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Editorials from around Oregon


Newspaper editorials from around Oregon

The (Roseburg) News-Review, Oct. 5, on resignation of Roseburg VA director

An improved housing market has turned out to be beneficial for veterans in Douglas County. The sale of Roseburg Veterans Affairs Director Carol Bogedain's home prompted her to move up her retirement date by four months.

The director announced early last week that Friday would be her last day.

It was an appropriate move. We'd called for her resignation on Aug. 1 after hearing about poor leadership at the medical center, including mismanagement and possible corruption in attempts to hide patient wait times.

We noted that the falsification of appointments likely began before Bogedain arrived in September 2011, but she chose not to discipline or dismiss anyone over the matter when she learned of the practices.

The lack of honesty and accountability led the Douglas County Veterans Forum, a group that represents 5,000 veterans and numerous veterans organizations, to levy a "no confidence" vote in Bogedain and the remaining members of the senior leadership team.

Bogedain's departure means she can collect her federal retirement benefits after her 39-year career with the VA and leave the rebuilding of the low morale among VA employees to someone else.

It's unfortunate she wasn't the strong, successful leader veterans and VA employees needed. Southern Oregon veterans love their VA hospital and appreciate being cared for by the many veterans who work at the VA.

They needed an advocate who would push for more services at the VA and come up with innovative ways to attract and retain doctors at the hospital.

The leadership at the VA is an issue all Douglas County residents should be concerned about because of its economic significance to our community. The Roseburg VA employs hundreds of people, has a multimillion-dollar payroll and ongoing construction projects.

It's also a crucial factor in the future location of a state veterans home, which would bring hundreds more jobs to our county.

The selection of a new VA director needs a wide variety of input. It cannot be assumed that Bogedain's departure will solve leadership issues at the hospital.

The Veterans Forum's no-confidence vote included the associate director and the chief nurse executive. Other VA employees have noted problems with long-term non-veteran employees.

The interim director who arrives Oct. 15, Doug Paxton, needs to uncover where the problems lie in the VA Roseburg health care system. He must find out who's responsible for causing what many claim is the lowest morale among VA employees in the nation.

Employees who speak up about the dysfunction and mismanagement they've witnessed should not have to fear retaliation.

Paxton needs to begin moving the Roseburg VA in a positive direction immediately.

He and the regional Veterans Integrated Service Network 20 must invite Southern Oregon veterans to participate in the selection of the next VA director.

This is a great opportunity to give the Roseburg VA a fresh start and ensure those who've fought for our country get the health care they deserve.

Grants Pass Daily Courier, Oct. 2, on funding for wildland firefighting

When mid-November arrives, the general election will be over and, presumably, so will the 2014 fire season. Maybe then, during the lame duck session before the end of the year, Congress can finally get around to dealing with the arcane and inadequate system for funding wildland firefighting.

Currently, federal firefighting budgets are part of the annual budgets for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The problem is that the size and intensity of each summer's fire season can vary greatly from year to year and from region to region.

So both of these huge federal agencies take their best shot at an estimated firefighting budget, based on an average from the past 10 years. If a fire season is worse than average — in other words, a fire season like the one that is currently winding down — then the agencies must transfer money from other parts of their budgets to make up the difference. This can leave other important programs, such as forest health projects, short on money for the remainder of the budget cycle.

Here's how wildly the firefighting budget can vary from year to year: This year's interagency budget for wildland firefighting in the Pacific Northwest has already topped $446 million, nearly twice the $235 million spent last year. Nationwide, the combined firefighting budget for the Forest Service and the BLM could top $1 billion. Ironically, fire season in and around Josephine County was actually worse last year than this summer, but nationwide this year was much worse.

Also, two decades ago, the Forest Service spent about 15 percent of its budget on wildland firefighting. Now it can spend as much as half its budget on firefighting. The problem is that it never knows from year to year how bad the fire season will be, so budget planning is an educated guess, at best.

Earlier this year, a reform bill was introduced in Congress that would treat wildfires as natural disasters, akin to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. That way, funding for firefighting could be appropriated as it is needed — less money in mild years and more money in bad years.

Congress walked away from this bill when it adjourned for its summer recess in August. Maybe after the Nov. 4 election, with the heat of both the campaign and the fire season behind us, members of Congress will do the right thing and reconsider this bill. It makes a lot more sense to treat wildfires as natural disasters, but just because it makes sense doesn't guarantee Congress will do anything about it. But they should.

Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 3, on video cameras for police

If we were in charge of a law enforcement agency these days, we'd be doing everything we could to wrestle up the necessary money to make sure that each one of our officers was equipped with the latest in crime-fighting equipment: Little cameras that can be worn on uniforms to record interactions between officers and the public.

As we learned this week in a Democrat-Herald story, the 14 patrol officers of the Sweet Home Police Department have been wearing the cameras, about half the size of a pack of cigarettes, for three years. It's second nature now for those officers to turn the cameras on to record the more than 8,000 calls for service the department receives each year.

The cameras aren't cheap, at about $150 to $180 a pop — but they're not outrageously expensive, either. The additional expense of purchasing more data storage capacity isn't inconsiderable.

But those expenses are considerably cheaper than a lawsuit — and capturing, on video, an interaction between police and members of the public may well help to derail potential legal action down the road.

The video cameras may have another benefit as well: Sweet Home Police Chief Jeff Lynn said he believes the videos have reduced the time his officers spend in court. And less time in the courtroom means more time in the community for those officers.

The presence of the cameras tends to keep officers on their best behavior: A police department in California found that the number of incidents in which an officer used force dropped by 60 percent after its officers started wearing the cameras.

From the police standpoint, there is another reason to wear the cameras as well: In incidents that attract a crowd, there's a good chance that an onlooker will whip out a smartphone and begin recording. In those cases, the videos are just a click or two away from being posted on the Internet.

That's what happened in a recent case in Corvallis in which a downtown encounter between an officer and a suspect accused of drunken driving was caught on video by an onlooker. The video captured what was an undeniably dramatic scene, but it didn't include any of the context behind the incident. Having a video taken from the officer's point of view — one that started at the beginning of the incident — would have filled in the missing pieces of the story. And it's not as if an officer can stop in the middle of an incident to brief bystanders on the story thus far.

The wearable cameras help protect the public. For officers, they offer a measure of protection against bogus complaints filed by the public. All the way around, these cameras seem like a fine investment.

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