Albany has participated in a U.S. State Department exchange program over the last three years that has brought three sets of “Fellows” to the community to observe how local government works here. Our first visitors were two women from New Zealand who serve as the planning director and legal counsel to their local governments. Their visit was followed by a planner from Indonesia and a foundation employee from Cambodia. Last October, we hosted Vermon from the Philippines and Vatahnak from Cambodia. Next week, Dave and Rozaidi will be arriving from the Philippines and Malaysia respectively. These visits last for about a month and provide an opportunity for us to learn something about how local government is conducted in other places while sharing some of our knowledge with distant colleagues.

The common feature of all our visits has been the warmth and courtesy of our visitors. They have, without exception, been very grateful for the chance to be here and very appreciative of our efforts to show them how we do things. We have arranged tours of most of our major facilities and given our guests the chance to participate in a variety of community events. We hope to do the same this month.

I have particularly enjoyed the chance to take people from Southeast Asia to see Crater Lake and experience snow for the first time. Other highlights have included trips to the Oregon Coast, Portland, Seattle, and Salem.

Dave and Rozaidi have special interests in sustainability and marine resources, so we will be showing them our programs and facilities dedicated to natural resource protection as well as sending them to Corvallis to learn more about what our neighbor is doing to promote sustainability. We also hope to connect them to marine biologists at Oregon State, in addition to visiting the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Our guests will have a busy itinerary, but I hope they will also have the chance to meet employees and share thoughts. We have sent two employees to New Zealand and Cambodia as a part of this program, and I believe there will be a third opportunity in July.

We participate in this program as a way to see and learn things we otherwise wouldn’t. Our international guests have allowed me to see things from a fresh perspective and consider better ways of approaching problems. We have many advantages in Albany, and it’s easy to forget how fragile they can be. People in other parts of the world are working hard to improve their communities, and the International Fellows program offers us a great opportunity to learn from their efforts.

We’re Number 3 (maybe)

I really don’t have much faith in lists put out by magazines and other organizations that claim to identify the ten best or the ten worst places for a given attribute. Often, the criteria used for making the claim is very limited and doesn’t take into consideration important factors. Analysts looking at census data or FBI crime reports see part of the picture but not the whole story.

Albany was recently declared to be the third safest city in Oregon by a company known as; and while I agree with their conclusion, I really don’t know how they arrived at it. We know we have a very low violent crime rate relative to other places and, I suspect, that may be the most important indicator the company used. They also looked at social media in some way, and I have no idea how looking at Facebook posts helps you determine the relative safety of a community. I believe we are a safe community because of my own experience here over the past decade, the amount of money we spend every year to keep it safe, and the high quality of people we hire to ensure safety. But, no amount of crime data will make someone who has just been the victim of a crime feel they live in a safe place.

We typically do well in rankings of good places to live because Albany has a long history of investing in itself and a large number of residents who dedicate their time as volunteers for community-building activities. We achieve great results despite the fact that we are not a wealthy place. Usually, the places that appear on the best-places-to-live lists tend to be the ones with the most money.

A few years ago, Albany ranked about 24th in the state on someone’s list of strongest economies while both Lebanon and Corvallis ranked substantially higher. I found after looking at their criteria that the ranking was based on one year’s data and heavily emphasized growth. Albany ranked much higher than Lebanon and only slightly lower than Corvallis on most of the indicators, but we grew at a slower rate in the year that was sampled. Even assuming they were looking at the right measures, the rating was a complete distortion of economic strength.

Similarly, Oregon always gets a low rating from magazines listing the best retirement locations because of our tax structure. Oregon is not a high tax state, but we do place great reliance on income tax. Apparently, raters assume old people buy less and consequently pay less sales tax than younger people; and while that may be true, it says nothing about the quality of life for retirees in Oregon. We live in a comparatively safe, prosperous state that millions of tourists come to see every year. You can probably live more cheaply in other places, but you run the risk of getting what you pay for.

Lists can be fun and raise useful questions as long as they are kept in proper perspective. I have no problem celebrating our ranking as one of Oregon’s safest cities, while acknowledging that many other communities are probably just as safe and that we all have more work to do.

Go Cubs Go!

Spring has arrived, and the new baseball season is underway with the Chicago Cubs leading the National League’s Central Division. I have been a Cubs fan since about 1963, when my former favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, traded my favorite player, Nellie Fox, to the Houston Colt 45’s. Everyone knows the Cubs hold the record for championship futility, having not won one since 1908. They haven’t even been to the inappropriately named World Series in my lifetime.

I can’t explain why I have been looking at Cubs box scores and watching them on TV when I get the opportunity for the past 50+ years. My wife seems to have just accepted that her husband is usually sane, but occasionally not, as I express joy or frustration depending on the outcome of a given game. You know you have married well when your spouse at least makes the attempt to console or congratulate you based on the day’s results.

My goal is to actually watch a live Cubs game at Wrigley Field before too long or before it’s too late. I have seen the Cubs lose in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them win in person. Given that they are off to one of their best starts in team history, perhaps I should stay away.

Baseball is all about blind faith and superstition, as opposed to rationality and reason.

The Cubs are sometimes referred to as the “lovable losers,” a title that attempts to explain their large number of fans despite their lack of championships. I’ve always hated the name because they’ve actually had some great players and teams over the years. Fate just seems to have conspired to keep them out of the Series. This year is going to be different.

I predict the Chicago Cubs will win their division championship, the National League pennant, and the World Series. While I’m sure I’m right, I fear the potential consequences. Could a Cubs victory coincide with the end of civilization as we know it? Will the presidency be decided by a Cubs win? Anything could happen, but I believe the risk is worth it.

Hope is a powerful force and, in the case of the Cubs, a real money maker. People like me keep watching and paying to attend games, hoping this will be the year when things change. But even optimists need occasional validation. A Cubs win probably won’t change the world, any more than the Boston Red Sox finally beating the “curse of the Bambino” did a few years ago. I guess I don’t care. I will just be glad to see the Cubs win the World Series in my lifetime, and my only regret is that Cubs great Ernie Banks isn’t alive to enjoy it, too.

My guess is that some misguided soul could construe my thoughts on the Cubs as advocacy and turn me into the state Elections Division for using City resources to demonstrate my partisanship. I would remind whatever Yankees or Cardinals fans who might be tempted to do so that the law only applies to issues scheduled to be on a ballot. Baseball is, or should be, one of the few safe subjects where I can show my biases without fear. As the song says, “Win Cubs Win.”