Articles Published in Eugene Weekly
The following articles appeared in January, 2018. My breaking report led to national coverage.
Other Articles/ Unpublished
2018 Eugene Asian Celebration
Izzy Fitzgerald, 9, finished the last couple folds on what started as a small square of maroon paper, listening intently to directions from the tall, soft-spoken man patiently dividing his attention among the dozen or so children and parents gathered at his colorful, paper-strewn table.
With a beaming smile, she held up her creation to show her mother, Amber Fitzgerald.
“It’s a wizard,” she declared, her voice full of pride.
Tomohiko Tsurumi, the man helping to turn guests’ imaginings into little origami masterpieces, placed a small sticker on the young girl’s hand, himself smiling with the pride of a job well done.
Fitzgerald and her daughter were among the throng of people from all over Lane County descending on the Lane Events Center Saturday, for this year’s installation of the Oregon Asian Celebration, themed “Bark to the Future,” a reference to 2018 being the year of the dog, in Chinese astrology.
Now in it’s 33rd year, the weekend-long event put on by the Eugene/ Springfield Asian Council has become something of a fixture in Eugene that, according to organizers, usually draws up to 15 thousand people who come to both share and experience the rich tapestry that is Eugene’s Asian community.
Nearly 50 performance groups and over 130 vendors came together this year to offer attendees everything from Asia-centric songs, dances, and arts and crafts, to booths featuring traditional foods from Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and even some Middle Eastern fare.
Especially popular were vendors who, like Tsurumi, gave people an opportunity to engage in activities that introduced them to new cultural experiences.
For Kristina Lang, the opportunity to provide her two young children with that kind of cross-cultural connection is what has kept her coming back for the last five years.
“I want to expose my kids to as much of the world as possible,” Lang said. “It’s about compassion and understanding of other people.”
Master David Leung, who has taught Chinese martial arts in Eugene for over 40 years, and has been a participant since the event’s first year, would undoubtedly be pleased to hear the praise of parents like Lang and Fitzgerald.
For Leung, the event is about honoring heritage, but perhaps more importantly it is also an opportunity share that heritage – a mission he says the event carries over from one of its most beloved founders, the late Vern Ho.
“No matter which culture you come from, no matter which ethnic background or race that you’re from, no matter what social status or sexual orientation you’re from, we are, in Eugene, one whole family,” Leung said.
In addition to serving as a vehicle to promote cultural understanding and appreciation, the event also serves another important function for Eugene’s Asian community: the event raises funds for scholarships and grants administered through the Asian American Foundation of Oregon.
Event Co-Chair, David Tam, says the event is one of the largest of its kind between Seattle and San Francisco, and that that success has allowed for the growth and prosperity of the non-profit, all-volunteer organizations that come together to make the event happen.
Tam also said that as long as the event can continue to grow and to draw more people, its important to look toward the future, and to offer the coming generations of Americans of all backgrounds the opportunity to unify.
Eugene photographer Melissa “Mimi” Nolleda echoed Tam’s sentiments. For the second year in a row, Nolleda is presenting her photo series “Our Stories: Immigrants of America” as part of the Asian Heritage and Justice exhibit.
“This is such a great community event because it brings people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures together, and brings them together with the larger community,” Nolleda said. “We’re so polarized right now. These types of events just bring us more together.”
The Oregon Asian Celebration continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2018 Eugene Performance Auditor Proposals Competing for Votes
Eugene voters will decide in the coming May primary election on whether or not to create an independent city performance auditor position. Instead of voting on one ballot measure, however, voters will have the option to vote for or against two competing measures.
The public conversation over the need for an independent performance auditor has recently resurfaced in the wake of several controversies involving city government in recent years. In particular, two recent issues have called into question public trust in local officials.
The decision to build a new City Hall has been contentious since officials abandoned the former building in 2012, and then demolished it in 2015 without clear plans or funding for a new building. In addition, City Manager Jon Ruiz has also come under fire for his decision to not take disciplinary actions against a Eugene police officer who had been accused of sexually harassing a female officer.
To address these issues and more, two citizen-led groups have each proposed creating the auditor position, with both sharing many similarities. One key difference between the proposals, however, is exactly how independent that position would be. One option, Measure 20-283 would create an elected city auditor position, which proponents say is necessary to ensure the auditor has the independence needed to perform the duties of the office.
Measure 20-283 qualified last year for the upcoming May election when backers gathered the required signatures over the summer then submitted them to the elections office in October.
According to Bonny McCornack, one of the chief petitioners for Measure 20-283 and a former City Councilwoman, backers of the measure gathered 10,500 valid signatures. The campaign needed just 8,100 signatures –15 percent of the total vote in the most recent mayoral election – to qualify.
McCornack, who was also involved with the effort to create a city auditor position in 2002 – an effort then shot down by City Hall and again in 2004 – says that the drive for a city auditor in Eugene has always centered on citizens’ desire for more accountability in city government.
“An elected auditor will have unhampered access to all data, finances, and documents to complete an audit,” McCornack said. “An appointed auditor will have only the data, financials and documents provided by the city manager.”
The 2002 effort was the result of two years worth of work by a citizen’s review committee tasked by City Council with drafting several charter amendments. The council referred all recommendations to voters, except the city auditor amendment.
Reports and documents from 2002 show that while citizens generally agreed that a city auditor would benefit the city, there was little agreement among councilors and city staff about the need for an independent auditor. Some argued that an auditor was an unnecessary redundancy, while others argued the position would obstruct government operations, and could fall into use as a political tool.
The competing proposal, originally proposed by the independent group Citizens for Sensible Oversight (CSO), would have the city appoint an auditor, as opposed to holding elections. Proponents of an appointed auditor also say their proposal provides transparency and accountability in the position. They also caution that an elected auditor would offer no more independence than an appointed auditor and, worse, could potentially create a branch of government with more power than it needs to carry out its mission.
Yet, despite the drive to install an appointed auditor having failed once before, CSO still believes it is the best option for the city. The campaign’s proposal to the city even draws heavily on the 2002 proposal; a fact CSO acknowledges.
Rob Zako, a spokesperson for CSO who was also involved in the 2002 effort, characterized the council’s historical view of the auditor amendment as ambivalent, at best.
“The councilors didn’t give the voters a choice on [the auditor amendment], for whatever reason,” Zako said. “I think that a majority of council felt that it wasn’t needed, it would be money wasted, and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. So they didn’t even want to ask the voters that question.”
Drawing on CSO’s proposal, Eugene city councilors voted on January 24, in a 4 to 3 split, to direct City Manager Jon Ruiz and city staff to draft a charter amendment proposal creating an appointed city auditor position for referral to the May 15 ballot. The council voted February 12 to refer that proposal in a 5-2 vote with Councilors Mike Clark and Betty Taylor voting against the referral.
In recent council sessions where the issue was discussed, councilors expressed concerns that an elected auditor could end up working against city government instead of for it. At the February 12 meeting, Councilors Chris Pryor, Alan Zelenka and Mike Clark all expressed reservations. Pryor said that while he agreed there was a need for an auditor position, he would have chosen to approach the matter differently. He also said it feels as though the process is being done to the city rather than with the city.
While proponents of both measures differ on how an auditor can best perform the duties assigned to the position, both agree Eugene is unique among Oregon cities in that it doesn’t have an independent performance auditor at all, and the city would benefit from having one, however it comes to pass.
In Eugene, city departments are responsible for auditing themselves, with guidelines and performance measures set by management staff. The city charter does not mandate performance reviews and when they are done, they are not made public. Annual financial audits are required by the state, and those are public information, but those audits do not measure performance.
Voters in Eugene, however, have shown they would like to see more accountability from city officials.
Lindholm Company, a local firm that regularly provides polling services for political campaigns, conducted a poll September 11 and 12, of what they identified as likely general election voters.
In that poll, voters responded 60 percent favorably when asked if they would support a charter amendment establishing an elected auditor position. The poll did not ask whether voters would support an appointed position.
When voters go to the polls in May, they can choose to vote for either proposal, or neither. In the event that both proposals pass, however, the one with the most yes votes will be adopted.