Archive for December, 2009

From time to time, my musings get pretty political. Most often I’m steamed about some miscreant whose gotten into office for the single purpose of long term employment at our expense and is behaving badly. Or I’m ranting at some dumb government policy or action.

This time, however, the political comment is a pat-on-the-back to some local Oregon officeholders and a civil servant or two who did something right; very right.

To do so, I’m going to get a bit wonkish but hang in there. There’s really no other way to describe what they did or how they did it.

We’re talking about a new public safety building in Roseburg … a marvelous blend of function, community enhancement, long range planning and proper use of an intricate tool of government.

That tool is tax increment financing (TIF). Because it does have some downsides, I’ve never been a strong advocate for using it. Fact is, I’ve seen it misused a number of times; opposed it and said so. But not here.

The Roseburg urban renewal area covers most of all the commercial property in the SW Oregon valley east of Interstate 5, extending from north to south city limits. Give or take some enclaves.

Let’s say, strictly for example, the assessed valuation for tax purposes within that UR district is a million dollars. It’s really much more than that but we’re talking example here. Also my simple math abilities.

Oregon law allows a 3% increase in that assessed value each year. So, for our purposes, next year’s income would be $1,030,000. The year after that $1,061,855. And on and on. Each year is worth 3% more taxes to the several government entities that rely on that income. That might be the Roseburg School District or the City of Roseburg or a local highway district. And some others. Each gets a piece of the tax pie.

Tax increment financing freezes that income at a certain point; usually the beginning of a tax cycle. So, those entities of government receiving tax income from that property essentially have their incomes frozen, too. That’s because new dollars over that base go to a purpose selected by, in this instance, the City of Roseburg. As those dollars build each year, the higher valuation income goes to the city to pay off bonds floated to build the safety center. Not a tax increase. But certainly a tax shift.

The downside is two fold. First, in time, frozen entities receiving taxes for their operations will see costs increase but not their income from the usual basic source. So they’ll have to look elsewhere. Maybe tries at one or more bond issues of their own.

Second, some see this maneuvering of our tax dollars as a way for governments to circumvent going to the voters to see if they want the new building or airport or whatever the subject may be. Sometimes they don’t. With TIF, they get it anyway.

Both of these negatives are very real. TIF has been challenged in various courts. Decisions have been mixed.

But there are upsides. In the Roseburg Safety Center case, both fire and police were suffering from ancient, totally inadequate housing so bad their missions of community protection were affected. Equipment necessary to maintain fire safety could not be housed. Required training of fire and police personnel was restricted or impossible locally given conditions. City safety and those who provide it were endangered.

Recognizing the need and their sworn responsibility (if not liability) elected city officials opted for TIF using the urban renewal area income rather than the delay and expense of one or more bond issues. Issues that could have been defeated.

The professionals who were to use the new facility were given great leeway to research what other cities had done, look for what worked and what didn’t, huddle with architects and come up with recommendations to fill not only today’s needs but those of 30-40 years down the road as the city grows.

They did it. In spades! I’m not an expert qualified to determine what the city needed. But after a room-by-room look, my sidewalk engineering expertise tells me they couldn’t have done much better.
Yes, those very real downside tax issues apply. No question. And some others I didn’t mention. But, in this instance, taxpayers were well-served. Too often, especially in school bonds, slimming down enough to get voter approval most often results in some real needs not being met, future needs ignored and temporary class rooms being used the day a new school opens. Outdated from the get-go.

I am, and will continue to be, critical of many aspects of politics and government. But in this instance, I’m an unabashed believer that the system worked and taxpayers (us) were well-served.

End-of-year byline columns … or even end-of-decade .. traditionally review the period, pick major events that affected us. Or they look ahead, guessing where we’re going. I can do neither. Not this time.

Where to start? Wall Street’s implosion … or Tiger’s? Terrorism in our skies … or our investment houses? Insurance company and major bank ripoffs … or oil company’s obscene profits? The it-speaks-well-of-America election of our first black president … or the it-speaks-shamefully-of-America we have a Congress proven embarrassingly incapable of having it’s members work together?

Looking ahead, what would you say? Those who got us into this mess will face justice … or crime pays if you do it on a large enough scale? We will end the needless expenditure of national blood and treasure in two no-win wars … or we’ll go deeper in battle and borrowed debt? We will provide for the common man (and woman) … or the common man (and woman) will continue to provide for a Congress increasingly divided, arrogant and out-of-touch?

In the last decade, we had our foundations rattled. Hard! First by terrorists then by internal structural failures. If you’re among the millions who lost home or job …or both … you’d probably have a hard time picking which of just those two events most affected your life.

In a number of Oregon counties, there was the good news the safety net funding heavily relied upon for years would continue; then the bad news that it’d be significantly less and eventually end. We’ve seen Northwest jobs disappear, erosion of government services and new or higher fees for many things. Right here at home. With more of both ahead.

In that one story … what do you say about what’s happened and what do you predict will occur in 2010? Even those who have to make the hard local choices can’t answer with certainty.

Frankly, looking at the last 10 years, a most significant occurrence I see is one to be found in any community across our entire country. Local and national, it’s affected our politics, our business, our personal and corporate relationships and is sorely testing the fabric that’s traditionally bound us together as a nation among nations; the leader among leaders.

We have become less a nation of listeners and more divided by talkers. We’ve reshaped much of our national dialogue and governance pursuing single views without reasoned debate; without listening to each other.

There is no one person or event to fault for this. It didn’t start at a single moment. It’s been building for a long time. It didn’t begin in the last year. But it reached a new high in the decade.

Like small children learning only a small part of something new, then telling others all sorts of details based on that little knowledge, we’ve forgotten to listen until learning more facts. As a nation, many of us stick with what we know, form opinions without hearing both sides and act with finality, not hearing other views.

Our nation was founded on compromises made after hearing all sides. International trade tariffs, monetary standards, declaring wars, even slavery; all involved talked, all involved listened, all acted on information gleaned from … listening.

In the last decade, we’ve seen national political structure forged more by single-issue declarations than by reasoned debate. We’ve seen the “us versus them” philosophy intra-party and across party lines. We’ve watched isolated minority viewpoints based on incomplete facts become law through divisive manipulation. New and possibly better ideas have been lost in favor of simply and mindlessly opposing based on information generated by the loudest.

This can be found in other arenas. But Congress has set the gold standard for outrageous talking while ignoring open-minded listening. Global warming. Health care. National security. Wars. Stalemates on new laws to regulate corporations and individuals who all but sunk our national economy.

The litany of bad news which wrote some of the most important headlines of the decade is uncomfortable to remember. Most of us will consign the period to history with little regret.

My hope for 2010 … my repeated prayer for 2010 … is we will demand of each other a return to listening. Silently, thoughtfully, fully; we can solve most of what ails our nation by … listening. We can disarm division and discord … by listening. We can improve our own and our national relationships … by listening.

Will you join me … listening?

Christmas week, 2009. At our house, and many of yours, red and green trappings of the season have appeared and some furniture has disappeared, replaced by the seasonal tree. Has it really been a whole year since we did this?

Yes, Virginia, it has. And what 12 months they have been!

It’s safe to say none of us have slipped through 2009 without being affected by the economic and social events of each day. We’re all, at this Christmastide, in a different place than a year ago. For many, things are not as comfortable or as predictable as they were last Christmas.

Still, as you walk through stores in our fine Oregon community, things look familiar. All are stocked to the eaves with the usual merchandise. Clerks stand ready to help. The same carols are heard on the piped music. Decorations … some new … some old … help to fill our senses with the knowledge that it’s Christmas.

An evening tour around town shows some homeowners have added to their outside decorations. Cars still line up at the Festival of Lights. Even some of the 18-wheelers on the Interstate sport additional lights to remind us.

Yet, a closer examination shows other indications of late December’s conditions. Food pantries … all of them … are straining to meet much higher demand for basic staples. Churches are asking members for more donations of cash or food to help meet the need.

Missions and other temporary housing spots are doing all they can to meet the higher number needing shelter. Sure, some of that has to do with our recent cold snap. But while those temperatures are gone, a lot of the people aren’t.

It’s purely my own observation, but it seems there aren’t as many Christmas trees lighted in homes in the neighborhoods we drive through. In fact, some homes aren’t even occupied as they were a year ago. There are dark spots along some of our streets where there used to be light in the evenings. Where there used to be people.

I’m told by employees in some local stores that, while people are continuing to shop, more are buying with cash and not credit. Many purchases for gifting appear to be more carefully made and many are more utilitarian than in recent Christmases. There will be presents under the trees but, in many homes, they’ll be less of the extra things and more of the essentials.

Given local high unemployment (12%+) and with many having less disposable income, all of these things are to be expected. It would be foolish, considering so much economic turmoil in the last 12 months, to expect conditions to be much different.

But it’s Christmas. Christmas, 2009. Our lives, our incomes and our resources may have changed in the last year. But the reason for Christmas 2009, is the same as it’s always been. While we all know that, maybe this year we need an extra reminder. Maybe just a bit more push to get into the season.

Some of the push for Barb and I will come from something we started last year when we decided to forego presents for our extended family. Our “kids” are in their 40’s and 50’s; grandkids are all teens. Oh, there’ll be some small, mostly homemade remembrances made with love. But dollars that would have gone for some superfluous extras will go to local food banks instead. They understand. They approve.

We’ll ring the bells again for a couple of hours for the Salvation Army. It’s a cold experience on the outside. But warm on the inside. When we did it a year ago, we figured giving would be reduced. Wrong! As the kettles were collected, we were pleasantly surprised to find out donations had hit a new high! Few passed our location without adding at least some loose change. I don’t expect less now.

Some churches and community centers will serve Christmas dinner on the 24th or 25th. An hour or two standing over a serving line dishing out mashed potatoes can result in Christmas-like feelings of service and love.

Wise men and shepherds didn’t come to the manger to be served. They came to serve. They came to give. They came to be told their lives had been changed forever. In a stable.

It would be impossible not to think of what’s happened in our own lives in 2009. But if we move our gaze from what’s under the tree to what’s on top, we’ll be served, too. If we follow the spirt of Christmas, which is to love and to give, we’ll find real life hasn’t changed all that much.


The subject of fame has been on my mind this week: Tiger Woods trying to avoid the downside of it and White House gate-crashers trying to grab more of it.

Most of us don’t experience real fame. I’ve known many people who should have received more of it than others who’ve gotten it for no worthwhile reason. It’s satisfying at times but can be a curse of sorts.

In my broadcasting and byline background, I’ve had a small amount. It’s a kick when you’re young. But, as I’ve added years, not so much.

I remember the exact moment I first learned about fame’s two-edged sword. I was anchoring the nightly news on KBOI-TV in Boise, Idaho. One day, while shopping at Albertsons, I was stopped at the meat counter by an elderly woman. She recognized me from TV and wanted me to call one of Idaho’s senators whom I “must certainly know” to see why her Social Security check was late.

Over the years and across the country, there were some obscene calls at work and home, strangers approaching my family, a couple of stalkers and a threat or two. Once I lived with police protection for a few days. In Washington, D.C., I was detained for several hours by a group whose story I was reporting. Scary, that.

That’s fame: an economically satisfying, ego-boosting, recognition-feeding, life-changing kick. Also the exposure to people who are envious of you having it … sometimes dangerously so … the loss of privacy when it’s privacy you want and the glare of publicity when you screw up. As we all do.

Tiger Woods, who has given the golfing phrase “playing the back nine” a new meaning, certainly has fame. He’s likely the most recognized person in the world, richest athlete ever, a household word in nearly every language and an extremely gifted golfer. What a world! Yep, that’s certainly fame.

But it’s also been widely known in sports circles that Tiger has a very bad temper, which occasionally blows, and that he’s a womanizer. As in the case of John Kennedy and some other famous men, the media has largely ignored those defects. But they are two terrible personality flaws that, in combination, can erode public trust. Maybe now; maybe later as in the case of Kennedy. But very hazardous to a career.

What’s amazed me is, for all of his connections and wealth, Woods has been either getting the world’s worst pubic relations advice or ignored the good. “Step up, lay it out, make your comments, refuse to talk more about it, let the media chew on it for several weeks and go on with life.” There’s no other successful way to handle it. Period!

Then there are the Salahis — Tareq and Michaele — two lives trying to grab as much fame and spotlight as they can and cash in. They’re chasing the fame they see, the fame they think is the answer to their needs in life, the fame that’ll eventually do them in.

They haven’t yet felt fame’s true weight. Given their published history of other attempts and numerous legal problems resulting from those efforts to achieve it, my guess is fame’s weight will eventually crush their dream. They seem to have no permanence or structure to help them deal with the inquisition that’s sure to come. Indeed, it’s already started.

The Salahis remind me of some of those multimillionaires created by the various lotteries. Also many of the “reality” TV participants. And some professional entertainers and athletes who get the big contracts. They get their fame, they get their money and find out they can’t handle either. Some of those “instant” millionaires have said publicly they wished they had never bought the ticket or signed the contract.

Most of us probably react to that with “Sure, you give me some of that action and I’ll be just fine, thank you very much!” Well, don’t be too sure.

The line between famous and infamous is sometimes very thin. Most of the people I admire who have achieved success have done so because of hard work and determination to succeed at something. They also seem to share a common trait of inner strength and substance while having a belief in something outside themselves.

The infamous often start out with some sort of local “fame” but, lacking those characteristics, they self-destruct sooner or later.

Tiger will be OK. He’ll ride out the storm and we’ll keep watching him win tournaments and titles. In time, his personal failures will be largely forgotten.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi? We’ll forget them, too. It just won’t take as long.

No question about it, college football fans, Saturday, Dec. 5. 2009, was one great day! Some of the best football of the year, along with much of the nation’s best collegiate talent. Just doesn’t get any better.

But of all the games and excitement, one vision stands out to me more than any of the others. Not on the field; on the sidelines.

In the last few seconds of #2 Alabama’s surprise drubbing of #1 Florida, there was suddenly the image of Florida super quarterback Tim Tebow on one knee, sobbing like a kid.

Now, after a lifetime of preparation for his multi-million-dollar entrance into pro football, heralded the last several years as that special “wunderkind” of player-leaders, and amassing all those straight wins, the loss had to be tough: had to be. I’ll give him that. But only that.

At that moment, Tebow, a team leader if there ever was one, was lost in his own personal pain. But bending over him was one of the unheralded, anonymous Florida players that helped Tebow achieve his exalted status. And the somber, dry eyed, unknown supporting player had his arm around Tebow, consoling the inconsolable star.

Now maybe, looking at this silent tableau, you could say Tebow was reacting as most humans would to a crushing defeat. I say, “no way.”

As the son of missionary parents, Tebow was raised in several countries, exposed to cultures the rest of us only dream about. He was taught his faith from birth and watched his parents practice it until he could participate at a young age.

Eventually he was shipped to the states to start his collegiate football career. At well over six feet and 250 pounds, Tebow had the look of a leader. He developed a single-mindedness about football and became a great player. Getting hooked up with Coach Urban Meyer was God’s gift to both. Florida paid a lot for them and they paid back the investment. With interest.

The first season, Tebow not only was the pride of Florida, reeling in every honor the school and state could bestow, he had a national following and recognition long before any collegiate athlete in memory. He was just plain one-of-a-kind; special.

He was the only college quarterback I’ve ever heard of allowed to sit in coaching strategy sessions, offering advice to those who were supposed to be teaching him. And they listened.

Very, very special in all ways. The unquestioned, unchallenged leader of the Florida team. A career of reaping hundreds of honors. And that’s why the televised picture of him, lost in his own personal grief on that sideline at that moment, is hard for me to accept.

Leaders … real leaders … don’t just show up for the good times to take the tributes. They aren’t expected to just do their job … as Tebow has certainly done … then drop to their knees in tears when victory goes the other way.

At that moment, when the bottom falls out and the crowd turns to follow someone else, leaders are supposed to stand their ground, suck it up and be the one that takes the hits … and maybe a few more than all the others. Just as, in the good times, they took the honors and maybe a few more than the others received.

One of the qualities of leadership is to represent, at all times, the best interests of those following and to set the tone for that moment, whatever that moment may be: victory or defeat. He … or she … is, in all ways, the absolute embodiment of the entire team. Their demeanor should always reflect that and they should never, never forget why and how they became leaders.

Overcome on national television by is own personal pain, Tebow forgot that. Or, since his career to that point had been mostly victory piled on victory, maybe he never learned that. But when the game ended and Alabama took the spotlight, there were a hundred or so on the Florida sideline that needed a leader. On Saturday, at that moment, it wasn’t Tim Tebow.

Yes, he had the right to his despair. Yes, despite all his achievements and all the hype, he’s human. But, like glory and recognition are hallmarks of leadership so, too, are facing tough times with resolve and being the one to whom the other disappointed can rally.

In a few months, Tebow will sign a contract for millions of dollars and begin a larger-than-life career. No one else on those sidelines will be accorded so much. But before he leaves Florida, Tebow still has one more lesson to learn.