COOS COUNTY — Coos County Commissioners halted plans to relocate the county’s animal shelter last week mirroring concerns raised by the Coos County Sheriff’s Office including increased costs and issues with staffing.
During last Tuesday’s board meeting, commissioners discussed a proposal submitted last spring by the nonprofit organization, Pacific Cove Humane Society (PCHS), to move the animal shelter into its new location on 3485 Vine Ave. in Coos Bay.
PCHS president Kate Sharples told The World in a previous interview initially the organization, which began in 2000, planned on opening and operating its own animal shelter.
However, she said it later decided merging with the county and providing it with a new building, which it purchased in 2015, seemed to be a better fit in meeting the community’s needs. The proposal included PCHS raising funds to cover its remodel costs, which Sharples estimated to be around $300,000 to $500,000.
With some back and forth, Sheriff Craig Zanni recommended to the board that moving forward with the PCHS property would not serve in the county’s best interest.
According to Zanni, the new facility lacks the appropriate accommodations to house large animals and livestock. That being said, it will have to keep its current location open or rent an additional facility to shelter those animals, which he reminded commissioners would be an added expense in its already limited budget.
Zanni also pointed out staffing concerns with having to find extra personnel to cover both shelters as well as increased water/sewer costs to run the new facility.
“If we leave our current location where the animal shelter is (now) then we lose control of that and it reverts back to the original property owner,” Zanni said. “PCHS in the meantime wants to provide us with this (new) building, but they are not willing to release ownership of it. They want to hold the title for five to 10 years and then see if it wants to continue with the program…we cannot afford to walk away from our current shelter with the possibility of the (PCHS) board changing its minds and then we’re left without a facility.”
Commissioners approved sending a letter to PCHS following the Sheriff’s recommendation declining its offer to move into its new facility. It will also include the county’s interest in continuing discussions with the nonprofit if it’s willing to join another organization with the intent of running the facility themselves.
Ideally, Zanni said in the future he would like to see the county hand over management of its animal shelter to a nonprofit focused solely on getting animals adopted. It would still provide animal control services, but would hand over its shelter’s day-to-day operations.
Sharples said its PCHS board will meet next week to discuss the county’s decision and explore its options.
“We just want to be able to help out in any way we can,” Sharples said. “Somehow I would like for us to work with the county shelter is some way or another to help improve the housing for animals waiting to be adopted.”
BANDON — “Everywhere you turn, you see impacts from this shutdown,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon on the longest government shutdown in history.
Merkley pointed to the impacts of the shutdown just before his 11th town hall meeting of the year, an annual tradition to touch base with his constituents. This year in Coos County, he visited Bandon’s Conference and Community Center, better known as The Barn on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“The public is frustrated by this shutdown for not being able to get gears to turn, whether they need to get a mortgage, a business loan, or apply for an agricultural program,” he said. “Shortly we will see, in a month or so, that we won’t have funding for the food stamp program, which will be a huge impact on struggling families. The current situation is horrible.”
During the town hall, which was attended by nearly 200 local residents, a few of the questions centered on the shutdown.
Prior to the town hall, Merkley met with The World and Bandon Western World and explained that the House recently proposed a way forward out of the shutdown. The House told President Donald Trump that he has taken seven spending bills hostage, with only one associated with the border.
“Release six of those hostages and let’s do a short term continuing resolution so people are getting paid while we argue with each other,” Merkley summed up in regards to the bill. “There would be pressure in the deadline, but doing this deep damage to the country is simply wrong.”
In response, Trump put forward what Merkley called a “non-proposal” where he said he would agree to not deport the DREAMers, which he has already been told by court decisions that he can’t do anyway.
“That doesn’t open the government or release the hostages," Merkley said.
Some of those caught in the middle are members of the U.S. Coast Guard, who have been helped locally by food drives and individual donations.
“To the Coast Guard, thank you for your enormous service to our security and safety, as well as rescue functions you face on the dangerous coast,” he said. “It’s outrageous the government is closed and we are pursuing every reasonable path to restore it. I hope we can get there very quickly.”
In addition to the hundreds of thousands U.S. citizens and service members working unpaid, Merkley highlighted local damage being done by the shutdown. These early winter months are when the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management conducts prescribed burns and thin out national forest lands. It is also when firefighters undergo training, some of which has been canceled during the shutdown.
“At the heart of this, Democrats and Republicans are fully supportive of border security,” he told The World. “We sent over $1 billion and a half to the administration last year for it, but we’re against wasting taxpayer money on a fourth century strategy on a 21st century problem.”
As he put it, the 30-foot border wall that Trump has shut the government down over “has become a symbol of racism.”
“It’s a bad message and here we are on Martin Luther King weekend where he talked about building bridges, not walls,” Merkley said. “I’ve gone to the border and border security told me they need high-tech sensors when people approach the border and more staff to respond. I think that sounds pretty reasonable.”
Other questions Merkley was faced during the town hall spanned from healthcare, child detainment centers, and a plea for him to recognize human rights violations in local communities.
One Bandon resident, Lorraine Pool, also stood up to ask if Trump will be impeached or removed through Amendment 25.
“I’m afraid Trump is mentally unstable,” she said, which made many in the room burst into laughter.
“We’re in a strange space,” Merkley agreed, though said he doesn’t believe the 25th Amendment will be used. “I think the House is waiting to see Mueller’s report. The nominee for attorney general has been very critical of Mueller’s process. If the president wants an AG to stop Mueller, that’s it, which is why I will vote against the nomination.”
However, Merkley said that nominee William Barr will likely be confirmed since it takes a simple majority vote. But he added that a bill has been presented that would protect the investigation.
“It must be delivered to Congress, but also to the American people,” Merkley said. “So let’s get that bill passed, then the House will make its judgment. It’s not an easy decision. I share your concerns.”
Also during the town hall, Merkley was asked his opinion on the Jordan Cove project, a proposed LNG terminal that may one day be built in the county.
Before he answered it, he asked for those in favor of the project to raise their hands.
Only a handful lifted their arms.
Then he asked for those opposed to it to raise their hands.
Nearly every hand in the room went up.
“I’m opposed to it,” he said. “I went through an intense review of the project. It is the most difficult policy question I’ve addressed because it’s a lot of jobs and infrastructure, but when I look at the landscape of the world, if all of us keep building one more fossil fuel project we will destroy this planet. There has to be a point where we say no.”
He wants to see jobs created, but said he wants it done by restoring and improving existing infrastructure in the country rather than infrastructure that will damage the planet.
“In the end, I believe that the strategy of depending on LNG for generations to come is an enormous mistake,” he said.
Two students from Bandon High School also stood to ask Merkley questions, a tradition for his town halls.
The first was Marino Santoro, a senior, who asked what can be done to reduce influence from big money donors in the political system.
“I have released last week a blueprint to restore our democracy,” Merkley said in response. “One is how to take on gerrymandering and the second is on dark money campaigns.”
That blueprint calls for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, as well as ensuring transparency in political donations, give shareholders a voice in corporate political spending, promote small donor engagement in elections, as well as give public citizens legal standing to sue corporations if the FEC fails to enforce election laws.
The second student from BHS, Jackson Kennon, asked how voters can support a third-party candidate without throwing away their vote.
“This is a big challenge in our two-party system when you have a third-party candidate you like but is a vote for Ralph Nader a vote for George Bush?” Merkley said and pointed to Eugene as one example of trying to tackle this problem. “A system in Eugene allocates a rating to each candidate and rates candidates by points. You emphasize who you want in that fashion.”
Merkley also presented a flag that once flew over the U.S. Capitol to the Bandon Veterans Memorial Committee. The flag will fly over the new memorial which has entered its construction phase after breaking ground in December.
Finally, The World asked Merkley if he was still considering a presidential bid in 2020.
“I’m still exploring running for president,” he said, but pointed to three main issues that keep him up at night.
Those issues include the corruption of the government through gerrymandering, dark money in campaigns, and voter suppression. The second is the struggles families face through healthcare, housing, living-wage jobs and education. The third is carbon pollution and “climate chaos,” he said.
“We have to artificially change the chemistry of sea water because it’s too acidic for baby oysters,” he said. “We have pine beetles thriving and a longer, hotter forest fire season. We see it here in so many ways and so much more than 10 years ago.”
What he is weighing now is whether he will be more effective in his Senate role versus being part of the 2020 conversation.
“I’ll make a decision sometime this first quarter,” he promised.
COOS BAY — Key Club students from Marshfield High School presented ideas to improve Pirate Park with outdoor exercise equipment.at Tuesday’s Coos Bay City Council work session.
This is the Key Club’s second phase of renovations for Pirate Park, which the group cleaned up and brought new equipment to over the past couple of years. After the Key Club finished its first phase of renovation efforts this past summer, the city was so impressed with the improvements made it renamed the 10th Street Park the new "Pirate Park" to thank the Marshfield students for their hard work.
In phase two, the students of the Key Club would like to bring outdoor fitness equipment to the area and establish a fitness zone around the equipment.
Two pieces of equipment were proposed, including a leg-lifting exercise machine and an upper arm exercise machine. Together the cost for the equipment comes in just over $9,000, a price which the Key Club would look to pay through donations and grants. Both pieces of equipment are ADA accessible.
Key Club students brought around a survey to local residents to see if they would support adding the fitness zone and saw widespread positive feedback.
Although very impressed with the young folks taking initiative to improve parts of their community, the council is hesitant to support the project because the city’s Parks Master Plan would have to be amended.
“The master plan doesn’t speak specifically to adult exercise equipment in a neighborhood park,” said Randy Dixon, Coos Bay's operations manager. “The purpose of a neighborhood park is a service radius of a mile to half a mile.”
The big problem is that the city’s master plan uses nationwide definitions to define what it considers a neighborhood park and what it considers a community park. Neighborhood parks like Pirate Park are designed to serve smaller groups than community parks, which according to national standards neighborhood parks do not include outdoor exercise equipment for grant funding purposes.
“Right now it doesn’t fit within the current master plan," Dixon said. "It would take rewording every neighborhood park in the plan to include outdoor exercise equipment. When we recap and resize our master plan to include neighborhood parks for adult exercise equipment means you would be going outside of the standard."
Changing that standard would not keep the parks from getting new grants, but it would cause smaller parks to compete for grant funding with larger community parks that are more in line with national standards.
The uncertainty is that changing the city’s master plan could result in loss of certain grant funding for the city’s neighborhood parks. However, there is the potential that making that change could open the city up to a number of grants its neighborhood parks were not previously qualified for.
Councilors decided to table the issue and have city staff try and find out more information before a decision will be made. One suggestion by the council was that the Key Club potentially look into placing exercise equipment in a community park that meets standards.
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration can go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender men and women while court challenges continue, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court's five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have. The order from the court was brief and procedural, with no elaboration from the justices.
The court's decision clears the way for the Pentagon to bar enlistment by people who have undergone a gender transition. It will also allow the administration to require that military personnel serve as members of their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules.
The Trump administration has sought for more than a year to change the Obama-era rules and had urged the justices to take up cases about its transgender troop policy immediately, but the court declined for now.
Those cases will continue to move through lower courts and could eventually reach the Supreme Court again. The fact that five justices were willing to allow the policy to take effect for now, however, makes it more likely the Trump administration's policy will ultimately be upheld.
Both the Justice and Defense departments released statements saying they were pleased by the Supreme Court's action. The Pentagon said its policy on transgender troops is based on professional military judgment and necessary to "ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force." Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said lower court rulings had forced the military to "maintain a prior policy that poses a risk to military effectiveness and lethality."
Before beginning to implement its policy the administration is expected to need to make a procedural filing in one case in Maryland challenging the plan. That request could be made this week.
Groups that sued over the Trump administration's policy said they ultimately hoped to win their lawsuits over the policy. Jennifer Levi, an attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement that the "Trump administration's cruel obsession with ridding our military of dedicated and capable service members because they happen to be transgender defies reason and cannot survive legal review."
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under the Obama administration. The military announced in 2016 that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
But after President Donald Trump took office, the administration delayed the enlistment date, saying the issue needed further study. And in late July 2017 the president tweeted that the government would not allow "Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." He later directed the military to return to its policy before the Obama administration changes.
Groups representing transgender individuals sued, and the Trump administration lost early rounds in those cases, with courts issuing nationwide injunctions barring the administration from altering course. The Supreme Court put those injunctions on hold Tuesday, allowing the Trump administration's policy to take effect.
The Trump administration's revised policy on transgender troops dates to March 2018. The policy generally bars transgender people from serving unless they do so "in their biological sex" and do not seek to undergo a gender transition. But it has an exception for transgender troops who relied on the Obama-era rules to begin the process of changing their gender.
Those individuals, who have been diagnosed with "gender dysphoria," a discomfort with their birth gender, can continue to serve after transitioning. The military has said that over 900 men and women had received that diagnosis. A 2016 survey estimated that about 1 percent of active duty service members, about 9,000 men and women, identify as transgender.