Citizens of Baker City in northeastern Oregon, population not quite ten thousand, cast their ballots, giving overwhelming approval for sale of a twenty-five-year-old backhoe the city decided it no longer needed. An archaic provision in the municipal charter requires voters’ approval for the city to sell any equipment or vehicles with a value of more than $10,000. ($5,000 for land or buildings.) The 1995 Case backhoe’s estimated value is $16,000.
The sale was approved with 92% voting “Yes.” (One wonders what reasons the other 8% had to disallow the equipment’s sale.) Baker City’s public works director admitted that a few years previously a street sweeper may have been sold in violation of the law, although no record was kept of the sale price. (An obvious coverup!)
In the same election, residents also voted, by a 65% to 35% margin, to amend the city charter putting some limit on direct democracy. The city in the future will be allowed to sell surplus equipment without obtaining voters’ consent. This will simplify the possible sale of a Case excavator and a 1988 International dump truck, each valued at more than $10,000.
A third measure on the ballot would have discontinued the stipend paid to Baker City’s commissioners. Perhaps voters feared that it would be a step toward plutocracy. The measure was defeated. The seven city-council members will continue to receive their ten dollars per meeting.