News Briefs


News Briefs

Riggs Flunks Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League has rated Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, as “one of the lowest-rated Republicans in the most anti-choice Congress in history.” Riggs’ 20 percent rating is “far out of step” with his predominantly pro-choice constituents, says Ann G. Daniels, executive director of the organization’s Northern California chapter. Among Riggs’ 18 anti-choice votes last year were a measure to prohibit military women–like those on the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia–and dependents overseas from obtaining abortions in military hospitals even if they pay for the procedure from their own money; and another to allow many states to deny Medicaid coverage for abortion to low-income women made pregnant from rape or incest. “Rep. Riggs epitomizes the damaging results of the 1994 elections [when voters] sent to Capitol Hill a new group of lawmakers who promised to get government out of our lives. What constituents got were lawmakers like Riggs who have voted to put government into the most personal and private reproductive decisions, making abortion more difficult and dangerous.” Riggs was unavailable for comment.

Sex Suit Settled

SANTA ROSA County supervisors have approved a $150,000 settlement in a sexual harassment suit filed last fall against former Public Defender Marteen Miller, who retired a year ago after 33 years in office. Shannon Hartwig, 31, of Sebastopol, charged that the married Miller persistently asked to date her and “to engage in various sexual acts with him,” while she was Miller’s secretary from 1990 to 1995. She further charged that her supervisors failed to intervene when she appealed to them, and that Miller increased his harassment thereafter, forcing her to quit her job and give up county employment.

Split Vote on Garbage Pact

SANTA ROSA Thanks to a generous interpretation of a letter from the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Empire Waste Management this week won a six-year extension of the company’s 48-year-old franchise to collect garbage from city residents and businesses. The vote was 3-2, with council members Jim Pedgrift and Pat Wiggins opposed. Action on the contract had been delayed three weeks while City Attorney Rene Chouteau sought an opinion from the FPPC regarding the potential conflict of interest posed by the professional associations of council members Janet Condron and Sharon Wright to Empire Waste Management. Condron is a top official in the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, while Wright heads the business lobbying group the Sonoma County Alliance and also has a contract with the chamber. Empire Waste is an active member of both organizations. According to Chouteau, the FPPC said there would be no conflict of interest, as long as neither the chamber nor the Alliance had actively supported the contract extension, so Wright and Condron were able to cast the decisive votes. In public comments earlier in the meeting, the council was again besieged with calls to seek competitive bidding for the waste hauling contract, as recommended by the 1994 Sonoma County grand jury. Pedgrift and Wiggins both indicated they felt the city should move in that direction, although on differing timetables. Pedgrift suggested a three-year extension, with open bidding in 1999, adding that he expected that process would still result in Empire getting the contract, “but with a clean slate.” Wiggins wanted to open the bidding now, in order to remove “the cloud over this process.” The award of the contract extension has not put an end to the matter, citizen activists at the meeting declared. They announced their intention to seek a citizen referendum requiring competitive bidding, ideally on the upcoming November ballot.

Judges Bow Out of Timmons Case

SANTA ROSA Sonoma County Superior Court judges have recused themselves in the highly publicized molestation case against a former Santa Rosa priest because one of the priest’s accusers is the son of a local judge. Presiding Judge Elaine Watters announced last week that Marin County Superior Court Judge Lynn O’Malley will take the case. The Rev. Gary Timmons, 55, is facing felony molestation charges in three counties after allegedly molesting young boys left in his charge and dating as far back as 1971. Steven Gallagher, who recently won a civil suit against Timmons for the alleged molestations, is the son of Sonoma County Superior Court Judge John Gallagher. Timmons has pleaded not guilty to the criminal counts.

School Official Fires Back

PETALUMA Wilson Elementary School Principal Lee Oliphant says she will take legal action against parents in the district who last week accused her of “willfully endangering students” after the school’s drinking water became contaminated with harmful E. coli bacteria. Oliphant maintains she was complying with state health department instructions, which did not require her to post a public notice while the problem was being solved. However, many parents were furious they weren’t informed of the tainted water when it was first discovered in November. Several parents claimed children became sick in November and December, but were undiagnosed because of lack of information. During a heated school board meeting last Wednesday, Oliphant left the room to contact the school district’s legal counsel. Meanwhile, parents didn’t submit a threatened petition asking the board to oust Oliphant. Now Oliphant, who doubles as the one district superintendent, is fighting back. She says she will pursue litigation because her “reputation has been sullied.”

Land Use Disputed

GLEN ELLEN Open space and park enthusiasts disagree with advocates for the disabled disagree over the future use of several hundred acres of unspoiled mountainside behind the Sonoma Develop-mental Center on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. State Sen. Mike Thompson, D-Santa Rosa, has introduced a bill that would allow local vintners to lease portions of the land for new vineyards, with half the proceeds to be set aside for the disabled. Last week, at the behest of local conservationists, he also agreed to approach the Sonoma County Open Space District about the possible acquisition of the entire acreage, which reaches across the ridgetop to the south side of the state-owned Jack London Historic Park.

River Park Approved

FORESTVILLE County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the creation of a new county park along the Russian River at Steelhead Beach. The 27-acre park will ultimately be developed with campgrounds, a boat launch, and a swimming beach. It could attract more than 78,000 visitors a year. All those improvements will take at least eight years, however; the first phase calls for building a gateway and parking area for fishing enthusiasts in the next year. Construction of permanent restrooms and other facilities will have to wait until the area is served by a public sewer line, which does not presently exist in that area.

Logging Plans Cleared

SAN FRANCISCO Pacific Lumber may proceed with plans for “salvage” logging of 185,000 acres of disputed timberland in Humboldt County, a state appeals court ruled this week. However, the 6,000-acre area known as the Headwaters Forest remains off limits. It is a part of the 50,000-acre area in which U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney has blocked all logging operations until their impacts on an endangered bird, the marbled murelet, can be assessed.

Short Takes:
There are 29 police chiefs, including three women, among the 62 applicants to succeed veteran Santa Rosa Chief Sal Rosano, who has announced plans to retire in June. Two applicants are from within the department. . . . Three 13-year-old boys who ran away from the True to Life Counseling center outside Occidental last week returned later the same night to trash and set fire to a classroom, causing an estimated $50,000 in damages. The center treats emotionally troubled youths who are referred by their schools or parents.

From the Feb. 28-Mar. 6, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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