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Wednesday
Nov092016

DONALD TRUMP STUNNING VICTORY! 

BECOMES 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT

Donald J. Trump decisively won the 2016 Presidential election, in spite of media projections which had him trailing by as many as 6 percentage points just days before the election. In his acceptance speech  Trump displayed a great deal of humility and promised that he would not let the people down.

Trump broke the mold when it comes to campaigning, winning the Republican primary with more votes than any candidate in American history. He had the republican establishment scrambling for a ‘Plan B’ alternative, in spite of the massive popularity Trump has with the average voters, who swarmed to rallies across the country with counts rivaling any rock concert in recent history. The night before the election was no exception when more than 17,000 gathered after midnight in Michigan, many standing in the cold outside, with more than 65,000 more watching live on the internet. That may have been the tipping point  as Trump is expected to win Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes.

As of this writing Trump has 279 Electoral College Votes, and according to the New York Times is expected to finish with 306.

Despite her campaign manager John Podesta, who appeared on national television just after 2:00 am to announce to the crowd gathered at Clinton Campaign Headquarters that they would not have results until the next morning, Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump on the phone to concede the election. 

Trump will take office following his swearing in on January 20, 2017, and will be working with a Republican controlled House and Senate.

Thursday
Nov032016

A Father's Fight for his Kids

by David Jaques

 

After nine and one half years in the U.S. Army Infantry and an honorable discharge, which was followed by 910 days In-Country, spanning fourteen tours between Iraq and Afghanistan as a CIA Security contractor, Paul Eckel has known the horrors of battle.

One of his worst days he recalls was when they were trying to administer first aid to a young child in Afghanistan who had received third degree burns over one hundred percent of his body from an explosion. “The medics tried everything in our makeshift tent-hospital, but in the end the trauma was too severe and we lost him. I’ll never forget that even as the child had been overcome for several minutes with severe seizure like tremors, in the end his body became totally still and his arms reached upward as though he was being embraced.”

Eckel says that all of the trauma of battle he had witnessed from Kosovo to Deh Rawood, his recent battle with the State of Oregon over his right to parent his children has been a level of terror he has never before experienced. “I am used to reacting in a tactical situation with a plan and a calm determination to bring things swiftly to a resolution. Dealing with DHS, where the battlefield shifts and the rules change constantly, has been very trying!”

Eckel, who has been divorced for three years from his wife Annelisha, has been raising his four children in an equal shared custody arrangement, with full custody every other week. Everything was going along fine he said until August 15, 2016 at about 8 pm when his oldest son Cayden called his cell phone and told his dad he needed him to come and get him and his three siblings right away. Eckel asked his son what was going on and his son told him that he had grabbed his younger brother and sister and they were running from their mom.

Eckel left his home in the family van with the trailer in tow, hauling their river raft, from an outing they all had enjoyed earlier in the day, and headed out to the Green District where his ex-wife lives with her parents. There he found the older two hunkered down alongside the road and picked them up.

There was an altercation with his ex-wife in which he claims she pulled in front of his van attempting to impede his progress, which Eckel said created a dangerous situation and the possibility of a collision.

He called the police, and they came to a location near Roseburg City Hall and took statements from all the parties. The result of which, according to Eckel, was the police said for him to take the kids who were with him, home for the evening to create some space to let things de-escalate.

He then took ten year old Cayden, seven year old Ashten, and his five year old daughter Lexie home with him that night. The next day he took them back to their mother as it was her week with the children. The following day he received a call from his oldest son Cayden stating that his grandfather had forced his mom to call Child Protective Services on him, alleging he was bruised from a spanking Paul had administered. Annelisha subsequently sought a protective order from Judge Ambrosini which was based upon an alleged “immediate danger”.

Paul said the spanking in question was administered with a spanking rod and consisted of one stroke each on the buttocks of the two older boys who had been misbehaving. It was not excessive according to Eckel and the family enjoyed the rest of the evening together before bedtime.

The hearing for that Immediate Danger order was not held until September 14, 2016 nearly thirty days after the August 15 incident. During this time Eckel was not allowed any contact with his four children.

After several hours of testimony in the courtroom from both Paul and Annelisha as well as “expert witnesses” called by the mother’s lawyer, Ambrosini found that the Immediate Danger Order was unwarranted and found that “The children were not in immediate danger at the time the order was issued” and entered an order setting that earlier order aside.

Paul Eckel was found by the court to pose no danger to any of his children, and Ambrosini ordered the original shared custody arrangement to be put back into effect.

Eckel said the relief was immense and he felt a giant burden had been lifted. But the celebration wasn’t to last long as within the hour he received notice from DHS that in spite of the judge’s ruling on the case, they were filing a separate case against Paul Eckel alleging the children were in danger and sought to have his shared custody revoked.

When dealing with DHS, unlike any other legal arena, the charges brought against a parent take precedent, and the parent is presumed guilty until they can muster a defense to prove their innocence.

Eckel had already been represented in Ambrosini’s court by Rahn Hostetter, an attorney from Enterprise Oregon, who had left Roseburg that afternoon heading back to Enterprise to work on other cases pending. Hostetter was retained a second time to fight the same charges which had already been dismissed by the court, but this time filed by DHS against Eckel.

The first round in the new proceeding was heard by Judge Stanton, who granted DHS custody of the four children, but granted Paul Eckel supervised visitation.

During the weeks that have followed, his children have had forensic interviews with court appointed psychologists who have tried to determine if the children are in danger.

What is deeply troubling in this proceeding is that the DHS hired Douglas C.A.R.E.S. representative Vicki Steinly, in her effort to prove Eckel could pose a danger to his own children, even though the court found otherwise and absent any such family history, has now invented a medical history for Paul Eckel, alleging that he suffers from PTSD, and that he has been prescribed psychotropic medication to treat the condition. Mr. Eckel in fact has no history of PTSD following his military and CIA employment, and takes no such medication!

The Beacon has obtained a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs which proves that Eckel has been screened in 2013, 2015, and as recently as September 2016 “in which all screen results have been negative for PTSD. There is no indication within the medical chart that this Veteran has or has ever had PTSD.”

Eckel has also been asked to interview with Douglas C.A.R.E.S. and to complete a psychiatric evaluation; a request he declined. He said they were prejudicial towards DHS and their efforts to take his parental rights from him. So instead Eckel has engaged the services of a Doctor in Eugene who will be filing an official finding with the court at the next trial set for November 9, 2016.

Eckel said he has always enjoyed a happy positive relationship with his four children and that his job as a single father is the most important job he has ever held.  “We have a beautiful family dynamic with wild love and adventure. This has been the norm for years now as a single father of these four beautiful children. To have a government entity abruptly invade our lives and mandate a sentence based on "allegations" is tragic and truly abusive to our happy family."

Now Eckel is faced with three new court dates to prove again that he is who he claims to be; a loving father who poses no danger to his children. The trial has been set for November 9, 18, and 30th, because DHS said it would take that many days to present their case against Eckel. Meanwhile Eckel’s lawyer, the former District Attorney for Wallowa County, Rahn Hostetter, has said this move by DHS makes it economically impractical for them to represent Eckel, spreading the trial over three full days, spread out over three weeks. The travel costs have become prohibitive. Eckel says he believes this was the intent of DHS, to get Hostetter off the case and force him to seek new counsel.

Eckel has been able to mount a defense, which resulted in a not-guilty verdict, and return of his parental rights from the first trial in Ambrosini’s courtroom. And now he has to raise tens of thousands of dollars  more to do it all over again, retaining new counsel.  

 

Wednesday
Oct262016

Pay to Play in Oregon’s AG Race?


Scandal Surfaces in Attorney General Rosenblum's Office

Salem, OR-The Cover Oregon litigation is complete. On September 15, 2016 a settlement was reached for $100 million, of which Governor Brown said $60 million is for ‘free IT services’ from Oracle, $10 million is for science education, and $25 million is for expenses.

But something that has gone all but unnoticed and unmentioned in the aftermath, until now, is the law firm that handled the lawsuit for the State of Oregon. Why did the Attorney General farm out this litigation to a private law firm instead of using lawyers in the Oregon Department of Justice? Instead her office chose Markowitz Herbold PC to handle the case.

What has not been explained is how the contract for legal services was let out, and was it a no-bid contract? These questions have not been answered. As of yet the Oregon Department of Justice has not disclosed any information on the contract.

What is clear, according to a report filed on Open the Books.com, a non- profit watchdog that claims to be “The World’s Largest Private Database of Government Spending”, is that the Markowitz Herbold law firm has received payments from the Oregon Justice Department in excess of $36 million dollars since 2012, the year Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Ellen Rosenblum Attorney General.

According to Daniel Crowe, Republican candidate for Attorney General, “The $25 million in cash provided by Oracle for this settlement goes straight to Markowitz Herbold, the politically-connected Portland law firm hired to handle this case.  And what some have found troubling is that Markowitz Herbold is one of Ellen Rosenblum’s most generous campaign contributors.”

What Ellen Rosenblum’s office needs to explain is why these legal services were farmed out, directing taxpayer money to a law firm which has contributed sizeable amounts to her campaign.

Crowe added: “Because of a complete lack of transparency on the part of the Oregon Department of Justice, the onus is on the incumbent Attorney General to explain why tens of millions of dollars of legal business has been steered to a campaign contributor.”

As for the Oracle settlement, which was less than 1.67 % of the amount the state was demanding of Oracle, there is some concern that the $60 million amount designated for “free IT services” may be very misleading. According to a Portland Tribune article the consulting firm KPMG estimates that it could cost the state between $490-515 million to access the “free” Oracle services tendered in the settlement agreement.

Wednesday
Oct052016

County Assessor Uncovers $14 Million in Overcharges to County Taxpayers

County Assessor Roger Hartman reviewing files with Frank Lassen, Assessment Manager

 

by David Jaques

Roseburg, OR- At the conclusion of a year-long investigation headed by Susan Payne, Operations Manager of the Douglas County Assessor’s office, into the personal property tax accounts it has been determined that county taxpayers were overcharged to the tune of $14 million, including interest. Payne, before joining the Douglas County Assessor’s office was the head of the personal property tax division for the Oregon Department of Revenue.

Roger Hartman, Douglas County Assessor said the scale of the error is disturbing, but that it involves a review of 10,000 personal property accounts, 6,000 of which (60%) were overcharged. He said he notified the county commissioners, the Oregon Department of Revenue, the District Attorney and the Sheriff of his findings.  The D.A. and the Sheriff determined that it would be better for the Department of Justice to conduct a further investigation as to any negligence or violations of law that may have occurred, rather than have one county office such as the Sheriff’s Department or D.A.’s office investigate another county department.

All of the erroneous valuation data Hartman’s staff uncovered occurred before he took office in 2015.  Hartman said he wants to assure taxpayers that the valuation problems which led to the overtaxing which occurred the five years prior to his taking office, have all been corrected. The question that remains however is the refunding of the excess taxes.

Hartman said the Department of Revenue (D.O.R.) told him that he can’t go back and issue refunds if the overtaxing was based upon valuation. The difficulty, Hartman says, will be going through each account and making that determination. This will require an increase in his staffing, or assistance from the D.O.R.

What the year-long investigation conducted by Hartman, Payne and the Douglas County Assessor’s staff uncovered were errors in calculating personal property taxes owed, including: charging taxpayers for property that no longer existed; charging late filing penalties that exceed state statutory limits; adding value to asset lists without supporting documentation; and filing fictitious substitute returns.

The county’s exposure as to how much of the $14 million will have to be repaid is unclear, pending further investigation, but Hartman estimates that it could be reduced by D.O.R. determination to somewhere in the 2-3 million dollar range. He fears that without additional funding or staffing, it will be difficult to determine the eligibility of individual taxpayers to receive their refunds, and that little if any of the excess taxes will be returned.

The source of the refunds would come from the county’s unsegregated funds account, the balance of which he said he did not know.

In the meantime his office has certified the 2016-17 tax rolls which indicate approximately $102 million in taxes on real and personal property are due, based upon an overall county-wide valuation of approximately $8 billion in property values. Hartman said this certification of the rolls was completed five and one half days earlier than last year, and the two years prior to that. This is significant because the tax statements are based upon the certified rolls. He attributes this early completion to the hard work and determination of his staff.

The county receives slightly less than ten percent of that amount, approximately $1.11 per thousand of assessed property values. Douglas County is the fourth lowest recipient of property taxes in Oregon, meaning 32 counties receive a higher share of property taxes than Douglas County. The rest is spread throughout the 123 taxing districts such as schools, fire, road districts, etc. The county’s portion is almost exclusively earmarked for the Sheriff’s Department.          

Hartman has come under recent attacks from within county government. In documents released to the local daily paper only, it was revealed that the county’s manager of Information Technology, Building Facilities and Parks, Kevin Potter, along with Jessica Hansen, the county’s Chief Financial Officer, and Michael Kurtz, Human Resources Director, all filed complaints against Hartman with the Douglas County Commissioners, alleging mismanagement and in some cases potential ethical and legal violations.

When asked how this information, which was clearly intended for internal use by the commissioners, came into the hands of the daily paper, there were no explanations from the board. Hartman said he asked Commissioner Freeman, who said he did not release it. The Beacon asked Commissioner Boice who also denied any involvement in the release. Freeman declined returning our call asking for comment.

Boice did admit that several weeks ago he asked Kurtz to do an evaluation of the Assessor’s Office. “I asked Michael Kurtz to get me a summary of all of the different issues with the employees in the assessor’s office.” Boice added that “I’m planning to be the new liaison commissioner for that department in January, so I wanted to come up to speed on their staffing needs”. Boice did not know how, or why the other two departments were tasked to do their own evaluations.

Michael Kurtz, in his report alleges that many employees in the assessor’s office have been fired or replaced under questionable circumstances. Kurtz said that he realizes Hartman is an elected official, but that “…if any other non-elected Department Head had the same record as Roger Hartman of personnel management issues, substantiated allegations against them for harassment, and multiple violations of County fiscal policies-I would be strongly recommending to the Board of Commissioners that they be terminated from their appointed position.”

When asked about Kurtz’s accusations, Hartman said Kurtz has “misrepresented the facts”. Hartman also said that of the fifteen employees who are no longer with the assessor’s office, six of those the result of budget cuts from the commissioners, and several more retired. There have been no formal complaints filed with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), and according to Hartman, no wrongful termination complaints filed with the county.

When asked what he thought the reason was for hostile actions from Kurtz and the other two department heads, Hartman said; “Some of the allegations made by the three disgruntled department heads, have, in some cases an element of truth; for example how many of the staff have left the department. But I believe a great deal of this comes from embittered long-term county employees who have made my transition into this office very difficult, from day one. I suppose that my private sector experience and approach doesn’t set well with career government employees, and may be perceived as a threat.”

Hartman also said that his current staff is doing an outstanding job, and that the recent discovery of the overtaxing all occurred under a different staff. “We have some of the best trained and most qualified staff in the department’s history, including our Assessment Manager, Frank Lassen, with over 25 years assessment experience, including 14 years with the Department of Revenue. Our entire staff has a ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to helping the public.”

The bottom line Hartman said is that “My commitment has not changed since I took office, which was to have accurate values on the tax rolls, and to treat the taxpayers with the respect they deserve.”

Hartman was elected in 2014 with an approximately ten percent margin of victory over the incumbent County Assessor Susan Acree. This was the first time in over forty years that a sitting assessor has been unseated in Douglas County. Hartman’s term is for four years and ends in 2018. 

Wednesday
Jul272016

Hillary's America - Playing now at Roseburg Cinema