Monday, May 17, 2021
May 17, 2021

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Cheers & Jeers: Utility repair crews; mail thieves

The Columbian

Cheers: To Clark Public Utilities. After a snow and ice storm last weekend knocked out power for more than 24,000 customers, crews worked tirelessly to turn on the lights — and, for many, the heat. “The way things warmed up and melted snow off trees, it worked to our benefit,” spokesperson Dameon Pesanti said Thursday after power had been restored to all customers.

Many other areas have not been as fortunate. In Texas, millions of customers have gone days without electricity; in Portland and surrounding areas, more than 50,000 customers remained without power as of Thursday afternoon. Notably, once their work in Clark County was complete, some local crews were sent to Oregon to assist with repair efforts. Cheers go to the dedicated workers and management at Clark Public Utilities — and to infrastructure investments that help limit the damage when severe weather arrives.

Jeers: To food insecurity. When last week’s storm knocked out power at a Fred Meyer store in Portland’s Hollywood district, employees had four hours to donate perishable items to local food banks. But icy roads prevented food bank representatives from getting to the store, so employees had to discard many of the items.

That attracted a crowd of people — reportedly ranging from 15 to 50 at times — who foraged through dumpsters. Employees called police when they thought the situation was getting tense. Critics say police were “guarding” the food as it spoiled; police say they were keeping the peace. Either way, it is a sad commentary on this nation that people need to dig through dumpsters in freezing weather to get something to eat.

Cheers: To Kathleen Otto. After serving as interim Clark County manager since March 2020, Otto has been hired for the position. “She’s basically been through the fire, and she’s come out shining,” Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said. “We look forward to her continued leadership.”

The county manager oversees day-to-day operations, and several people have filled the role since it was created as part of a voter-approved county charter in 2014. We hope that Otto brings some stability to the position as the county navigates the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath.

Jeers: To mail theft. Local authorities report a surge of mail theft throughout the region, with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office saying they are receiving six to eight reports a day. In some cases, criminals are taking mail from individual, easy-to-open boxes; in others they are prying open multiple doors at community mailboxes.

Generally, mail theft is a federal felony — which carries stringent penalties. But catching perpetrators can be difficult. Officials say that if you suspect you are a victim of mail theft, which often leads to identity theft, keep an eye on credit reports and bank statements. And neighbors should keep an eye out for suspicious activity around mailboxes.

Cheers: To common sense graduation requirements. The Legislature has passed a bill that would waive requirements for some high school students during a state of emergency — like a coronavirus pandemic. The bill, which extends a measure passed last year, now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The bill will allow school districts to apply through the State Board of Education to provide emergency waivers from testing requirements or credit requirements if there is a significant disruption and students were on track to graduate. As students, teachers and parents know, the past year has been disruptive; an easing of requirements is sensible.