware that throughout the recall the Grants Pass Daily Courier had insistently painted the new councilors with a messy brush. They virtually created the "myth" that these diligent citizens with a will to serve, who had done the hard and rightful work of getting elected by popular vote were somehow unfit for being councilors. "Renegades" was one word often used in print. This mythical outlaw personality was forged by the Courier and hammered insistently for months. Oddly, there were no actual serious charges against these five that would merit recall but if you just read the Courier you already knew they were no good and had to be thrown out.
And there, my friends, is the real rub. Being the only daily newspaper in town people are prone to believe it. It is a perfect myth machine. With no opposing point of view and archaeologically embedded in city hall, the Courier unifies the populace, tells them how to see the councilors, how to vote.
Reading further: It seems that in its beginning stages a fascistic government body will develop "out of a need for expediency." Ouch again! When ex-mayor Len Holzinger made a legal challenge against the brazen act of Mayor Murphy's choosing five friends as temporary councilors, his case was ruled against by an insider judge, citing that the city was lagging in its business efforts as a result of the recall and didn't have time to go through the legal processes for reappointing councilors in this difficult situation. Simply stated: Expediency dictated a departure from Constitutional process.
So am I implying that the mayor and the rest are committed fascists? Not really. But I do think that through their own laxness, self-interest and comfort-in-membership they conveniently slip away from constitutional principle. They allow themselves, like the proverbial frog in the pot, to blindly proceed to destruction degree by degree.
(The frog in the pot story postulates that if you put a live frog in a pot of cold water and turn on the heat, he will not jump out in time. He will postpone doing anything, taking comfort in the warmth until it's too late. At a certain temperature, he is paralyzed – and doomed.)
I am flatly amazed that not one person involved in this takeover has stood up and said "Wait! I can't do this! It has gotten too out of control." But we didn't get that.
What we did get was the Mayor Murphy sheepishly promising that the temporary council wouldn't be taking on anything serious or critical. But doggone if it didn't turn out to be a lie. At the time of this writing, the city council is fully entrenched in approving a monstrous, ambitious $90 million park plan, the biggest part of which is outside the city limits.
Okay, take a deep breath. I tell myself, it can't get any worse. Grants Pass is just going to be Grants Pass – might as well get used to it.
But wait! Bill Kangas, one of the renegade recalled councilors, decides he will not just tuck his tail and run. He announces his intent to run again.
I applaud his character. This takes courage.
The lowdown on Bill Kangas:
I have discovered that it is downright difficult to find a person with a negative opinion of Bill. He is a well liked individual with a history of community service – arguably the last person in the world to be associated with wrongdoing. For the seriousness of recall charges to be brought against Kangas was ludicrous – absurd. But Bill had a habit of asking irritatingly hard questions, so he had to go.
When the complex firing of city manager (Attorney) David Frasher was under way (part of the political turmoil in Grants Pass was that the city manager had proved to be an unconscionable person to deal with - well loved by the insiders though. It is the council's prerogative to fire the manager - it actually happens quite often - so they did, sending up an uproar from the establishment.) there was a great big secret that couldn't be voiced. At that time the "outlaw" council was in office. A huge cloud of mystery hung over Grants Pass as to why it was so imperative for the council to fire Frasher? Apparently there were enormous reasons, but people had to proceed cautiously. The alligator of litigation was waiting quietly in the murky pond.
The council was totally within its operative jurisdiction in the firing. The charter and Frasher's contract made it clear that the council could fire the city manager with no reason given – it's in writing. Us lay people might not understand that, but dismissing the city manager often becomes necessary in this structure of city administration.
It is typical in towns across America that when new councils are voted in, the city manager loses his supportive quorum, gets fired, moves on. It goes with the job and is one of the reasons why city manager pay is so high. Average city manager longevity across the country is typically short. Oregon average for city managers is 3-5 years.
As it turned out, the council found it imperative to fire Frasher. But the reasons apparently were too grisly, too distasteful to mention and there was a danger that a slander suit could result. So the council decided to play the "no reason given" card, believing it was the most respectful way to deal with the Frasher dilemma.
Now a giant question mark hung over Grants Pass. What in the world is the big secret requiring Frasher's firing? Inquiring minds want to know.
The question mark hovered for weeks. The tension was excruciating. Rumors and suppositions were rampant. Then one day without warning there came a full page, personally paid ad in the Courier. It was a statement made by and paid for by Bill Kangas - upwards of $1000.
Driven by the need for truth, he had prepared his estate against a possible retribution lawsuit and in a detailed description, spilled his guts as to why they had to fire Frasher. As expected, it was grisly – almost tabloid. ; Frasher, it turned out, had a nasty temper and took exception to having to answer to his employer, the council. His bad habits apparently included profanity, name calling, physical shoving and door slamming. This for $150,000 a year?
I cheered out loud – not so much for dislike for Frasher but for the fact that we had an elected official motivated by the need for truth, and with the guts to throw off the shackles of lawsuit fear and tell it like it is. We need more individuals like this.
Now fast-forward to the present:
Bill Kangas, after being elected, then humiliated throughout the recall process and ultimately axed in the end, decides to throw his hat in the ring and run again. Again, I applaud.
Woops – not so fast!
The city attorney responds with a denial to Kangas's application, claiming that by law he cannot run again for the same seat until the term he was recalled from expires. Kangas does some state level research and finds that he actually can run again, only it has to be for a different chair. He re-applies for a separate position and is denied again by the city attorney who cites a "different interpretation" of the law. Now I am stupefied.
The City of Grants Pass is actually afraid of good natured, hard-working, truth-motivated Bill Kangas. He has been "mythed" by the Courier into being a scary villain - undesirable for serving the city - when the truth is he is actually the plain, honest and very importantly unbeholden-to-the- power- base character we like to see in local government. The possible political success of Bill Kangas actually threatens the insider coalition of Grants Pass. They block him from running for office.
Personally, I've tried to look away and let Grants Pass politics be its cavemannish dysfunctional self. But at some point it becomes too disturbing not to notice. Here we sit like that old frog in the pot. The temperature keeps going up in tiny increments and we're just too complacent to jump. I imagine the Grants Pass citizenry will eventually wake up when they realize that this seemingly frivolous political soap opera they don't want to get involved in will eventually strike them in the wallet.
Maybe not everyone realizes that it is the city council - voted in by the public - who decides how money gets spent in Grants Pass, what dreams are worth working on, and to what extent the populace will foot the bills.
Rightfully the council of eight is elected by the people – that's American. Wrongfully, the council is selected by the inside power, entirely wrenched away from any public input at all. That's what we have now.
And though, the temporary council will disappear following the next election, our insider power base has fully experienced that political bullying works in Grants Pass. With a little help from the Courier, and a misinformed, apathetic voting populace - election results can actually be reversed, totalitarian-style governments installed, and who-knows-what decisions made after that. What a tragedy for Grants Pass.
Another month has passed with the Mayor's best buddy council.
Since Mayor Murphy promised the public that nothing serious would be decided by his handpicked council the following has happened:
1- They have approved for Grants Pass a $94 million dollar park plan, most of which is outside the city limits. No public vote. The quorum of five that was required for this approval were the exact five that were appointed by the mayor. They are shameless and brazen.
2- The voter's pamphlet for the election of new councilors was scrapped, claiming that it was a money saving move (a paltry $5000) leaving the public to get their unbiased candidate information from, let's say, the Courier.
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3- Before the "outlaw" councilors were recalled, they had approved a "performance review." This is an efficiency study where you bring in outside, uninvolved efficiency experts to make a study and an evaluation on your operating effectiveness. This has mysteriously disappeared from the budget without due process - in other words illegally. Not one of the temporary councilors has a comment.
© 2010 Bernie Conrad - All Rights Reserved
Bernie Conrad was born in San Diego, CA, 1944. Attended College at University of California Santa Barbara and Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Served in US Army Reserves 1965 -1971. Has worked primarily at building renovation and property improvement. Has worked extensively and tutored privately in art and woodcarving.
My purpose in writing is not political or religious. I feel the time has come to enlist in the war between right and wrong. I do not claim a background of specialization other than a love of my family, my fellow man and the American pursuit of happiness. There has been an unquestionable downturn in the character and quality of life within my country - within my lifetime. I see numerous causes for this phenomenon. These causes I identify as the enemy. To speak out against them is to fight for my country. I have gotten too old for the sword so I shall take up the pen. It is a privilege to live in a country where I may do this. It is a shame to see our own citizens unaware of this blessing.