Communication cited as solution
by Steve Howe
During the regularly scheduled meeting of the Hines Common Council (July 22), citizens brought concerns to the council regarding crimes committed by residents of Eastern Oregon Academy (EOA). Representatives of EOA were also in attendance to respond.
Recently, a flyer was circulated in the community listing 911 calls from EOA to dispatch over the past three years. The flyer asked citizens to attend the Hines Common Council meeting on July 22 to publicly comment on the issue.
Starting out the discussion, Patty Hodge addressed the council, describing her concerns with EOA and her desire to find a solution.
“I was hoping to get together a group of citizens from Burns and Hines to work with the owners of EOA and the state to get things changed, and get some security to take care of the safety issues in the two cities,” said Hodge.
“We’re not asking for them to be put out of business. We’re looking for a solution to the problem,” she explained.
Hines resident Charity Wensenk commented that her house had been burglarized July 4 by EOA residents. She told her story of that night and reiterated Hodge’s concerns.
Dauna Wensenk added that part of the concern is about accountability.
“Who’s going to pay back the losses? What’s the process?” she asked.
Hodge went on to describe the three years of dispatch reports that were listed on the flyer, including 75 calls regarding runaways, and said that it is a pattern that is making people feel unsafe in their own homes.
“This is what brought me here – the safety of the whole community,” said Hodge.
Several others in the audience made similar comments.
The response from EOA included comments from owner Craig LaFollette, executive director Jen Hoke, and board member Steve Bull. Their focus was on encouraging communication, clarifying the role of EOA, and addressing the background behind some of the dispatch calls listed on the flyer.
LaFollette expressed disappointment in the lack of communication from those concerned. He said he received only one call, and that he was happy to be able to correct misinformation that the person had received.
“What can we do? Communication. We would welcome you to come in and talk,” he said.
LaFollette went on to describe the benefits of EOA in rehabilitating the male juveniles. He said that the 75 runaway calls cited on the flyer were actually a good indication that EOA was keeping close watch on their residents.
“The second someone leaves, we report it to the dispatch and say, ‘We have a youth that’s gone.’ We know where our boys are at all times. We have staff 24 hours a day, and it’s a ‘line-of-sight’ facility,” he explained.
He thanked local law enforcement for their support, and noted that the two juveniles who had recently broken into homes had been transported out of the area.
“Don’t let just a small, unfortunate – terribly unfortunate – incident that a couple kids chose to do tarnish it for so many young men that benefit greatly,” LaFollette added.
LaFollette also said that the statistics on the flyers are misleading. He said that the two sexual assault cases listed on the flyer were actually two EOA residents who had reported an assault experience that took place at a previous facility, and that situation required calling local law enforcement.
Hoke reiterated LaFollette’s message concerning the importance of the work that EOA does. She encouraged people to call or email her with any thoughts or concerns. She noted that she would be writing a regular column to be published in the Burns Times-Herald, beginning July 23.
“Open communication is vital. A lot of this is being fed by misinformation,” said Hoke.
“We’re opening the doors of communication, so that we can have a safe community, and help these boys at the same time – because it is possible,” she explained.
Bull added to the discussion, recognizing the concerns raised.
“I appreciate the comments that have been made, because we are concerned about safety,” he said.
Bull said that policy limitations affect the actions that can be taken with regard to runaways at the facility.
“The staff is doing a great job at applying and following the policies, and a lot of this has to do with what’s given to them, what’s mandated to them in terms of what they can and can’t do,” Bull explained.
He said he thinks it would be helpful to put together a forum to encourage a better understanding of these policies.
Hines Police Chief Ryan DeLange was asked to comment on the law enforcement side of the issue.
He said he understands the limitations that constrain the facility, but also notes the lengthy processing time required when EOA residents commit crimes.
“When these kids break laws in the city, it’s not tried here in this county, so that is one of the issues with the police department,” explained DeLange.
Every time there’s a crime, HPD has to send an officer to go to the trial, which is time-consuming for the department, he said. But he is going to bring up this issue with the state, as it isn’t something EOA can change.
“We’re just kind of stuck in the middle – we take calls as they come, and try to keep the community safe,” said DeLange.
Councilor Dick Baird expressed concern about the amount of extra time required to process crimes committed by EOA youth. He asked DeLange how much time the recent burglaries had taken to process. DeLange replied that it was around 30 hours.
Councilor Hilda Allison asked what EOA could realistically do as far as improving the security situation.
LaFollette said first that the positive thing is that once a crime has been committed, those residents are sent away.
“We know who did it, and they’re gone,” said LaFollette, referring to the July 4 burglaries.
He said he doesn’t have an answer yet concerning the improvement of security conditions, but that the administrative team has been working on solutions.
Susan Bush, who said she was not a resident, but was looking to relocate to the area, added to the discussion, asking why residents are not prevented from leaving. LaFollette responded that the policies do not allow for staff to restrain the residents.
“If you have a facility, the facility should be secure,” said Bush.
“Not if it’s not a ‘secure facility,’” said Hoke.
“This is a residential treatment facility. It’s not a correctional facility – there’s a difference,” she explained.
Hines Mayor Nikki Morgan suggested that the concerned citizens and the EOA representatives should connect and discuss the issue further after the meeting.
Superintendent of Public Works Pedro Zabala reported that the elevated water tank was cleaned and a small leak was repaired. A report on the tank condition will be provided in the coming weeks. Chemical test results showed that there were no water quality issues.
Zabala said his crew was called out to a sewer leak at a home recently.
He thanked the Harney County Road Department for finishing the fire line along the western edge of Hines.
Hines Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) Chief Bob Spence delivered his report.
He said that HVFD assisted at a Highway 20 motor vehicle accident.
Spence and Burns Fire Department (BFD) Chief Scott Williamson have agreed to have both departments notified by dispatch when there is a fire, due to many BFD and HVFD firefighters being called to rangeland fires.
Spence said they have been getting wildland fire gear and new boots with funding from a Volunteer Fire Assistance grant.
DeLange reported that there have been a lot of calls this month, including multiple burglaries and thefts of at least 88 items in total, including jewelry and guns.
DeLange said that in cooperation with Burns, the police will be “cracking down” on the use of unlicensed vehicles on city streets, including golf carts and ATVs.
City Administrator Joan Davies delivered her report.
This year’s can and bottle deposit fundraiser for park projects has reached $810.30, she said, including funds from the mayor’s Hines Junket in the amount of $110, as well as $390 from HVFD’s donation after Obsidian Days.
Davies told the council that she is applying for two grants: one from the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation for water projects, and the other from the Oregon Department of Transportation for a seal coating project.
Davies said they were busy at City Hall preparing for the 2012-13 audit taking place this week.
The office had received complaints about independent contractors filling fire tenders from Hines hydrants, without the permission of the city and without paying the fee. Davies said that while the city supports firefighting efforts, there is a charge for water and fire tenders are only allowed to fill from one particular hydrant.
In other business, the council:
• heard from Davies that she has been chosen to lead a project funded by the Department of Land Conservation and Development to digitize the comprehensive plans for Hines, Burns and John Day. The contract was approved unanimously by the council;
• approved $4,504.75 in accounts payable;
• approved a $100 donation request from Jon Caponetto to help him go to Australia for the Pacific Honours Ensemble Trip;
• was updated on the property clean up. Notices have been, and continue to be sent out warning those residents whose properties are in violation of city ordinance;
• approved a business license for the Big Bear Lodge (under new ownership);
• approved the sealed bid sale of the city’s 1972 International 1700 truck with snow plow and sander, with a minimum price set at $4,500;
• approved per diem and mileage for Davies to attend the Local Government Personnel Institute meeting on August 19 and 20. The meeting will focus on the effects of the expected passage of new marijuana legislation in November.