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Councilors receive 'acknowledgement'.

Byline: City Beat / Eugene by Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

AND THEY SAY local officials can't have an effect on national and international issues.


Tell that to Ruben Barrales, who just happens to work at the White House as a deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs.

In a letter dated New Year's Eve, Barrales - acting, as he points out, "on behalf of the president" - thanked Eugene City Councilors for letters councilors had sent a month earlier, urging restraint in U.S. dealings with Iraq and avoidance of a "unilateral war" against Saddam Hussein's regime.

"As you may know, the Bush Administration continues to support military action only as a last resort," Barrales wrote. "Your views on these matters will be shared with the appropriate Administration officials for their benefit and consideration. Your input is highly valued, and we appreciate your taking the time to write."

So our councilors really stirred the pot back in Washington, right?

"I probably wouldn't call it a letter of reaction so much as an acknowledgement of receipt," says Councilor Scott Meisner, whose name was listed first on the letter and to whom it was addressed.

"I sort of suspect, for the most part, they're preparing for war more than preparing correspondence about it," Meisner says.

Councilor David Kelly characterizes the response as a "form letter," but says he didn't expect anything more. Not in reaction to concerns from a single city, anyway.

But Kelly says it's his impression that dozens of cities, counties and other local governments across the nation have sent similar letters and resolutions. And that kind of civic ground swell may well be taken seriously by Barrales or someone else with some political heft at the White House.

"My hope was - and still is - the collective statements of local government bodies around the country will have an impact," Kelly says.

Acting patriotically

A similar City Council discussion of national policy took place in late November, shortly after the Iraq letter was drafted. This time it regarded concerns that the USA Patriot Act may have left the door open for some heavy-handed government tactics that could infringe on the privacy rights most Americans take for granted.

And this time, councilors took the surprise step of wading full-stride into the issue and taking an official city position with a resolution.

Councilors received in their current meeting packets copies of the finished resolution as well as accompanying letters that were sent three weeks ago to U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, FBI Director Robert Mueller III, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Oregon State Police Superintendent Ron Ruecker.

"I doubt the attorney general and others are going to pay a whole lot of attention," Meisner says. "But we'll see - I may be surprised."

Kelly says he hopes the letter may prompt one or more members of the congressional delegation to take what he calls "the politically courageous step" of calling for revisions in the unprecedented act that was passed almost unanimously following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Council's resolution asks federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report to the city any local actions taken under authority of the Patriot Act, and resolving that city resources will not "be used for unconstitutional activities" conducted under the act.

The resolution also asks Oregon's congressional delegation to work for revocation of any portions of the Patriot Act or any executive orders that "limit or violate fundamental rights and liberties embodied in the municipal ordinances of the city of Eugene and in the constitutions of the state of Oregon and of the United States."

The act enables the almost indefinite detention of Americans suspected of terrorism, detention of immigrants without disclosure of their names, "sneak and peak" searches of suspects' homes without notification of the searches, and collection of personal information through the Internet as well as library, book store and video shop records.

Kelly is optimistic that well-organized efforts by civil libertarians around the country will lead to a less intrusive version of the act.

"I hope there will at least be an attempt by some of these agencies to honor the intent of the resolution," Kelly says. "Beyond that, it's the collective voice of similar letters from municipalities - 22 and counting - that may eventually make an impression."

BRT is coming

In reaction to yet another letter from Kelly, Lane Transit District General Manager Ken Hamm has notified the City Council that groundbreaking for an initial east-west Bus Rapid Transit route through Eugene will be sometime between February and April of this year.

But Wildish Construction Co., the project's general contractor, has recommended moving toward the latter end of the time frame to avoid "open ground during the winter months," according to Hamm's letter.

The route - along exclusive rights-of-way and designated lanes of existing road- ways - is expected to be completed by summer of 2004.

Meanwhile, LTD is neg- otiating with a company in the Netherlands for the purchase of its first BRT car.

The Phileas, which will run along the route much like a commuter train without tracks, is a hybrid electric vehicle made of composite materials, with low floors and doors on both sides.

"We heard clearly from elected officials and business people that BRT should be implemented only with a futuristic-looking, environmentally green vehicle," Hamm wrote.

Reporter Joe Mosley can be reached at 338-2384 or by e-mail at
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 12, 2003
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