A Memorable Colleague and Friend

I lost a good friend this week when the city recorder in La Grande, Sandy Lund, died suddenly from a blood clot following surgery.  Sandy was more than a valued colleague.  She was a confidante with whom, over the course of ten years, I had daily conversations about work-related issues and shared countless thoughts about family, friends, and the state of the world.

We often spend more time with work friends than we do with lifelong friends or even members of our family.  I had more interactions with Sandy than I’ve had with my sister over the past 20 years, mostly because of proximity.  Sandy never forgot a birthday or anniversary, and we called each other every month or two just to stay in touch.  She had a standing invitation to visit us in Albany, and I used to tell her that we turned the porch light on every night in expectation of her arrival.  I know she planned to visit, but it was just something that never quite happened.

Facebook allowed us to share photos and keep track of the events in each of our lives.  Sandy’s son, Thomas, was the center of her universe; and I was able to see him graduate from college and go through Army training thanks to the magic of social media.  She would often comment on pictures of grandchildren or various trips that I posted.  Sandy’s other passion was the City of La Grande.  I believe she worked there for about 27 years, and she was completely committed to fulfilling her responsibilities.  I never had to worry about agendas, meeting minutes, council packets, and the many essential tasks Sandy oversaw.  Despite our friendship, I always knew that Sandy’s first loyalty was to the City and making sure we fulfilled our responsibilities to the Council and citizens.

I am reasonably sure Sandy would not be pleased with a maudlin recounting of her many virtues.  She was a strong-willed person who had a low tolerance level for incompetence, laziness, and ignorance.  Although we shared many common opinions, I tended to be a little less judgmental about other people, which sometimes led to intense discussions.  I think one of the reasons we became close friends is that we knew we could count on each other to tell the truth and give an honest opinion.

I will miss Sandy, just as I miss Dick Ebbert, Ralph Reid, and Doug Killin, who passed away while serving the City of Albany.  My life is enriched every day by my associations and friendships at work.  Great people like Sandy provide inspiration, hope, humor, guidance, and friendship that make the challenges easier to overcome and the celebration of the accomplishments more worthwhile.

Energy Shortage

My wife and I volunteered to take care of two of our grandchildren last weekend and discovered that there are good reasons to have children when you are young.  Jack and Anthony are 3½ and 1½ respectively and, although they are much better behaved than any of our children ever were, they require a fair amount of attention.

I did not remember, for example, the mechanical aptitude, effort, and energy required to simply get a child into a car.  I decided to take the boys out to visit their cousins and then go see some newborn lambs at a farm near Scio while my wife was attending a meeting Saturday morning.  By the time I changed a diaper, found clothes, dressed the kids, and strapped them into their car seats, I was more exhausted than I am after my usual six-mile morning run.  I spent a good part of the afternoon taking a recovery nap on the couch.

Evelyn apparently knew she would be attending a number of weekend meetings when she made arrangements to look after the children.  I found out Sunday morning that I would be responsible for getting the little ones ready for church and transporting them to the building while my wife attended another meeting.  We repeated Saturday’s process with the addition of taking more care with clothing, hair, and general cleanliness.  I guess church members are more concerned about appearances than baby lambs.

Our grandbabies routinely surprise us with their talents, insights, and generally good behavior, despite the occasional lapse.  Anthony is getting new teeth and seems determined to try them out on anything close at hand.  Unfortunately for Jack, he’s usually closer than anything else that Anthony can sink his teeth into.  I fear Anthony could grow up to be a Beaver because we now have teeth marks on several pieces of furniture, in addition to the impressions still visible on Jack’s arm. 

I have a better understanding now why the birth rate is declining in many countries around the world.  Car seats alone must surely account for some of the reduction; and when you add in bathing, dressing, supervising, disciplining, educating, feeding, health care, and activities, it’s no wonder people are choosing not to have babies.  Even if you can afford them, there is still the issue of changing dirty diapers.  I like to think I have a strong stomach, but my limits have been tested on the rare occasion when I’m the only one available to change a smelly diaper.  It seems small consolation to me that you can wash the stuff off because it frequently seems to find its way onto your hands or clothing. 

Grandchildren really are a great blessing in our lives and, as anyone who has spent much time around me can attest, I enjoy telling stories about them.  It has been fun to share experiences with Tom and Denise Valentino and hear about their first grandchild who recently arrived.  I have also enjoyed meeting a number of grandbabies who have dropped in to visit their grandparents at City Hall.  As my children remind me from time to time, it won’t be long before the shoe is on the other foot and I may be depending on children and grandchildren to take care of me.

Discovering the Truth

Nearly every day, I hear or see allegations that are presented as fact but are really opinions.  I think many people have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two, and I know that I sometimes believe things without really being able to prove they are true.  Lawyers are very good at exploiting this uncertainty when building cases for or against a particular point of view.

Experienced police officers know that people rarely remember events the same way, and witnesses can be completely mistaken about important facts in a case.  We are all familiar with examples of people wrongly convicted by eyewitness testimony, and I have personally seen people testify to something under oath that was demonstrably untrue.  The fact that all of us have unreliable memories does not mean we all have bad intentions or are liars.  Sometimes we just perceive things differently.

Sorting out what really happened and taking appropriate action when an allegation is made is often a difficult task.  If five people leave a meeting feeling it was positive and productive and one walks away completely dissatisfied, was the meeting good or bad?  Usually, we give credibility to a majority opinion or to facts that can be independently corroborated, but there are clearly times when one person sees something no one else considered.

We rely on an elaborate system of laws and courts to resolve many of these differences, recognizing that this process is far from foolproof.  I was reading a newspaper article this morning about what appeared to be two murders where those who seemed to be guilty of the crimes were never prosecuted due to lack of evidence. 

City investigations cover a wide range of subjects that include everything from looking into accusations against employees to checking out whether grass and weeds constitute a fire hazard.  Allegations involving employees are treated carefully and seriously.  Most city employees have rights guaranteed in labor agreements and state statutes that specify how any investigation into their conduct must be handled.  Usually, investigations begin at the department level and, depending on their nature, are directed to Human Resources (HR). Our HR Department also consults with attorneys provided by our insurance carrier on any significant personnel issue, and the nature of the allegation may dictate that an outside agency or firm be called in to fully investigate the issue.

Regardless of the outcome of an investigation, it is common for someone to disagree with its conclusions.  Some will feel the response was too lenient, while others may believe it was too harsh or unfair.  I can’t guarantee that city investigations into the truth surrounding a particular issue will yield a result that makes everyone happy.  I can guarantee that allegations will be treated with the respect they deserve and a good faith effort will be made to discern the truth.