Leadership and cowardice. Only one label is appropriate in Hagg Lake fiasco.

An open letter to Bob Davis and Pat Garrett.

Dear Mr. Davis and Sheriff Garrett,

I have been a vocal critic of Washington County’s role in the drownings of four people at Scoggins Valley Park. I can’t say that either of you have done anything wrong, however, because neither of you have done anything at all. At least not publicly. You’ve left public servants to take the brunt of taxpayers’ outrage while you have remained silent. Continue reading

Hagg Lake fiasco is merely a symptom of Washington County’s arrogance and incompetence

Dropping the charges against a man arrested for bolting cardboard warning signs at Henry Hagg Lake was a good start. Putting up permanent, albeit inadequate and misleading, warning signs is another good step. But public outrage over the tragedies at Scoggins Valley Park, and the County’s incompetent response and subsequent cover-up, should be just beginning.

The first issue should be to reveal and overturn decades of public policy intentionally meant to hide deadly danger from park visitors because of a horribly misguided fear of a possible lawsuit. Since at least 1990, County officials have refused to acknowledge the steep, vertical, hidden trench cut by Sain Creek at the park’s most popular designated swimming and wading area. Continue reading

In praise of government honesty

After two weeks of Washington County spokespeople offering statements that have been convoluted, contradictory and in some case just mean-spirited, head communications honcho Phil Bransford shows how it’s done. He’s forthright, and even acknowledges that Michael Medill’s civil disobedience spurred the county into faster action because of the negative publicity commissioners were getting. I hope that his good work doesn’t cost him his job, because his bosses have been denying that.

Forget the X@–ing NIMS, ICS, JIC and EOC. Just communicate.

Two weeks after four people drowned at Henry Hagg Lake, and two full years after eight people were rescued at the same hidden danger zone, Washington County finally posted warnings. Crude, amateurish paper signs taped to sandwich boards, but still much than ever before.

The signs were accompanied by a jumble of vague and contradictory public announcements and sheriffs deputies inexplicably stringing caution tape on trees and picnic tables that have nothing do with underwater hazards that caused the deaths. Assuming that there is a reason for the tape, one wonders why they didn’t just leave it in place two weeks ago after their investigation. All this came two days after some of these same deputies issued a $5,000 fine to a local man who, angry at the lack of communication, posted better cardboard signs at the site. A ticket is appropriate, but a $5,000 fine is meant to nothing but bully people into silence and protect bureaucratic incompetence. Continue reading

A tale of three counties, and of Right vs. Wrong

hagglakeresponse“There is a right way and a wrong way to do this, to educate and outreach.” Those are the words of a Washington County official while having deputies cite a citizen for posting warning signs 12 days after three generations of a family drowned at Henry Hagg Lake. The police action came two years after eight people were saved at the same spot by the actions of a heroic family. The action came eight years after the county created an official policy of not warning swimmers of danger, 24 years after a county official went on record stating the same sentiment, and nearly 40 years after the first of nearly two dozen drownings at the reservoir. Continue reading

Decades of inaction and victim-blaming at Hagg Lake as the death toll grows

Read an updated post here. Another update: The man who placed the warning signs is facing a $5,000 fine.

By 1990, the dangers hidden beneath tranquil Hagg Lake at the Sain Creek picnic area were well known to park officials, so when two young men drowned 16 days apart that hot July, reporters asked why there were no signs warning of the submerged perils. A headline in the July 24 edition of The Oregonian summed up their response: “No changes due at Hagg Lake after second drowning.” Continue reading

Hope floats, children don’t. We can fix this.

On September 15, 2012, I stood on the banks of Henry Hagg Lake as EMTs treated eight children who had nearly drowned just moments earlier. One child had slipped under water, and the other seven had succumbed while trying to rescue their sibling.

In my role as volunteer Public Information Officer, part of my job involved observing the scene, helping to control the crowd, and gathering statements from witnesses and from the Good Samaritans who had rescued the children.

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Me and La Raza … tell me again, who was failing to assimilate?

I saw a tirade on Facebook today about how Hispanics refuse to assimilate into America. I remember a time 40 years ago, when I wanted desperately to assimilate into a part of California dominated with names such as San Francisco, San Jose, Paseo Padre, Mission Tierra and Cam Del Campo.

I realized that I was the outsider, a white-bread kid from Detroit. Here’s an excerpt from my book Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Life in 1974:

The World’s Fair bus turned out to be very uncomfortable. All Greyhound buses are uncomfortable, but the hard-backed plastic 1970s-vintage bucket swivel seats on this one made it worse than most. I vaguely remember some guy telling me about the great acid I could score in Haight-Asbury, but for the most part my trip up the California Coast was memorable only for the scenery and this bus.

Somewhere before San Jose we were put back onto a regular bus, and I acquired a seat mate. He looked Mexican to me, but he told me he was Chicano, a word I never had heard before. He told me a lot of things about Chicanos and Chicanas, and told me about La Raza. He told me I could crash with his family in San Jose if I needed a place to stay. I declined and he playfully teased me about being afraid to meet his family because they were Chicano.

I’m sure I was not afraid, but I didn’t realize then that I was experiencing the first phase of a deja vu experience. I didn’t know that a couple of years later I would be enrolled at a community college near San Jose and that I would meet my second Chicano friend, who also would invite me to a La Raza meeting. When I hesitated he danced around pointing his finger at me and taunted me for being afraid. To prove him wrong I went to the meeting with this college friend and found the experience very odd. Not frightening, because everyone went out of their way to be friendly to me. I just felt very alone in a world that was changing very quickly for me and that I didn’t really understand.

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World War I and I have a gun. Any questions?

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove, Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback. All rights reserved.

World War I broke out in Europe. Back home in Oregon, this happened:

Patriotic fever swept the area. The Army needed snipers, and the area around Forest Grove was well-known for expert riflemen, dating back to the hunters and fur traders who first settled the region. One of the best marksmen, in fact, was the son of one of the most important Mountain Man pioneers, Almoran Hill. When World War I broke out, Frank Hill was living on his late father’s farm near Gaston, across the road from the school and cemetery that bore the family’s name, and Frank Hill immediately tried to enlist in the Army as a sniper. The Hills were one of the area’s best known and respected families, yet the recruiters refused to allow Frank Hill to enlist. The Hillsboro Independent reported that Frank believed that his full beard had caused the recruiter to reject him, so he went home to Gaston and reappeared at the recruiting office clean-shaven, hoping that “the whiskerless face would help.” Alas, it did not, and again Frank Hill, despite his expert marksmanship, was rejected. The Independent reporter offered a possible problem with the enlistment that couldn’t be fixed with a razor; eager recruit Frank Hill was 71 years old.