Working Man

Custodian Eric Virgil looks over his checklist under the watchful eye of his job coach, Chris Humphrey, while working at Sunridge Middle School on Tuesday in Pendleton.

A tip of the hat to Sunridge Middle School and Pendleton School District for their decision to hire Eric Virgil, who was born with an intellectual disability that makes learning, problem solving and reasoning a challenge, for a part-time custodian position at the school.

The 42-year-old Pendleton man worked in a sheltered workshop for many years, but dreamed of having a regular job in the community. District Facility Manager Ken Lebsock, on the hiring panel, listened to the pitch with interest. The plan was that Virgil would work with the help of his job coach at Horizon Project to keep him on track. Virgil had previous janitorial experience with Horizon Project. Sunridge Principal Dave Williams said he doesn’t regret the hiring decision, calling it a classic win-win. Virgil gets the fulfillment of working hard and earning a paycheck. Sunridge gets a clean school and the satisfaction of helping a man realize his potential.

That decision led to Williams and the district’s director of business services, Michelle Jones, traveling to Wilsonville to accept an award from The Arc Oregon, which supports and advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The award goes to a business or individual employing a person with an intellectual disability for at least a year and elevating the person’s independence, integration and participation in the community. Williams, who called the award “humbling,” said Virgil has more than proved he can do the job.

A kick in the pants to developer Saj Jivanjee for playing loose with a deal for the Pendleton Heights housing development.

Jivanjee of Newberg originally set out to build 72 townhouses east of Olney Cemetery. The city donated land off Tutuilla Creek Road to Jivanjee and fronted him the money for infrastructure improvements. That was seven years ago.

Since then, Jivanjee has come back to the city to alter the deal. He finished 32 townhouses and claimed building the next 40 was not feasible. So he pitched a 100-unit apartment complex instead, and the city council reluctantly agreed.

Jivanjee again and again came back to the city to change the terms of the deal, usually asking for more public money or to shift around the debt. He asked in September for a new debt repayment plan. The city council voted that down.

But in February the city agreed to take on more infrastructure cost and Jivanjee agreed to pay the city $150,000 before starting the apartment project.

That didn’t happen.

Jivanjee started the work without paying the city. The city did not stop the work. Corbett expressed his confidence that Jivanjee would pay up by June 15.

The townhouses are for lease. How many of the folks leasing in Pendleton Heights are allowed to skip payments?

Jivanjee told East Oregonian reporter Antonio Sierra he was too busy to talk about this until next week. That from a guy relying on public money to complete his development.

The city either has a deal with Jivanjee or it does not. Letting $150,000 slide may seem like petty cash to the city, but is also sends the message this deal has no teeth to hold Jivanjee accountable.

That’s a bad setup. The next developer who ignores the terms of a deal can point to the case with Jivanjee for an easy out. The city let one guy do it, so why not let the next one?

A tip of the hat to the men and women who have served this nation. This weekend many of us will enjoy long holiday weekend filled with barbecues and family gatherings. Yet while we all enjoy the time off — and hopefully good weather — it is important that we recall why Memorial Day matters.

Memorial Day weekend is a time when the nation can collectively stop and reflect on the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces. Once known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day allows all of us a moment in time to remember that our freedoms are truly not free and that many brave Americans made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty.

While those who gave the last full measure of devotion to our nation are gone, we will not, cannot, forget them. We hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, but while you are enjoying the time off, take a moment and remember those who gave their lives for us to enjoy the freedom we often take for granted.

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