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The Possible Bankruptcy Of Marion County Through Lack Of Democracy, Fiscal Irresponsibility & Special Interest Money, Part 3

(The Possible Bankruptcy of Marion County . . . )

Follow the Money This is America after all, and no one can fault OM for playing hardball—it’s the nature of the corporate beast. The point is, who represents the county when it comes to negotiating contracts for such deals? In Marion County, it’s the County Commissioners. Randall Franke is one of those commissioners.

The Marion County Commissioners recently wanted to build a landfill near the small town of Jefferson on prime wetlands to deal with the county’s increasing solid waste production. No public input was taken on the siting of this landfill. Previous studies had recommended against the wetlands site, yet the County Commissioners flagrantly wasted rate payers’ money on further studies and consultants to see if somebody would agree to this being a viable site. The Commissioners refused to listen to public input about considering recycling and reduction of waste as an alternative to landfill.

What’s most concerning here is the fact that Capital Recycling, a private garbage hauler with a monopolistic relationship with the county, purchased this very site a few years back for $300,000. Had the site been approved for a landfill, this company would have received $900,000 for that land. That’s a $600,000 profit on a short term investment. What a coincidence for a garbage hauler to own the very piece of land that the County Commissioners wanted to buy to put a garbage dump onto.

Here’s another concern. Marion County has a $20 million Solid Waste fund which I think is more appropriately referred to as a "slush fund." The sheer size of this fund is what makes it so interesting. If this huge financial excess was accrued by mistake, then it follows that garbage rates should be lowered and refunds given. On the other hand, this accumulation of solid waste largesse may be some kind of back-door tax calculated to supply money for other county needs. If so, then the payers (you and me) of said tax should have been informed and given consent to the tax. Regardless, since the money’s there, prudence dictates that the money be set aside for future environmental, public health, legal and repair costs associated with the incinerator and ashpile. Truth be told, the money is already paying for some of those needs, including the scrubber for mercury emissions, repairs on the ash monofill, and a new leachate holding tank.

It is a source of chronic irritation to me that these funds are also being used for repetitive studies and expensive consultants. Worse, the money, without public consent, is being "borrowed" for needs outside of the Solid Waste Department, such as Salem’s Courthouse Square debacle that I mentioned earlier.

Randall Franke & the Money Game It is virtually cliche to say that County government ought to welcome public input in a public forum. As always, Government should be the instrument of the people, not special interests. Everyone agrees conceptually, yet when it comes to deeds, some people appear to live outside the standard.

Randall Franke has accepted campaign contributions from three Ogden-Martin employees in New Jersey recently, totalling $1,950. Garbage haulers have contributed thousands of additional dollars to him. It doesn't surprise me that these individuals are moved to contribute. Trash has, after all, become big money in Marion County, ergo big money for Marion County politics. And Mr. Franke has played a significant role in crafting that reality.

Mr. Randall Franke has received many thousands of special interest dollars from both inside and outside the state for his campaign, and at the same time, he is one of the few people in county government allowed to vote on issues affecting these donors’ lucrative business dealings in Oregon. It’s an affront and it should stop.

Let’s Do It Right From my personal involvement in this community, I've discovered that Marion County’s Commissioners have consistently exhibited little concern or knowledge about public health. Worse, this group has demonstrated negligible inclination to educate themselves on the issues. Though they don’t act like it, they are public servants after all, and they need to listen—it’s part of their job description. Meanwhile, corporate needs are being met while public needs go wanting. Infrastructure rots, yet the county pushes forward with “growth.” Gang violence increases yet we have fewer monetary resources for education, police and prevention programs.

We need open discussion and every-one, including those wily corporations so notoriously absent in the past, needs to pay their fair share. Government in this county needs to change direction or we could find ourselves in ruin, beholden to corporate policy setters and bottom line managers, and of course, their lawyers.

Eric Dover is a Family Physician for 10 years, six of them in Salem, Oregon. He is on the State and National Boards for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Eric is presently involved with Solid Waste and Perc issues in Marion county through Citizens Against Toxins. Eric Dover is running for the seat of County Commissioner with the Pacific Party against Randall Franke.

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