Lake Oswego's Top 10 stories of 2017
Classrooms are dark and the hallways are empty in schools across Lake Oswego this week as students, staff, teachers and administrators enjoy what's left of winter break. And that's probably a good thing. Because 2017 was anything but quiet for the Lake Oswego School District, which had little time to catch its breath in a year filled with controversies and accomplishments.
Snowstorms forced the district to cancel classes for a record number of days, and new start times wreaked havoc with bus schedules. Racist graffiti sparked a student walkout at one school and a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion across the district.
In May, the LOSD addressed capacity needs by purchasing 10 modular classrooms, but the issue reared its head again in the fall when a proposed expansion of the Spanish Immersion program threatened to displace students from their neighborhood schools.
There was good news too, of course.
The district continues to outpace the rest of the state academically, doing a better job than just about everybody in preparing students for graduation and post-secondary success. From the Oregon Department of Education's annual Report Card to the respected rankings of U.S. News and others, it was clear in 2017 that the LOSD remains among the best districts not only in Oregon, but across the country as well.
And yet there really was no time to pause and reflect on any of that.
Because 2017 also saw the district pass a $187 million bond measure and begin to address a decade of deferred maintenance. The LOSD also welcomed two new members to its School Board — one of whom has since announced that he will also seek appointment to the state Senate.
In October, the district settled a federal Title IX lawsuit brought by current and former members of the LOHS softball team; it will have wide-ranging repercussions on athletic programs across the LOSD. So will a U.S. District Court jury's verdict in November that found the district and Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele negligent for their handing of a Pacer dancer's complaints about hazing and bullying.
And then in December, as if the year hadn't been stressful enough, Superintendent Heather Beck announced her resignation. She will leave the district at the end of the school year for a job in Singapore that will allow her to focus almost exclusively on academics and educating children.
That may keep Beck off next year's Top 10 list. But for 2017, she and the district occupy the top two spots, and they figure in many of the other big stories too — fodder, at the very least, for some quiet reflection during winter break.
1. Bond, Board and Beck
When she departs next summer after four years at the helm of the LOSD, Heather Beck will become deputy head of school at the Canadian International School in Singapore. Her resignation officially takes effect on June 30, 2018.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," Beck told The Review this month. "I am able to bring my passion for using data to inform instruction to an international school that will embrace my talents and skill set to move to the next level of excellence."
Her announcement drew immediate praise from School Board members for a wide range of accomplishments, and from community leaders for the relationships she nurtured with the business community, faith communities, city leaders and service organizations. But Beck's departure comes after a tumultuous year for the LOSD, and it leaves the district with a huge void to fill as officials work to implement the $187 million bond she helped pass and the Strategic Plan she helped create.
Much of that responsibility will fall to a newly reconstituted School Board. In May, Sara Pocklington defeated two-term incumbent John Wendland and Rob Wagner won an uncontested race for the seat formerly held by Sarah Howell; incumbent Liz Hartman was elected to her second term in a race that was also uncontested.
Pocklington contended throughout her campaign that it was time for a change. She made her case by stressing her financial expertise and her role as a parent with young children currently attending local schools. She highlighted her experience as a certified public accountant and as the technology accounting director for Nike, a Fortune 100 company.
Wagner, who works as the associate vice president for advancement at Portland Community College, vowed to push for the district to leverage partnerships with local colleges and universities so students can gain more dual-credit opportunities. He is also a big proponent of career-technical classes and expanding class offerings in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) — an effort that will gain some traction thanks to funds included in the bond measure passed overwhelmingly by voters in May.
That $187 million bond, which was developed over the course of about three years with input from Long Range Facilities Planning and Bond Development committees, includes funds to replace Lakeridge Junior High and the pool; create makerspaces and STEM centers; improve security, safety and technology; and address a decade of deferred maintenance at all 10 of the district's schools.
Needless to say, board members were ecstatic on election night. Bob Barman called the bond "the greatest legacy ever" for the community, and Howell said the vote "is validating what we already know, that this city loves and cares for its schools."
But perhaps the most excited person at the victory party was Beck, who called it "a great night for the kids of Lake Oswego."
"I'm just really proud to be a part of the Lake Oswego School District right now," she said.
At year's end: The board is expected to take up the issue of how best to replace Beck in January. Wagner should also learn next month whether he will be chosen from a field of seven candidates to replace state Sen. Richard Devlin, who was appointed to a regional power planning council; Wagner says he will stay on the School Board if that happens.
Several bond-funded projects have already been completed at River Grove, Forest Hills and Oak Creek elementary schools. The district has hired two project managers and a bond accountant; appointed seven members to a Bond Accountability Committee and 10 to a Long Range Facility Plan Committee; tentatively selected an architect and an engineering firm to rebuild Lakeridge Junior High; and created a timeline for 22 specific projects. Learn more at losdschools.org/Page/4747.
2. Litigating Equality
"All means all" is more than just a slogan for the Lake Oswego School District; it's a commitment "to create a safe and welcoming environment for every family, student, staff and community member," the LOSD's Strategic Plan for 2017-2020 says, "by celebrating diversity, including all and using an equity lens to make decisions."
That mission statement has been a work in progress for several years now, almost from the day Superintendent Heather Beck arrived in Lake Oswego. But it would be hard to argue that two federal court cases — one filed in 2015 and the other in 2016 — didn't play a role in pushing the district to formally adopt some of the goals needed to make "all means all" a reality.
Both cases reached their conclusion this fall.
In October, attorneys representing current and former members of the Lake Oswego High girls softball team announced that they had finalized an agreement with the district to bring its high school sports programs and facilities into compliance with the requirements of Title IX.
The 30-page agreement settled a federal lawsuit filed in April 2016 that alleged that the girls' softball team had been denied equal access to the kinds of equipment, facilities, funding and fundraising opportunities provided to the boys' baseball team. By doing so, the plaintiffs claimed, the district was in violation of Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex "under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
The settlement adds opportunities for girls to play sports on par with boys' offerings and equalizes athletic treatment and benefits experienced by female athletes in other ways. For example, the girls' dirt softball field at Lake Oswego Junior High will be turfed to allow all-weather play and an indoor hitting facility will be added outside the right-field foul line. The school and district also agreed to make more locker rooms available for girls, equally publicize and promote girls' and boys' teams and apportion coaches equitably.
"We are glad to see the school district and high school truly committing to equity for girls, who for too long have felt like a second class," said LOHS senior Anna Tomita, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a current member of the girls' softball team at LOHS.
One month later, a U.S. District Court jury awarded a former Lakeridge High School dancer $70,000 in a federal lawsuit that accused the LOSD and others of failing to protect the girl from hazing and bullying.
The federal lawsuit was filed two years ago by Lake Oswego residents Ray and Taissa Achcar-Winkels, who claimed their daughter and other incoming freshmen were hazed at a series of "team bonding" events that culminated in an August 2014 team initiation. Sabrina Achcar-Winkels, who was 14 years old when the alleged incidents took place, is now a senior at Lakeridge High School.
The Achcar-Winkels say they reported the incidents to school officials but were advised that the best way to protect their daughter's confidentiality was to not pursue an official investigation. Nevertheless, Sabrina Achcar-Winkels said her complaints became public knowledge, and the bullying continued even after she left the team just weeks into her freshman year.
"I was bullied, I was retaliated (against). After I spoke up, the principals, the administration did nothing," she said. "They just let the girls keep bullying me. I had a really hard time. No one checked to see if I was OK."
The parents went to Beck that November when the harassment continued, and the superintendent asked The Hungerford law firm to investigate. A two-page summary was released one month later, leading to revised policies and procedures throughout the district.
All of the $70,000 was awarded to the former Pacer dancer, with 80 percent of the judgement against the district and 20 percent against Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele. No money was awarded to the parents, and jurors also rejected a separate claim for legal fees.
But attorney Leta Gorman said her clients were pleased with the verdict.
"A jury said the school district and principal were negligent. That's all we wanted," Gorman said. "This case was never about money. It was about holding the school district accountable for what they did."
At year's end: A turf field is expected to be installed at LOJ in time for the 2017-18 softball season; the hitting facility and other improvements will be added by the 2018-19 season. Similar improvements are also planned to the fields at Lakeridge High.
In an interview with The Oregonian in late December, Sabrina Achcar-Winkels said she doesn't regret coming forward. "I did the right thing, I came out and I spoke," she said. "Because I did that, now I hope I'm making a path for other younger kids who go through this to be able to speak and know they did the right thing instead of hide."
3. Dueling Rallies
For years, Kevin Kerwin's ultra-conservative window banners were little more than a mild curiosity for the drivers and pedestrians who passed his State Street computer shop. But that changed dramatically in late February when Kerwin announced that he would hold a "March 4 Trump" rally in downtown Lake Oswego.
"Liberal anarchists need not apply," his window poster taunted.
As it turned out, Kerwin was only part of a larger group from outside the city that planned to hold the rally, but his involvement quickly drew a firestorm of criticism from activist organizations, not only for his window signs but also for a series of posts on social media that used racial epithets and vulgar language in reference to women, African Americans and Muslims.
Kerwin's fellow organizers took notice of the controversy and removed him from the event. But almost immediately, Portland-area activist groups joined local officials and Lake Oswego residents in calling for a response, including one invitation to attend a Rainbow Parade that would walk alongside Trump marchers.
That parade never happened, but supporters of President Donald Trump and groups of demonstrators who oppose him did face off March 4 in an often loud and confrontational — yet largely peaceful — pair of rallies.
The March 4 Trump was delayed multiple times by counter-protesters who blocked its path, and the marchers ultimately never completed their planned route. Instead, the afternoon played out in a series of standoffs between the two groups on State Street — first in the George Rogers Park parking lot, again at the intersection of State and Leonard streets and finally in Lower Millennium Plaza Park, down the steps from the main plaza where "Stand for LOve" attendees had gathered earlier in the day.
Police made three arrests and one Trump supporter was hit on the head with a stick as the March 4 Trump left George Rogers Park. During the confrontation at the gates that separate Millennium Plaza Park from the railroad tracks on State Street, a 76-year-old West Linn resident suffered a medical emergency and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
Otherwise, police reported nothing more serious than a flag burning and lots of angry shouting and taunting.
LOPD Chief Don Johnson credited the more than 40 officers and deputies who gathered from across the Portland area for keeping marchers and counter-protesters safe.
"Today's event went very well," Johnson said. "We had hoped for the best, but planned for the worst. I think the cops performed exceptionally, and that's what made the difference out there."
At year's end: As for Kerwin? Less than a month after the dueling political rallies, he had a new message for Lake Oswego: "Good-bye."
"Thank you Lake Oswego for 10 years of Awesome," read the latest poster in Kerwin's State Street store window. "I've moved my Shop to a Red State so I can enjoy the next 8 years with my fellow deplorables — Go Trump. We Won Get Over It."
4. Responding to Racism
Lake Oswego has long had a reputation for being a bastion of white privilege, a place where no physical walls block people of color from entering but where social barriers make living here uncomfortable for them at best — and downright hostile at worst.
But 2017 will undoubtably be remembered as the year when local residents stood up and said, "No more."
In March, Lake Oswego High School students staged a walkout in response to racist graffiti found in three bathrooms. Those incidents followed what Principal Rollin Dickenson called a "deeply disturbing" Facebook post targeting African Americans and an anti-Semitic photograph displayed in the school cafeteria. Racist vandalism was reported at Lakeridge Junior High too, and at other schools across the district.
"Every time you sit on your hands and hope something like this will go away on your own, you're siding with injustice," LOHS senior Camryn Leland told the crowd of protesting students, and Associated Student Body President Keon Feldsien echoed her thoughts.
"Many of us, as students and faculty in a predominantly white school, have the convenience of thinking about race only when we want to," Feldsien said. "But for others, words like these are a daily message, one that threatens and isolates. This graffiti is not funny, it is not daring or edgy. It is wrong."
School officials agreed, going beyond the catchphrases "all means all" and "better together" to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion in the district's Strategic Plan for 2017-2020. Among other things, the LOSD vowed to provide adult and peer mentorship programs to foster meaningful connections, to encourage the development of an empathetic culture that embraces diversity, to provide school activities that are welcoming to people of all backgrounds and to form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to monitor progress.
Meanwhile, a Lake Oswego resident's blog post about a belligerent, openly racist road-rage incident went viral in June, sparking a broader discussion about diversity and discrimination in the city. The encounter was unfortunate, Nathan Sheppard said, but the reaction from the community to his post was exactly what he hoped for: a conversation about the racism that African Americans regularly encounter.
"When you're black, it can affect everything," Sheppard told The Review. "People don't understand how much it affects you or your family. I'm Stanford-educated, a police detective, with a family, a home — but there's still stuff to overcome for me, and there will always be stuff to overcome."
Sheppard's post prompted Lake Oswego residents Liberty Miller and Willie Poinsette — joined later by Shava Feinstein — to launch a monthly series of community gatherings called "Respond to Racism." They hoped that a handful of people would attend, but more than 50 showed up for the first meeting in July — including city councilors, School Board members and representatives of community-based groups like LO for LOve — and subsequent gatherings have drawn close to 100.
"There are people in Lake Oswego who really want to deal with this issue, who see that there is a need to talk. At the end of the day," Poinsette said, "we want people to recognize when they're saying or doing something that's racist, recognize when someone else is doing so in their presence, and get the tools to interrupt it."
At year's end: The next Respond to Racism meeting is scheduled from 6-8:30 p.m. on Jan. 8 at the Lake Oswego United Church of Christ, 1111 Country Club Road. Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m.; the work begins at 6:30 p.m.
5. Snow, Wind and 'Wow!'
Sure, it's been raining a lot lately. And yes, it's awfully chilly at night. But when you think about what Mother Nature threw at Lake Oswego in 2017, well, we're just fine with cold and wet.
After all, who can forget the string of paralyzing storms that brought snow, ice and freezing rain to the metro area, starting with a whopper that hit during the evening commute in mid-December 2016. Drivers (and schoolchildren in places like Beaverton and Portland) were trapped on the road for hours. Streets throughout Lake Oswego and across the region were all but impassable, many blocked by crashes. Motorists who couldn't navigate the icy streets simply gave up and abandoned their cars.
And that was just the beginning.
In mid-January, another brutal storm dumped as much as a foot of snow on the city, once again causing gridlock on roads. The big, wet flakes brought down trees and knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses. Snow fell for several days, followed by a nasty dose of freezing rain. And then it all stuck around for more than a week as temperatures remained stubbornly below freezing.
"I am so ready for this to be over," Lyndsey Bryant told The Review as she waited for a TriMet bus to take her home from downtown Lake Oswego. "So ready."
So were police and firefighters. The LOPD responded to 166 hazard calls and motorist assists in the first two days of the January storm alone; the LOFD headed out on 120 — "one of the highest call volumes we've ever had," Assistant Fire Chief David Morris said. The City's maintenance staff spent several days running 12-hour shifts, clearing snow and removing trees and other debris from roadways.
Students and teachers weren't nearly as busy — because they weren't in school. Late starts and classroom closures wreaked havoc with the district's schedules, forcing adjustments that were still being felt all the way to June.
But wait. There's more.
In April, fierce winds once again knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, darkening traffic lights and bringing down branches, limbs and massive trees throughout the city. First responders were so busy this time that in many cases they could only tape off affected areas and streets and move on to the next call, leaving all but the busiest thoroughfares covered with debris and branches.
The most surprising thing about the windstorm, City officials said, was that it was so widespread. Power was out for most of the day — or longer — in neighborhoods throughout Lake Oswego, as well in the shops, restaurants, businesses and City offices downtown. At one point, nearly every signaled intersection in the city had lost power to traffic lights.
Massive trees toppled onto homes, fences and cars, causing significant property damage. No injuries were reported anywhere in town, but the storm did leave many people feeling that Mother Nature owed us all a really big apology for months of nasty weather.
In August, she came through.
For the first time since 1979, a total solar eclipse cast a celestial shadow across much of the Pacific Northwest — the first eclipse to traverse the United States from coast to coast in 99 years. And it was spectacular.
Hundreds of Lake Oswegans gathered across the city to watch. Many of them gathered in Sundeleaf Plaza for a party that included cosmic-themed music and free viewing glasses. As the clock struck 10:19 a.m. and a shadow fell over the plaza, music turned off, lights lining State Street came on, birds stopped chirping and the crowd fell almost completely silent.
It never got pitch-black in Lake Oswego, but the eclipse did cast an eerie glow over the city as the moon blocked about 99.2 percent of the sun. And then, by about 10:22 a.m., it was over as the eclipse hurtled southeast at a speed that would take it across all of Oregon in nine minutes.
A brief apology, you could say. But one that Emily Hastings gladly accepted.
"It seemed fake almost. I felt like I was in a movie," she said. "I think we'll reminisce about this, though, because we'll be old when the next one takes place. We'll say, 'Remember when we watched it?"
At year's end: Knock on wood. So far, so good.
6. Building on Success
When the last of two tower cranes came down at The Windward in downtown Lake Oswego earlier this month, it signaled a major milestone for the mixed-use development. Residents and retailers are only a few months away now from moving into the project's three buildings at First Street and A Avenue.
What it did not signal, however, was the end of commercial construction in the city — or a skyline free of tower cranes. A host of new buildings are on the horizon, and that kept councilors and City staff hopping throughout 2017.
The new $14.5 million Operations and Maintenance Center wrapped up this year; so did the $254 million Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project. But there's already a crane towering over Boones Ferry Road and Kruse Way, where a new senior living community is taking shape.
When it's completed in the fall of 2019, The Springs at Lake Oswego will have 216 independent-living, assisted-living and memory care apartments; a rooftop deck with a covered courtyard, wine bar and fireplace; a formal dining room and kitchen; and a gym, swimming pool, theater, chapel, art studio and wellness center with a salon and day spa.
Across the street, CenterCal Properties is expected to submit a revised proposal soon for the Providence Mercantile Center. The developer has already gone through several design iterations, but there appears to be a significant hang-up: CenterCal has appeared reluctant to include a residential component for the property, which is envisioned in the Lake Grove Village Center plan as an ideal location for both mixed-use housing and a central community gathering space.
The company says it does intend for the shopping center it wants to build to be a public gathering destination, but the City and neighbors have concerns that the proposed designs don't match the scale of the community's vision, and it's been months since any real progress has been reported.
Meanwhile, Boones Ferry Road itself is due for major changes, thanks to a much-anticipated renovation that will widen and revamp the thoroughfare between Madrona Street and the Oakridge Road-Reese Road intersection.
The project will supplement the existing four lanes with a central median and turning lanes, bike lanes, improved landscaping and drainage, bus shelters and public plaza areas connected to the sidewalks. It will also add two new signalized intersections and pedestrian crossings. Construction is expected to begin in 2018.
In the downtown core, the biggest project looks to be a new Civic Center on the site of the current City Hall. Just this month, architects from the Mackenzie design firm took the wraps off new conceptual renderings for the project that were developed using input from a series of community forums.
The building, which will span the entire length of A Avenue between Third and Fourth streets, will feature four pitched sections running in rows along the length of the roof, with a higher gabled section above the main entrance to City Hall. Inside the 72,000-square-foot building: a large, two-story lobby leading to City offices, a new home for the police department and emergency dispatch services, City Council chambers and the Municipal Court.
The designs also include retail space for Booktique and the Arts Council of Lake Oswego.
The City Council is expected to review cost estimates for the Civic Center in February, but the project is unlikely to break ground before the end of 2018.
Also in various stages of development:
-- North Anchor: City officials reviewed concept designs in November for a boutique hotel and senior apartment complex on the north side of B Avenue, stretching from State Street to the alleyway between First and Second streets. The project is currently still just a proposal, and the Development Review Commission will still need to sign off on final designs; and
-- Third & B: Lake Oswegans Miles and Jay Halladay filed a development application for review by the City this month for their proposed four-story building on the corner of Third Street and B Avenue, which will feature apartment housing, underground parking, food vendors, office space and a rooftop events center with a view of Mount Hood.
"The events center, to me, is the focal point," Miles Halladay said. "We want to have the nicest events center in (the) Portland (area) — that's our goal."
At year's end: Major road projects will soon be underway, including a remaking of D Avenue from State Street to Tenth Street. And City Councilors will look at a lot more than just construction projects when they gather on Jan. 6 for their annual goal-setting retreat. (This year's meeting will be held at 8:30 a.m. at the new Operations and Maintenance Center, 17601 Pilkington Road.) Issues swirling around the council at the end of 2017 and likely to be on the retreat agenda include plans for the future of the municipal golf course, calls to remove or amend the City's ban on short-term rentals in residential areas and a look at its annexation policy of "benign neglect," as well as the possibility of partnering with the school district on a community pool and the need to find a new home for the Parks & Rec Department if the LOSD follows through on plans to take back the Palisades building next year.
7. A Salem Scramble
For most of 2017, Ann Lininger was a state representative with increasing responsibilities and Richard Devlin was arguably one of the most powerful state senators in Salem.
Today, Lininger is a Clackamas County Circuit Court judge. Next month, Devlin will take his seat on a regional power planning council. And the resulting scramble to replace both of them in Salem became one of the more intriguing stories of the year.
Lininger was appointed to the court by Gov. Kate Brown in July. The Lake Oswego Democrat had earned the respect of her peers as co-chair of the legislative committee that fine-tuned Measure 91 after voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, a role that increased her stature and gave her increasing leverage on issues that ranged from strengthening public schools and protecting the environment to improving the state's response to sexual assault crimes and helping survivors of domestic violence.
But appointment to a judgeship proved to be an offer that Lininger — who has worked as an attorney for Metropolitan Public Defender, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and private businesses — couldn't pass up.
"I have focused my career on protecting the rights of vulnerable people," the Lake Oswego resident told The Review. "As a judge, I will be able to continue that work by making sure our justice system treats people fairly, impartially and with dignity."
Lininger didn't officially resign from the Legislature until Aug. 15, but the scramble for her House District 38 seat started within hours of Brown's announcement. Eventually, seven candidates sought the appointment: Lake Oswego City Councilors Theresa Kohlhoff and Joe Buck; political consultants Andrea Salinas and Moses Ross; public relations executive and former government spokesman Neil H. Simon; restaurateur Daniel Nguyen; and Alex Josephy, secretary of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
In September, Multnomah and Clackamas County commissioners unanimously opted for Salinas, a Lake Oswego resident who had never held elected office before but whose career as a consultant and lobbyist for progressive causes gave her substantial experience working with state lawmakers to draft legislation.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," Salinas told The Review. "It will be the same work I've been doing, but I'm excited to do it in a new capacity."
The race to replace Devlin, meanwhile, is ongoing.
The Tualatin Democrat has served in the Legislature since 1996, including a stint as Senate majority leader. His most significant role has been as co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, where his unrivaled expertise in crafting the state's budget will leave a huge void in the Legislature.
But in October, Brown also made Devlin an offer he couldn't refuse — a seat on the Pacific Northwest Electric Power and Conservation Planning Council. And like the Lininger appointment, Devlin's new job offer immediately touched off a scramble to fill his seat in Salem.
Within hours of Devlin's appointment, Lake Oswego School Board member Rob Wagner threw his hat into the ring (and vowed to stay on the School Board if he's chosen.) He has since been joined in the race by former state Rep. Greg Macpherson, Tualatin City Council President Joelle Davis, environmental consultants Daphne Wysham and Gerritt Rosenthal, and Claudia Black, a former policy advisor to then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
They, too, will seek the approval at a nominating convention of Democratic precinct committee persons, who will then forward a list of 3-5 nominees to commissioners of the counties within Senate District 19 — Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas.
Devlin is expected to officially resign his seat on Jan. 1; the eventual appointee will fill out the rest of his term, which expires in 2018. And all six candidates have said that if chosen, they will also seek a full term in the May 2018 primary.
At year's end: The Democratic Party of Oregon has announced that the SD19 nominating convention will be held on Saturday, Jan. 6, in the gym at River Grove Elementary School (5850 McEwan Road, Lake Oswego). The convention, which is scheduled for 1 p.m., will be preceded by a candidate forum from 10 a.m.-noon at the same location.
8. Convicted of Fraud
Former Bank of Oswego CEO Dan Heine and former CFO Diana Yates were found guilty in November of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and 12 counts of falsifying bank entries, reports and transactions.
It took U.S. District Court jurors just over two days to reach their verdict after a six-week trial that court observers said was the longest and most expensive of its kind in Oregon history. Both Heine and Yates were found not guilty on six other counts of falsifying bank entries, but Heine's attorney told The Review that was of little consolation.
"Dan is very disappointed with the jury's verdict, which is not supported by the evidence presented to the jury at trial," Jeffrey Alberts said. "He intends to move for the judge to set aside the jury's verdict and enter a judgment of acquittal as to all counts."
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.
Heine founded The Bank of Oswego, and both he and Yates worked at the community-based financial institution from its inception in 2004 until Yates resigned in 2012 and Heine retired in 2014. Both were arrested and arraigned on June 26, 2015; Heine was in Florida at the time and now makes his home there, while Yates still lives in Oregon.
(The bank sold its assets to Seattle-based HomeStreet Bank in August 2016, and both of its former Lake Oswego locations now operate as HomeStreet branches.)
The charges stemmed from a federal investigation into a series of delinquent bank loans that occurred between 2009 and 2014. The loans were either omitted or inaccurately listed in the Bank of Oswego's financial reports to both its own board of directors and federal regulators in what prosecutors contended was a complex scheme to portray the bank's financial condition as much better than it was.
Heine and Yates were accused of using bank or third-party proceeds to make payments on customers' delinquent loans, mischaracterizing assets in reports to the bank's board of directors and the FDIC, and concealing information about loans made to bank insiders.
Much of the case revolved around the actions of a third former Bank of Oswego employee, Geoff Walsh, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to make false entries in bank records. As part of a plea deal, the government agreed to drop several charges and not bring additional charges against Walsh, and he testified for six days as a government witness in the case against Heine and Yates.
The outcome of the trial may have hinged on whether jurors believed that Heine and Yates directed Walsh to undertake illegal actions, or whether Walsh acted alone and concealed his activities from them. U.S. Attorney Michelle Kerin described Walsh as the one who would do the bank's "dirty work," but said that it was his superiors who helped to conceal the results.
Attorneys for Heine and Yates portrayed Walsh as a con man and a skilled salesman who proved highly successful at bringing in new loans but failed in his duties to collect on several existing loans. They said he sought to cover up those failings by making the payments himself using money from other loans, unbeknownst to Heine and Yates.
But Billy J. Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, said the jury got it right.
"Dan Heine and Diana Yates violated the law by deceiving the Bank of Oswego's board of directors, customers and federal regulators," Williams said. "Together with our partners at the FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the integrity of our financial system from fraudulent and corrupt banking practices."
At year's end: Walsh is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 9. Attorneys for Heine and Yates have until Jan. 29 to file motions for a new trial; if that happens, the government would have until Feb. 12 to file a response. Heine and Yates are scheduled to be sentenced on March 5, assuming Judge Michael Simon refuses to grant them a new trial.
9. Whose Lake Is It?
Is Oswego Lake a private waterway for the sole use of a select few? If not, can the City of Lake Oswego still restrict access to it through its parks and other facilities?
Those are the questions likely to be answered in the spring by Oregon's Supreme Court justices, who announced in October that they will take up a case that speaks to the very heart of public perceptions of the city and stereotypes often associated with its residents.
"Rich people get away with everything," one online commenter posted earlier this year.
The case involves a lawsuit brought against the City of Lake Oswego and the Lake Oswego Corporation, which controls the 415-acre lake and considers it to be private property. Todd Prager and Mark Kramer filed a petition for review in June after the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld an earlier Clackamas County Circuit Court ruling in favor of the City and the corporation.
The lawsuit challenges a 2012 City rule prohibiting access to the lake through public parks such as Sundeleaf Plaza. Kramer, a Portland attorney, and Prager, a former Lake Oswego planning commissioner, sued the State of Oregon and the City, arguing that the rule violated Oregon's "public trust" doctrine, which guarantees the public use of all navigable waterways and grants ownership of the land underneath to the State, to be held "in trust" for the public.
Because most of the lake is bordered by private property or sheer cliffs, the plaintiffs said, the de facto result of the lower-court rulings was that the lake could only be accessed by people with lakefront property or easements. But everyone has the right to swim, wade, canoe and otherwise use the water for recreation, they said.
City officials have cited safety concerns as one of the primary reasons for the prohibition, as well as the prevention of invasive species in the lake. The City parks in question lack any kind of infrastructure to allow people and boats to safety enter and exit the water, officials said, and the City did not want to be responsible for having to construct it.
The public ownership status of the lake has been the subject of numerous and sometimes contradictory rulings and opinions over the years. Some of Lake Oswego's elected officials have at times spoken in favor of maintaining "the status quo" (i.e., private access managed by the Lake Oswego Corporation), but the City has declined to take an official position other than asserting that it has
the right to control its own parks.
On the other hand, the Lake Corp. is adamant that the lake is its own private property, and it joined the case on the side of the defendants shortly after the original lawsuit was filed.
According to the Supreme Court, the issues under review will include the central question of whether the lake is subject to public use under Oregon's public trust doctrine and whether the doctrine should override local preferences if a city has opted to block all public access.
The justices also will look at the question of whether a city has the authority to take actions that "allegedly have the effect of allowing access to a public lake by local residents exclusively."
At year's end: In December, more than 60 natural resource law professors, environmental conservation groups and climate change activists submitted amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs in support of Prager and Kramer. Oral arguments are scheduled for the spring.
10. Immortal Words
"If we are our best selves, there will come a world where children do not weep and war is a memory and violence is a joke no one tells, having forgotten the words. You and I know this is possible. It is what He said could happen if we loved well."
Brian Doyle wrote those words in "How to be Good," part of a collection of essays he called "The Thorny Grace of it." It is not his best work, if awards and accolades are to be believed. But it is the piece his family chose to distribute at a funeral Mass for Doyle in June, when hundreds of people filled St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland to say goodbye to the beloved author.
The Review reprinted "How to be Good" in its June 8 issue, and it hangs in the newspaper's office still — a daily reminder of the wisdom and wit and decency and faith of a man who touched the lives of so many people, especially in this community that he loved so dearly.
"He brought joy and love and light and laughter," said Lake Oswego Public Library Director Bill Baars, who was Doyle's friend. "He had a remarkable way of connecting with others and honoring the essential, unique, kindred spirits that we all are. We will never see his like again."
Doyle, whose novels, poems and essays thrilled readers and won awards around the globe, died in May at age 60 from complications related to a brain tumor. A nine-time Oregon Book Award nominee, he won in 2016 for his young adult novel "Martin Marten." The novel was also honored with the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, only the second work of fiction to be awarded the medal in its 90-year history.
His novel "Mink River" was the selected title for the Lake Oswego Reads program in 2012. His most recent book, "The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson," was published in March.
Doyle was diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2016 after experiencing severe headaches for months and initially being treated for migraines. But when symptoms did not subside, he went in for a scan that revealed the mass. He quickly scheduled surgery to deal with the tumor, but knew even then that the prognosis wasn't good.
"This is really bad, so the surgery is to try to reduce (a cancerous brain tumor)," Doyle said at the time. "And then probably chemo, but there is no healing. They can't delete it or fix it or cure it. The doctor thinks that if he can reduce it and shoot chemo at it, then it may be suppressed long enough for a few more years of reading and writing and being with my wife and kids."
In the end, he only had about six months. But throughout his illness, Doyle maintained the sense of humor for which he was known, along with his deep love for family, friends and community. All he really wanted, he said at the time of his diagnosis, was for people to keep laughing.
"I'll hear all laughter," he said. "Be tender to each other. Be more tender than you were yesterday, that's what I would like. You want to help me? Be tender and laugh."
Doyle is survived by his wife, Mary; their daughter, Lily; and twin sons Liam and Joseph.
At year's end: In November, on Brian Doyle Day in Lake Oswego, friends and family gathered at the library to add notes to a memory tree, browse through Doyle's works and dedicate the Brian Doyle Garden in his honor.
"He was a great spirit in this community," Baars said. "Very much loved and honored, and so much of what Brian wrote about was his life and his community. I think it's very appropriate we have a space to honor this amazing author in our library."