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Ed Glazar, The World 

Jacob Ferenczi listens to his mother, Tamra, talk about him as he prepares to sign a letter of intent to play football at Oregon State University during a ceremony Wednesday at North Bend High School.

North Bend High School wins first Battle of the Books competition

COOS BAY — The Coos Bay and North Bend school districts went head-to-head in the first Battle of the Books competition of the season last night.

The competition was sponsored through grants from the State of Oregon Library and the Oregon Association of School Libraries, according to the Marshfield High School and CBSD Librarian Catherine Hampton.

Ed Glazar, The World 

North Bend studentsdiscuss an answer a question Wednesday during the Battle of the Books competition at the Coos County Public Library.

As she explained it, there are three state divisions split up by age groups. The first are 3rd through 5th graders, then 6th through 8th graders, and finally 9th through 12th grade. Last night, the high school students competed, having prepared by reading 12 books.

“In the battle, they are asked ‘in which book’ questions and content questions,” Hampton said. “It’s trivia for those books in their division and the other team can steal a question if the first team didn’t answer it correctly.”

For the younger divisions, students have to read 16 books. Hampton attributed that to their books being shorter than those in the older division.

The first battle was at the Coos Bay Public Library, where North Bend Mayor Rick Wetherell and Coos Bay City Councilman Drew Farmer sat in as judges.

For Wetherell, he has been judging the battle for five years.

“I enjoy seeing young people doing intellectual things,” he said.

Farmer sat in for Coos Bay Mayor Joe Benetti, who couldn’t judge this year. Farmer said the event was wonderful, that he enjoyed hearing the students talk among themselves as they deliberated answers.

“The students are excited to finally have a competition,” Hampton said. “One student has done this three years and says she is terrible at sports but is super competitive, so she gets really excited about the battles.”

Ed Glazar, The World 

Anita McHaney keeps score Wednesday during a Battle of the Books competition between Marshfield and North Bend students at the Coos County Public Library.

Hampton pointed to the rivalry between the Coos Bay and North Bend teams and said it is friendly.

“I went to the Civil War game a few weeks ago and it wasn’t friendly, it was stressful,” Hampton said. “But at Oregon Battle of the Books, of course the teams want to win but they are friendly with each other and supportive.”

At the end of the evening, North Bend won four out of four battles.

“It showed where our team needs to work on things,” Hampton said after it ended.

North Bend Librarian Laurie Nordahl said the competition helped prepare both teams for regionals later, and that her students reread many of the books in advance.

“The team has worked hard,” she said. “But a lot of these students are friends. This is a fantastic time for the teams to get together.”

The next battle is Feb. 22 between North Bend, Coos Bay and Coquille school districts.

Powers Police Chief proposes possible public safety levy to fund second officer

POWERS — Powers City Councilors agreed Tuesday night at its council meeting that its board will hear feedback from the public before making a decision on whether or not to pass a public safety levy for its police department.

The levy, which was proposed by Powers Police Chief Robert Baker, would pay for a second officer for the police department that would increase its productivity and coverage throughout the city.

According to Baker, the levy or possibly a public safety fee would charge each household within city limits a total of $150 a year. The fee would be collected through residence’s utility bill which would break down to about $16 a month.

“If we’re able to get a second officer we would extend our coverage to the entire week, response times would be quicker and we’d be able to cut back on overtime,” said Baker. “It would also reduce our petty theft by having an officer on patrol at all times.”

Currently, the department only consists of Baker who has been in his position for about seven months. At the council meeting, he talked about the responsibilities of the position and how one person alone simply cannot do it all.

“I am taking on the position of essentially five different people,” Baker said. “I am doing the tasks of a records clerk, an administrator, patrol work and an evidence technician. There is just not enough time in the day to really do what needs to be done.”

Mayor Robert Kohn expressed his concerns with the proposed levy and his hesitation to support it. Kohn acknowledged its benefits toward the city, but was unsure how citizens would receive it. He was also wary of adding the fee to residence’s utility bill being that rates could potentially rise with the installation of the city’s new wastewater plant.

The council discussed potentially partnering with other law enforcement agencies for grants, having volunteers conduct door-to-door surveys of people’s opinion on a levy and bringing it up for discussion once more at a town hall meeting and a follow up workshop session.

“I’m not being negative and I’m not saying it wouldn’t be good for the community to have it, but we really need to think how we would fund it,” said Kohn.

Last month, Baker posted on the Powers Police Department’s Facebook page a reminder to citizens of the procedures involved with reporting a crime. According to Baker, citizens would visit his private home to make a report instead of calling the county’s dispatch center.

“The way things have been down in this town for so long is that the citizens were used to calling their former police chief directly and were not properly reporting crimes,” said Baker. “When I took over in June, I made it mandatory that people would call dispatch so that there would be a record of the call and a way to track what’s going on.”

According to Baker, in 2017 the county’s dispatch center recorded receiving a total of 331 service calls from the city of Powers. From Jan. 1 to June 20 of last year, he said it recorded receiving a total of 53 calls and from June 20 to Nov. 6, it recorded a total of 495 service calls.

The arrival of a second officer could potentially alleviate this issue, he said. Baker said he is hoping to gather volunteers to conduct a survey and get initial feedback from citizens by the end of the month. Once this information is collected, the city council will revisit the levy and schedule a town hall meeting.

Coos Bay council to consider ordinance regarding vacant properties

COOS BAY — Coos Bay city staff has partnered with the city’s Homeless Work Group to develop an ordinance that, if approved, would have owners of vacant property register with the city.

The ordinance is designed to provide the city with the information necessary to contact vacant property owners in the event of an issue with their property.

“It has to be registered with the city, and they have to provide us with specific information to who we can contact that’s in charge of the property and can mitigate issues that come up from time to time," said Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock. "The registration would require periodic checks of the property to ensure that there’s not people moving in to it.”

Enacting a vacant property registration ordinance would allow police officers to have contact with the property owners and potentially give those officers the authority to enter the property should an issue on the property arise.

“One thing we’ve encountered in the past is houses that have been unlawfully occupied, and our officers have not been able to go in and tell people to leave without the authorization of the property owner,” said Drew Farmer, councilman and board member on Coos Bay’s Homeless Work Group.

According to Farmer, there is also a provision in the ordinance that would allow the chief of police to require the property owner to board up windows and doors of a vacant property if the property is deemed a nuisance.  

Another part of the drafted ordinance would require owners of vacant properties to maintain their property to a city-established level. Property owners that live more than 50 miles away from their vacant property would be required to have a property manager maintain the site in the owner’s absence.

“Right now we don’t have any way of being notified of when a property is vacant,” said Coos Bay Codes Enforcement Officer Nik Rapelje.

Currently the city knows of over 70 vacant properties within city limits, but Rapelje expects that if the ordinance is adopted more vacant properties will be discovered in the area.

“I expect that there are some out there that I don’t know about, because they’re probably being maintained. If I don’t know about them then they’re probably in decent condition, but the vacant property registration would then let know to go by and look on them and make sure everything is okay,” Rapelje said.

This ordinance is part one of a two-part system that the city is trying to enact. The second part would allow the city to issue fees to vacant property owners should they fail to register and maintain minimum standards of the city.

“They would accumulate fees, because the city would go in and provide the maintenance services and then bill the property owner," Farmer said. "If they do not pay those fees, under the second ordinance, it would allow the city to step ahead of all other lien holders on the property and potentially seize the property."

Farmer said that many details in the follow-up ordinance need to be worked out and it is far from ready to be discussed by city council.

The initial benefit that the city is seeking with this ordinance is to identify vacant homes in order to eliminate criminal mischief taking place in vacant houses.

“The long term benefit with regard to our homeless population and our housing crisis is that with the receiver ordinance we might be able to either take some of those properties, or turn them over to a responsible non-profit to turn them into low income housing. Or in some cases these properties are so derelict that the just need to be torn down,” Farmer said.

Trump plans rally, Pelosi seeks deal as wall deadline nears

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck starkly different tones in their border security standoff Wednesday, as Trump planned a rally in a Texas border city he says exemplifies the need for a wall and Pelosi said she'd back any bipartisan deal congressional bargainers produce.

The contrasting pathways — with Trump set to appear before raucous supporters and Pelosi signaling compromise — came with just over a week until a Feb. 15 deadline for negotiators to reach agreement or potentially face a renewed partial government shutdown. House-Senate bargainers say their talks have become increasingly substantive and some lawmakers — including Pelosi herself — expressed hopes that negotiators might produce an accord as soon as Friday.

Participants said the two sides were narrowing differences in their talks. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., a negotiator, said Democrats were showing some flexibility in the semantic dispute over the type of physical barriers they would accept while Republicans seemed potentially willing to limit where the structures might be built.

"That basically sets the stage for a very reasonable, flexible negotiation," he said. Other unresolved questions include the amount to be spent on border security, and whether — as Democrats have proposed — to reduce the number of detention beds for migrants available to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Fleischmann said.

"If they come up with a bipartisan agreement, I'm happy to support it," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She said she hoped Trump would take "the same hands off" approach.

Democrats have been in a position of strength in the talks, after Republicans lost House control in November's elections, Trump forced a record 35-day federal shutdown and surrendered without getting $5.7 billion he's demanded for a wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also given bargainers a green light to seek a deal that he's said he hopes Trump would find "worth signing."

If Pelosi and McConnell embrace a bipartisan agreement, it could isolate Trump and pressure him to accept it without re-escalating the fight. Trump has threatened a new shutdown or a declaration of a national emergency to access other budget funds if he's not satisfied with a deal — steps members of both parties oppose.

Bargainers met Wednesday privately for nearly two hours with federal border patrol and customs officials to hear their recommendations on how to secure the Southwest border. But several lawmakers emerged with differing conclusions.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin said lawmakers were told the top priority was technology that could screen vehicles for drugs or migrants at border ports of entry.

"They don't rule out barriers, they don't rule out fencing, but that isn't the first priority," Durbin told reporters.

But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the officials suggested a three-pronged approach using barriers, technology and personnel. He said the closed-door session was constructive.

"The dialogue is good. The tone is good. We're talking about substance," Shelby said.

He also said that in a phone conversation with Pelosi, "I just said, 'Look, can we reach a yes on this in any way or are we wasting our time.' She said, 'No, keep working together,' and she would like to see a legislative solution, the sooner the better."

In comments that suggested a potential avenue for agreement, some lawmakers suggested that giving local officials a say would be pivotal.

"We can probably get there on some sort of enhanced barriers with local input," said another negotiator, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Democrats have proposed spending as much as $1.6 billion for border security including some types of physical barriers, but it remains unclear how much more money they'd accept as part of a deal. Cuellar said $5.7 billion for the wall is "not going to happen."

Meanwhile, the White House said Trump will hold his first campaign rally of the year next Monday in El Paso, Texas. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted that the rally will be held "less than 1000 feet from the successful border fence that keeps El Paso safe!"

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump cited El Paso as once having "extremely high rates of violent crime. He asserted that with its wall, "El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country."

In fact, El Paso has never been considered one of the nation's most dangerous cities and its trends in violent crime mirror national swings.

In 2005, the city had a murder rate of 2.5 for every 100,000 residents, compared with a national rate of 5.6. By 2010 after the wall was built, El Paso's murder rate had dropped to 0.9 for every 100,000 residents, compared with a national average of 4.8.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, tweeted that "El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the nation long before the wall was built in 2008. #WallsDontWork."