Policy wonks and a PO'd AG

T.A. Barnhart

Policy wonks and a PO'd AG

Attorney General John Kroger knew he was in friendly territory, so he spoke his mind starkly at the monthly Central Committee of the Multnomah County Democrats, Thursday night.

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger & Mult Dems Chair KC Hanson"I am really pissed off," he told the monthly meeting of 45-50 Dems and visitors, chaired by KC Hanson, at the Hollywood Senior Center. People are blocking change because, as much as anything, they have a "habit of having a million excuses not to do anything."

In particular, the Attorney General is frustrated at the difficulty he is having getting the Legislature to approve two of his major campaign promises: the funding of an environmental prosecution unit and the authority to assign one or two lawyers to work on civil rights cases — two areas in which Oregon's Dept of Justice has exactly no attorneys.

"Idaho has environmental crimes prosecutors," he told the Central Committee, "Texas has them." And then to drive the point in, he added "Sarah Palin has them!"

Kroger and his Special Assistant, Ben Unger (who, like Kroger, is a Mult Dems precinct committee person) had come to the meeting to gather support for getting the Ways and Means Committee, and, in particular, Sen Margaret Carter to approve the assignment of DoJ lawyers to civil rights works. As if incredulous that it was the case, Kroger asked how Oregon could have a real Justice Dept if it did not prosecute civil rights cases. And then, to answer his own question, he stated that while the need for both civil rights and environmental crimes attorneys in his office seemed a "no-brainer," the "forces of inertia are immense." Switching to law professor mode, he stated if there was one lesson to be learned from the Civil Rights Movement, it's that "you don't get progress unless you sue people".

"I want two [environmental crimes prosecutors] and they don't cost very much."

(Links to support the AG's efforts, and more information on what the DoJ is doing, can be found at the department's website.)

Preceding the Attorney General at the monthly meeting were Marissa Madrigal, Chief of Staff for Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, and Sarah Chenven, Program Director at Innovative Housing Inc.

Madrigal spoke about the budget challenges facing the County. $45 million has been cut from a general fund of $350 million — and that's before the County has a full idea of what state cuts will be. She called "cruel" the cutting of social services in the Governor's budget but has hope that the Legislature will restore some of these. She gave credit to AFSCME for the concessions they made which saved 76 jobs, and she noted that other unions may follow suit. But with doubts that the Legislature can raise enough revenue to counter the "grim" outlook the state and counties are facing, she said Commissioner Cogen is looking to protect the most vulnerable in the county and will be as creative as possible in seeking solutions.

A period of wonkiness ensued, first with Madrigal discussing urban renewal reform, followed by Chenven discussing her role in setting up programs to provide short-term loans to help people with affordable housing. Madrigal was glad to see that urban renewal districts, often ignored by all except politicians and developers, were being questioned and given greater scrutiny by more of the public, thanks largely to the controversy over the proposed soccer stadium.

Pam Arden, a Mult Dem PCP and member of the Kenton Urban Renewal District, spoke of how Kenton had contributed a great deal of its funds to the Interstate MAX and to New Columbia. "We have given a great deal to the common good," she said, to remind people that not all urban renewal monies go to sports arenas.

Other Dems asked about affordable housing, the ability of credit unions to provide loans banks will not, and even that there is a conference on the impact of human trafficking in the county. More County and related news can be found at Commissioner Cogen's website.

Donna Trilli, Meals on WheelsFollowing AG Kroger's plea for support, Donna Trilli of Meals on Wheels gave a plea for her program and its services. Some local medical students had done a study, she said, and "62% of our clients see no other person in the day other than our driver." For 16% of Meals on Wheels clients, the meal they receive is the only one they eat in the day. The program, Trilli emphasized, provides "more than a hot nutritious meal."

Meals on Wheels needs volunteers — about 450 every day — and, of course, money. Those who wish to support this vital program can help, and have some fun, by attending a barbeque this Saturday at 4610 SE Belmont. For more information, call Donna at 503.953.8202.

Further news and action from the Mult Dems

Long-time Communications Director and former Portland School Board Member Sue Hagmeier was absent, announced Lew Frederick, because she is recovering from surgery and expecting a lengthy recovery. Those wishing to extend good wishes and practicial help can contact Betsy Salter.

The new office at 3127 NE Sandy is open and ready to be used and loved. Currently hours are: Mondays, 9-1 and 6-8; Tuesdays, 10-1; Wednesdays, 9-12; and Thursdays, 12-4 (and evenings on the 4th Thursday each month). A grand opening will be held June 13th; more information to come.

The July Central Committee meeting will be held in Gresham once again this year. It will be a picnic at Red Sunset Park at 6pm, July 9th. More details at the June meeting.

And finally Betsy Salter asked the 35 remaining PCPs to fill out postcards to their state representative and senator in support of Stand for Children's efforts to preserve as strong an education system for Oregon's children as possible.

The next Central Committee meeting is June 11th, 7pm, also at the Hollywood Senior Center. All those who wish to be active members of the Democratic Party and help guide what Dems in Multnomah County do and support are invited to attend and become PCPs (precinct committee people -- as this writer is.)

For more information and receive mailings from the Mult Dems, visit the website. And I would be remiss (read: in danger of vile bodily damage from Mult Dems Treasurer Laura Calvo) if I did not also note that contributions to the county party can be made online at that site.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    I'm not against an attorney or two for specialization in environmentalareas at the AG's office. Given the current budget and spending mess, where would Kroger take from existing AG resources to fund this activity? If he thinks he is going to actually add a new program with additional costs then he is partaking in Oregon's largest untaxed cash crop.

    "you don't get progress unless you sue people". I'm not one to take a single comment from a meeting and create a post; others can do that much better.

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    AG Kroger delivered a similar message to a large crowd (over 200) gathered in Southern Oregon on May 2.

    Testimony supporting his efforts to return the Civil Rights Unit to its rightful place and add the environmental procecution unit was placed in the record during the whistle stop Ways and Means Committee in Ashland.

    Several organizations in Southern Oregon have joined together in support of AG Kroger's requests for both units.


  • mlw (unverified)

    Chip Shields is on Ways and Means and is the co-chair of the Public Safety Subcommittee. Perhaps he can explain why environmental crime and civil rights enforcement aren't priorities to the committee?

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    Kurt, the AG doesn't need new money: he needs the authority to reassign lawyers. every one of the 300 attorneys in the DOJ (according to JK, and i guess he'd know) is assigned by the Legislature via the budget process. his frustration is in not being able to reassign a couple to pursue environmental crimes or civil rights crimes. and by the way, i took an entire meeting to create a post, not the other way around.

    if i was going to take one Kroger line from the meeting for a post, it would be one i didn't even use: "there is no off-season." he wants ordinary citizens to get to Salem (acknowledging to me later the difficulties in this but still insisting on the need) to counter the professional lobbyists. "You can go days and not see a normal person," he exclaimed, drawing a laughing protest from his assistant, not to mention State Rep Michael Dembrow. Kroger clearly believes the changes he seeking in state government are not likely to happen unless the same people who work hard to elect progressive candidates stop taking themselves out of the game once the election is over. people have to remain involved during the so-called off-season, he said: "that'sw hen people are making the decisions that will affect our lives."

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    If the fines for violations--especially corporate polluting--are designed to "fit the crime," then these new positions should pay for themselves. It's an investment in many ways.

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    mlw, i sincerely doubt Chip Shields is blocking the AG's goals, but i could be wrong. perhaps you should call his office & ask? they will talk to you.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    t.a.; thank you for clarifying Kroger's wishes for re-assignment to Civil Rights and Environmental from within the current AG office. I appreciate and fully support this effort.

    I also apologize if you thought my single line comment was aimed at you. It was not. Your posts are generally fully thought out and avoid the easy hit piece blogging that some other (no particular persons in mind!) folks engage in and I cuation myself against.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    And why in the heck does the legislature come off assigning ALL 300 attorneys within the state AG?

  • Two civil rights departments? (unverified)

    I thought that the office of Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian had responsibility for civil rights?

    According to his website, he just formed the Oregon Council on Civil Rights.

  • Cooperator (unverified)

    Maybe Kroger should work with existing resources and cooperate. BOLI already does civil rights enforcement in the workplace.

  • mlw (unverified)

    Because, TA, Rep. Shields - 1. Is famously opposed to M11, M57 and other law enforcement measures; 2. Sits on a relevant committee; 3. Is a frequent poster here; and 4. Me calling privately would not require him to either take a pro-law enforcement position or defend why he continues to oppose reasonable law enforcement measures.

    So, Rep. Shields, how about it? I think the people of Oregon deserve an answer.

    Another question - if there's no fiscal impact, why is it in Ways and Means, where bills go to die? Why isn't it assigned to Judiciary or another committee? If it's just a simple reassignment, why not allow Kroger (or any future AG, for that matter) the authority to reassign attorneys to support his law enforcement priorities, which is what the voters presumably elected him to do?

    On the larger issue, where have the law and order Democrats gone? I'm not opposed to smart law enforcement to save money, but all we've heard from this legislature is about cheap law enforcement. Why are the Dems carrying water for OCDLA on recordation, rather than accepting a reasonable compromise? Why the increasing hostility to voter-approved sentences? Why is there so much talk about welshing on the deal the same majorities cut with the voters on M57? We will not long be in the majority if we choose to ignore the proven desires of the electorate!

  • Old Ducker (unverified)

    Here's a great idea for economic development...

    a) Make sure the DEQ and other inspection agencies act like cops so that employers have nothing to gain by talking to them (anything you say will just be used against you, remember?) or working with them. Make sure they give no advice or render any assistance in comforming to law or otherwise improving their procedures and operations.

    b) Hire "environmental attorneys" to pursue their violations in criminal court.

    Call it an investment...LOL

  • lkade (unverified)

    Strikes me that it would be hard for the legislature in good conscience to support new programs in such a dire budget climate. Especially when the new proposed program duplicates existing enforcement work. And BOLI currently enforces civil rights in Oregon.

    If I had to choose between money for schools or money to duplicate existing programs….well it seems like a pretty easy choice to me. Especially given this morning’s revenue forecast predicting an even larger budget hole.

  • james (unverified)

    you first have to have a real environment. Alaska and Idaho has real wilderness. Oregon has psuedo-wilderness complete the thousands of people walking paths to and fro.

  • Rob Milesnick (unverified)

    This is a copy of the letter that was sent to the Chairs of the Ways and Means Committee today. I want to thank the signers for supporting the Civil Rights Enforcement Division at the Department of Justice.

    May 15, 2009

    Senator Margaret Carter
    Senator Joanne Verger
    Representative Peter Buckley
    Representative Chip Shields

    Dear Ways and Means Committee Chairs,

    We write to express our strongest support for the creation and funding of a Civil Rights Enforcement Division of the Oregon Department of Justice.

    In many areas, Oregon’s law enforcement communities and criminal justice systems perform at a level of excellence that reflects who we are as a state. From environmental enforcement, the funding of mental health and drug courts, to innovative community policing practices, Oregon enjoys a national reputation for taking a progressive approach to public safety. But our potential cannot be fully actualized in the absence of a Civil Rights Enforcement Division at the Oregon Department of Justice.

    There is not a more powerful legal idea than equal treatment under the law. Yet every day, Oregonians face discrimination because of their race, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. From unfair hiring practices and failure to pay due wages and salaries, to illegal evictions and improper loans, Oregonians are suffering in silence, and, with few advocates to fight for their legal rights, they are suffering outside the law. Crimes are being committed with no fear of legal accountability and it is time for this conduct to stop.

    Appropriating funds for an attorney to prosecute these crimes is a modest expense in light of the important protection that will be provided. We realize that these are difficult economic times, and understand how challenging it will be to fund a new division, but given what we have been through as a nation, and what we stand for as a state, the cost of failing to protect Oregon’s civil liberties is far too steep a price for our communities pay.

    Thank you.

    Very truly yours,

    Rob Milesnick,
    Executive Director Citizens’ Crime Commission Advisory Board-Portland Human Rights Commission

    Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair

    Andy Nelson, Executive Director Hands on Greater Portland

    Joanne Fuller, Director Multnomah County Department of Human Services

    William Chin, Advisory Board-Portland Human Rights Commission, Oregon Commission on Asian Affairs

    Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Commissioner & Chair, Portland Human Rights Commission

    Muna Mohamud, Office of Human Relations, Community Education and Peace Building

    Judy Hadley, LPSCC Citizen Representative

    Carla “KC” Hansen, Chair, Democratic Party of Multnomah County

    Rev. Dr. Hector E. Lopez, Retired Conference Minister Central Pacific Conference United Church of Christ, & Portland Human Rights Commission

  • Chung-Su (unverified)

    Mlw makes a valid point about law and order Democrats not being vocal enough not only on this but other crium justice issues. The criminal justice system is an area that we have to be the most careful of the Rs getting traction on. If we don't support Kroger's initiatives we don't even appear law and order on traditionally progressive issues like the enviornment and civil rights.

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    mlw: On the larger issue, where have the law and order Democrats gone?

    What do you mean where have they gone?

    This entire post is about the Law and Order Democrat, Attorney General John Kroger. And that he's rallying grassroots Democrats to his side. Is there something you're missing here?

    To be fair, the Legislature is also trying to budget in the worst economic meltdown since the great depression. Anything with dollar-signs attached to it in any way is going to have a rough time of it in that kind of environment. I'm on the Attorney General's side in this, but reasonable people can disagree.

  • mlw (unverified)

    I suppose I was inarticulate. John Kroger seems like a voice in the wilderness here, advocating for what is apparently a no-cost reallocation of resources to focus on areas of traditional interest to Democrats, yet his proposal is sent off to die in Ways and Means by a Democratic legislature that appears increasingly hostile to law enforcement. Yes, there are trade offs, but the people have spoken pretty clearly on these issues. It's not so hard to make decisions on those trade offs when the voters have told you what they want. In particular, in the AG's race, they voted for Kroger, who was more law enforcement oriented than his opponent and campaigned on this very issue.

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    BOLI, by definition, is Labor & Industry. not housing. not law enforcement issues. not government. not biz scams. Kroger's point last night was that the Justice Dept is responsible for the entire state; BOLI is responsible for a part of the state's business (and he made sure to assert how very much he supports Avakian's efforts).

    not sure why all 300 DOJ lawyers are assigned in this way, but they are. possible in the state Constitution? but Kroger cannot simply reassign even one lawyer; he needs the Leg to give him "budget authority" -- and so far, they haven't.

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    and Steve M, you are right. John is one of the most articulate and energetic Dems in the state, and his entire focus is the grassroots, ordinary citizens becoming part of the process. it was always great when he came to be part of a Bus trip. he really understands what grassroots politics is about. i love listening to him when he's on fire like that.

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    It seems like John Kroger deserves direct short-term support given the current rules. And, as Kurt implies, it also seems as if we should encourage Mr. Kroger to consider seeking a more reasonable level of administrative discretion in attorney assignments -- say to reassign 5% (now 15 attorneys) in a biennium (to suck what seems like a pretty conservative number out of my thumb). Too late for this session I guess... Having to wait two years to take up something like that is another argument for annual sessions.

    The BOLI question occurred to me too, but as I recall what Brad Avakian said, it seemed as if a) they rely more on administrative enforcement than legal in the areas with which they deal & b) that he didn't have very many attorneys at his disposal so that achieving something like the effect of what JK is proposing really would require new money rather than redirecting existing resources.

    To that I would add that the kind of cases Avakian was describing (largely employment and housing discrimination as I recal) seem somewhat limited & I'm not sure thinking about it whether BOLI is either charged or prepared to deal with issues such as hate crimes (directly or in aggravation of other crimes), potential voting rights violations, or say violations of civil rights by law enforcement -- A.G. civil rights divisions being one of our imperfect answers as a socity to "who guards the guardians" & manage the tensions between "law & order" and "rule of law."

    Old Ducker, I see your point about creating a purely adversarial & hostile relationship in situations that are not ones of bad will. There are similar issues related to how to create a system that reduces medical error and encourages best practices and learning from error & preventing error by being able to identify it.

    On the other hand there are situations of gross intentional violation of environmental laws. Sometimes those are in contravention of previous administrative orders or agreements, or involve refusal to deal in the kind of way you advocate, or involve abuse of informal resolution approaches by stringing them along endlessly, that need to be able to be prosecuted. There needs to be power to deal with that. Having sufficient muscle for enforcement when needed doesn't preclude a system that seeks other types of resolution first.

  • FYI (unverified)

    t.a. and others: It appears that BOLI's civil rights work extends to all civil rights, not just those in the workplace (i.e. in labor or in industries). From BOLI's website:

    "The Civil Rights Division of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) enforces Oregon´s civil rights laws. These laws ban discrimination against individuals because of characteristics that make them part of a protected class. Anyone claiming to have been discriminated against at work, in a place where the public is served such as a restaurant or a hotel, when buying or renting housing or when applying for or attending a career school can file a complaint with the BOLI´s Civil Rights Division."

    Why two statewide elected Ds cannot coordinate their efforts on stronger civil rights enforcement--something those 'round this water cooler all probably agree with in principle--seems like a good question to explore. . .

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    BOLI should not be taking lead on civil rights in this state. that's what a Dept of JUSTICE is for. if i'm assaulted on a street and it appears to be a hate crime, BOLI can't do a thing. i also doubt that BOLI can defend the state's interests in Federal courts; i'm pretty sure that's DOJ's job. while it's great to see Avakian taking this initiative, i doubt you'll find him saying Kroger's DOJ should not be pursuing civil rights within their purview.

    your assumption that Avakian and Kroger are not coordinating their efforts is based on what? it might be better to see what the final product of this Leg session is before you decide what's already happened.

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    I agree with you, except that as I heard Brad Avakian last month, the areas of civil rights enforcement that BOLI does handle by its methods have been part of its brief long before his tenure, i.e. they're not his initiative in the sense of begun by him because no one else was doing it. His expressed intent of vigorously pursuing them, with what resources he has, is his initiative, of course.

    But as Carla's research now posted on a new thread shows, the BOLI brief is limited & you are right about the DOJ role.

  • genop (unverified)

    Let me just throw out one area of civil rights violation outside the purview of BOLI - Police Misconduct/Brutality. As it stands the State AG's office has no investigative capability or prosecutorial personnel to look into it.

  • Insider (unverified)

    If the Legislature has available resources this year -- and that is a huge IF -- then they should allocate them to BOLI for greater civil rights enforcement.

    Now that we have a great civil rights attorney as our BOLI commissioner, why would we ever consider transferring those duties over to the AG?

    I suggest that Kroger do the job he was hired to do. Not a job someone else already has and is doing well.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Since I was also confused about the areas that BOLI and the DOJ cover, I contacted Kroger's office. Here is their response:

    "BOLI does a lot of our civil rights work - they handle all the complaints, and all the minor administrative cases where people accuse an employer or a landlord of discrimination. They're great because they have a simple process that people can access and get immediate relief. They're limited in 2 ways - one, they only can do discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accomodations (like ADA); second, they can't go to court.

    If we get our Civil Rights Enforcement Unit at the Department of Justice, it would allow us to take a small number of cases - the ones where there have been a lot of people affected, or where the behavior has been particularly egregious, and go to court to protect people. Court is important because you can get injunctions that immediately stop bad behavior and because you can get REAL fines, big ones, that will send a message that you shouldn't engage in this sort of behavior. In addition, we could do the civil rights that BOLI can't - protecting a women's right to choose, civil liberties, domestic partnerships and gay marriage, etc.

    BOLI handles tens of thousands of cases each year, we'd do 10-20 big ones."

    So, that's the difference.....Kroger isn't asking for money, he's asking for permission to reassign two people already working for him to handle Civil Rights cases. This is not unreasonable.

    And I've personally heard both Avakian and Kroger say that there departments ARE working together, they DO support each other, including that they support going after people in every way legally possible who violate the civil rights of Oregonians.

    BOLI and DOJ are not in competition here, folks. They are trying to each properly fund and staff their respective departments so that we have FULL, not piecemeal, protection of our rights. Let's help them out.

  • Patricia Lindsey (unverified)

    While the shock at the leg. assigning all 300 is understandable, it's only scratching the surface of the horror. The people that write and implement the Administrative Rules actually control everything.

    Say a ballot initiative comes around, and a pol gets behind it, establishing that every State office will fly the State flag next to the front doors (just to pick something totally fictional for illustration). People love it, s(he) gets elected. Legislator sponsers a bill, it gets passed. Then, a building administrator in Eugene, decides that he doesn't like the idea of having to put it up and take it down everyday, so he refuses. His agency, say DHS, decides that reassigning maintenance personnel to put the flag up and down would impact critical mission functions, and ask for an Administrative Rule, detailing how the statute is to be implemented. They also request a standard exemption, based on their mission critical functioning.

    An OAR gets written, defining "flying the State flag" as, "displaying the State flag, the official State seal, or making a written declaration that the building is the site of offical State business". The DHS manager at the site where the custodian worked decides to put the State seal next to the door, and reports back that, "we have complied with the statute, in spite of the fact that our exemption did not require us to do so". Blue Oregon opines that "the State flag display bill has been passed into law; the people have spoken and been heard".

    THAT my good friends is how ALL business is done in Oregon. Is the outcome I describe even remotely what the electorate thought they were voting for? You get that every time. Only in the US could the spin machine create a green, free Oregon out of the most rigid, unresponsive, bureaucratic gov. in the US.

    All politics in Oregon is about raising money so that it can be handed to the very media the pols disparage. Get lots of input, get lots of signatures...anything to cover the fact that you can vote whatever you want, and you will get what the folks at the State want you to have.

    If that's why he's PO'd, great! He can start by recovering from all those IT contract dollars that were limited, by law, to 6 month contracts, and routinely executed 5-10 YEAR deals with various agencies.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Posted by: t.a. barnhart | May 15, 2009 7:52:45 AM

    Kurt, the AG doesn't need new money: he needs the authority to reassign lawyers. every one of the 300 attorneys in the DOJ (according to JK, and i guess he'd know)

    Omigod..."billy" works at Justice?

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