HEAL Cities

I was recently asked to serve on an advisory committee for a new program sponsored by the Oregon Public Health Institute, Kaiser Permanente, and the League of Oregon Cities, entitled the “HEAL Cities Campaign.”  HEAL stands for Healthy Eating Active Living, and I am a strong supporter of its goals. 

Many of the policies the campaign is advocating are things we have done in Albany for a number of years.  We have supported the Farmers’ Market, provided space for community gardens, built good bicycle and pedestrian facilities, provided wellness incentives for employees, and led the Safe Routes to School program.  Despite what I believe is a good record on these issues, there is more we might consider.

HEAL focuses on both the community and the City as an organization by emphasizing four areas of concern:  1) Land Use and Transportation; 2) Access to Healthy Food Options; 3) Shared Use Agreements; and 4) Workplace Wellness and Nutrition Standards.  Albany is already a leader in several of these areas, but we probably have the most work to do in Areas 2 and 4.

HEAL is advocating for policies that would increase physical activity in the workplace, such as walking meetings and designated activity breaks.  The campaign also calls for healthy snack choices that would set nutrition standards for food and beverages sold on city property.  I would benefit from the latter policy because I have found myself giving into the temptation of an afternoon soda on too many occasions in recent months.  These are the type of decisions that I believe should be made collaboratively, and the HEAL campaign suggests establishing a Workplace Wellness Committee to work through the issues. 

The most difficult task for us would seem to be improving affordable access to healthy foods throughout the community.  Our Village Center Plan helped bring a full-service grocery store to North Albany, but there are too many neighborhoods (including mine) where it is much closer to fast food options than it is to healthy choices.  I should make it clear that I like many fast foods, and I am not a fan of proposals to compel restrictions.  I do support, however, efforts to increase the availability and affordability of healthy options.  We are facing a pandemic of obesity and diabetes that threatens both individual and societal health.  I also think we need to recognize that the billions of dollars spent to promote unhealthy foods are working, particularly on our children.

I do not think the HEAL Cities Campaign calls for much additional work in Albany.  It does provide additional information and should help us make some decisions about appropriate policies for the community and workplace.  The first advice our advisory committee provided to campaign organizers was to take a positive approach to the issue.  I believe the consortium accepted that suggestion, and it’s one I hope we can practice here as well.

A Safe Place to Work

Just after writing my column on safety a couple of weeks ago, I received a message from Citycounty Insurance Services that we will be receiving another award this year.  We never know whether our award will be gold, silver, or bronze until the annual League of Oregon Cities Conference (next week); but whatever award we receive is a tribute to safe work practices in all departments.

Physical safety is of obvious importance to all of us.  What may be less obvious is the need for a work environment that protects us from harassment and other offensive behavior.  Most of us realize our sensibilities will be challenged by the public from time to time given the nature of the work we do.  I have been called some very bad names over the years, and I have heard citizens use some really nasty language when complaining about water bills, citations, and other city regulatory actions.  We have limited control over what we hear from angry citizens, but we have many rights when it comes to things we hear or experience from fellow employees.

I rarely hear of and do not believe I have ever seen harassing behavior during the years I’ve worked here because I think most of us know what constitutes bad behavior.  Sexually explicit jokes or conversations; derogatory remarks relating to religion, gender, ethnicity or race; and threatening behavior are unacceptable in any City of Albany workplace.  Any of us who violate these standards can expect disciplinary action that could include termination of employment.  I’m reasonably certain the City Council would justifiably send me packing if they had evidence I made this mistake.

Occasionally, I hear about behavior that is questionable but may or may not cross the line.  I was working in another city a number of years ago when a department director told me he had been approached by a female coworker who complained about a fellow employee sending her flowers.  The director and I agreed that sending flowers was unacceptable workplace behavior given the context, and we counseled the offending employee that more serious discipline would follow any future violations of the City’s antiharassment policy.  We heard no further complaints, and the two employees were married less than six months after the incident. 

Context is important when judging right and wrong.  I recently took flowers to Councilor Johnson when she was ill, and I don’t think that gesture would ever be interpreted as harassment.  If I sent flowers to a fellow employee for no obvious reason, there is much more room for misinterpretation.  The best approach is to be really conservative if there is ever any doubt.  Do not say something if you think there’s a chance it will be offensive to anyone who hears it.  Do not use the workplace to pursue a romantic relationship or promote your religion.  I think we all need a sense of humor to cope with the stresses of our work, but we also need good judgment to know when and what humor is appropriate.

I have said and written many times before that I really enjoy working at the City of Albany because of the many good people I get to associate with every day.  Part of my job is making sure we are all able to enjoy that same feeling.  The City of Albany should be a safe place to work in all respects, and I hope anyone who feels their safety has been compromised will let the appropriate person or me know.

Selling the Fourth Estate

I think I was as shocked as everyone else in the community when I learned last week that the owners of the Democrat-Herald eliminated long-time editor Hasso Hering’s position as a way to save money.  Hasso has been editor for about 35 years and is widely respected locally and around the state.  A number of my columns over the past seven years have either directly or indirectly responded to Hasso’s observations.

 Newspapers are a business, and Hasso is not the first good person to lose his job at the DH as Lee Enterprises, its parent company, has tried to cut expenses.  There are fewer reporters and employees now than there were just a few years ago.  Hasso explained in a talk to a local service club this week that newspapers are competing against many more information sources and that a large number of the advertising sales which have traditionally supported printed papers have gone to other media.

My problem with the corporate approach to this issue is the willingness to sacrifice quality in an effort to improve profitability.  I really disagreed with many of Hasso’s editorials, but I greatly appreciated his knowledge of local government and his ability to generally discern when the City was making a mistake or doing something genuinely good for the community.  Hasso understands issues like urban renewal or Oregon’s incredibly complex public finance system, and I am skeptical that whoever replaces him will have similar knowledge.  Just as the reduced number of reporters has affected the size and scope of the DH, Hasso’s departure will affect its ability to provide accurate information and insight about local government to its readers.  The City may be the biggest loser in this transaction.

It may seem strange that a city manager would complain about the dismissal of a newspaper editor who often writes about the failings of city government or government in general.  I can recall a few occasions when the thought of Hasso retiring to a nice beach in Hawaii would have seemed appealing, but those were short-lived and not reflective of my general certainty that he really cares about this community and has made countless contributions to improving it. 

Mostly, I will miss Hasso’s accessibility, sense of humor, and willingness to listen to my point of view.  He is a community leader who never turned down a request to talk to a civic group, sat through an endless number of meetings, made himself available to anyone who wanted to talk to him, and passed along the benefit of his experience to several generations of younger journalists.  I wish him well in the future and would add my thanks to the chorus he is deservedly hearing from the community he has served well for so many years.