The Weekly Churn, Jan 17

Counselors Offer Few Details in Neo-Nazi-involved Fight Case
A fight in downtown Corvallis in December involving known Oregon Neo-Nazi James Marr drew headlines across the country, but many details about how the case will proceed are unclear.

Four people were arrested and charged with second-degree disorderly conduct, and Marr was taken to the hospital after “suffering a medical event,” according to the police. The nature of this “medical event” and whether it was related to the fight, as well as the cause of the fight, are still unknown. 

Cameron Green, a Corvallis lawyer claiming to represent the four already charged in the fight, told reporters he believes his clients were not the aggressors. This Thursday was supposed to be the clients’ first appearance, but the prosecutor did not file any charges, a decision Green described as “wise.” 

Reports say the Yamhill County District Attorney’s office, rather than the Benton County District Attorney’s office, will be handling the case. The Benton County DA cited that a “potential conflict of interest” caused their recusal, but the specific nature of this conflict is also unknown. 

Yamhill County DA Brad Berry told reporters that charges could still be filed against the four. He claims he is waiting on security footage and “other records” before deciding how to proceed.

Brownsville Woman’s Body Recovered After Suspected Crash into River
After nearly a week of searching, the body of Suzanne Durheim of Brownsville was found on Tuesday, Jan 15, a mile from the site of her suspected car crash into the Willamette River.

Durheim’s family reported her missing after she did not show up for work at Samaritan Health Plans on Monday, Jan 7. Police and sheriffs found her truck in the Willamette River on Tuesday, and pulled it out on Wednesday, but did not find a body inside. Searches intensified and continued over the next two days, but by Friday evening, Benton County Undersheriff Greg Ridlertold reporters their office had suspended active searching, as they believed they were on “a rescue mission, not a recovery mission.” Tragically, this proved true the following Tuesday, when Durheim’s body was discovered in debris on the river’s east bank.

Benton County Cultural Coalition: 2019 Grant Recipients
The Benton County Cultural Coalition, the county organization which grants funds from the statewide Oregon Cultural Trust, has released the names of its 2019 grant recipients. Here they are, alongside a short description of the project or event for which they received a grant.

  Beit Am: The 2019 Jewish Film Festival

  Benton County Historical Society: 2019 Family Day at the Museum

  Casa Latino: Art workshops during OSU “Noche de Alma Latinoamericana” event

  Chintimini Chamber Music: Music education for low income children in Corvallis

Corvallis Guitar Society: The 2019 Corvallis Guitar Festival

Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center: Working with Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services to sponsor culturally-themed activities

Jackson Street Youth Services: Collaborating with The Arts Center to create an outdoor mural in Corvallis

Summit Community: Improving facilities at the Summit Community Center in Blodgett

The Arc of Benton County: Babel drum for new sensory garden in Philomath

Willamette Apprentice Ballet: Free performances of new ballet

Willamette Grange #52: Willamette Community Center/Hall restoration

Wren Community Club: Lighting improvements to the Wren Community Hall

Corvallis Ex-Lawyer Sentenced to 46 Months for Financial Crimes
Pamela Hediger, a former Corvallis attorney who has been under ethical and criminal investigation for the past year for misleading clients and embezzling money from her firm to pay for everything from vacations to plastic surgery to backdated income taxes, has been sentenced to almost four years in federal prison. 

Hediger was a named partner at Evashevski, Elliot, Cihak and Hediger, a private Corvallis law firm, for 15 years. Her name was removed after she was fired in late 2017, when a “routine examination of [the] books” revealed the extent of the embezzlement and coverup. Hediger previously worked at the Benton County District Attorney’s office, and her case was referred to the Oregon State Attorney General to avoid any conflict of interest.

She is being prosecuted at the federal level as part of an agreement reached to “resolve all the state and federal allegations,” according to The Oregonian. Hediger will serve her sentence at SeaTac federal detention center in Seattle. 

Attempted Hack of US Power Grid Went Through Corvallis-based Company
An investigation by The Wall Street Journal into the attempted hacking of the U.S. electrical grid  in the summer of 2018 revealed that multiple Oregon companies, including an unnamed “professional services firm” based in Corvallis, were hacked in order to target state and national utilities. According to this report, “experts believe two dozen or more utilities ultimately were breached,” and the attack  “set off so many alarms that U.S. officials took the unusual step in early 2018 of publicly blaming the Russian government.” 

The report describes multiple attacks on the systems of construction and power companies across Oregon and the Northwest, using fake emails to obtain passwords (a technique known as ‘phishing’) and then utilizing hacked email accounts to make further attempts on all of the first victim’s contacts. As an employee of one of the hacked companies put it, “It’s not you. It’s who you know.”

The unnamed, Corvallis-based “professional services firm” in the report unwittingly granted intruders access to 3 unspecified U.K. companies, 2 unspecified U.S. companies, and a Massachusetts-based power company. 

“We didn’t know about it or catch it,” the company’s owner told the Journal.

The report claims two of these companies helped build independent electrical systems for domestic Army bases, and identifies All-Ways Excavating USA as a government contractor who regularly works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Thousands of Federal Jobs in Oregon Go Unfunded
Oregon, along with many Western U.S. states, is struggling with thousands of federal workers who are currently furloughed or working without pay. The partial federal government shutdown affects nine of fifteen federal departments and many agencies.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are both unfunded, and both have a significant presence in Oregon and the Northwest due to the amount of federally-protected public land. According to the research division of the Oregon Employment Division, almost 9,600 federal jobs in Oregon are currently unfunded, of which almost half are from the Forest Service and the BLM. 

The length of the shutdown is also testing Oregon employment benefits laws. Federal employees who are furloughed and not working may apply for unemployment benefits, but those employees required to work without pay are not. David Gerstenfeld, director of Oregon’s unemployment insurance division, told The Oregonian, “I don’t think the laws necessarily had this type of scenario in mind.” 

Some federal employees are required to work without pay because their work is considered essential, like Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, and are even barred from striking. Local Members of Congress have given public support to the TSA union members and called for an end to the shutdown, but there is public worry they may have to find new or additional jobs. Stories have circulated about some of these workers selling blood plasma to make ends meet.

Kotek Moves to End Single-family Zoning Restrictions Statewide
Oregon may be the first state to act on a new national policy movement designed to make housing more available and affordable. House Speaker Tina Kotek has proposed loosening “single-family” zoning restrictions in Oregon cities with more than 10,000 people, allowing multi-unit dwellings and multiple units to be built on properties previously restricted to single homes. 

Single-family zoning is an exclusionary housing policy with ties to the legacy of “redlining” and other racially discriminatory housing policies enacted during the latter half of the 20th century. Minneapolis recently gained national attention for a similar policy change, and Oregon would be the first state to do so if this bill passes. Willamette Week, who originally learned of Kotek’s plans, says that similar measures being passed in Portland “[have] proved controversial, attracting fierce opposition from neighborhood groups interested in preserving suburban-style housing even in urban cores.”

Kotek reportedly plans to propose a bill to accomplish this in the new legislative session. The results of the recent election likely bolster Kotek’s confidence in taking on this issue, as the Democrats will hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate and the governor’s office come January 22. 

By Ian MacRonald