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Commissioner 1-18-23 — Ignore Constituents

This meeting can be seen in entirety here https://josephinecounty.sharepoint.com/sites/PubliclySharedMedia/_layouts/15/stream.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2FPubliclySharedMedia%2FShared%20Documents%2FGeneral%2FWBS%20Video%20Archive%2F20230118%20WBS%2Emp4&ga=1

Two Josephine County Commissioners lost their reputations for “listening to the people” after demonstrating during the January 18 Business Session they only listen to those who agree with them. Ann Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass was crowded to standing room only with constituents protesting Order 2023-013, allowing the county to stop sending legal notices to the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Twenty-seven speakers saw through Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger’s weak reasons for approving the order before he wearied of hearing from the opposition and cut off comments. Only four people were in favor of moving the county’s legal notices from the Daily Courier to the weekly Illinois Valley News, including the IV News publisher Dan Mancuso and Republican Party Chair Holli Morton. Three people spoke on other topics for a total of 34 speakers who went on for two hours, which Baertschiger said was the longest public comment period he’s ever seen.

While Commissioner Dan DeYoung asked for a delay in voting on the Order after listening to speaker after speaker say Order 2023-013 was a mistake, Baertschiger apparently had his mind made up before the meeting and newly elected Commissioner John West went along with him. West postulated he was elected to find money for the sheriff and this move would help. When asked how much money the Order would produce for the sheriff, West claimed it would be about $15,000. “I find times that by five at $75,000 and pretty soon we have a deputy.” West didn’t say how he came up with the $15,000 figure.

After an awkward round of making motions, listening to DeYoung plead to delay the vote for a year so he could research questions that came up during public comments and West trying to figure out where they were on the agenda, Baertschiger, with a poker face, called for the vote. DeYoung voted no. West and Baertschiger voted yes.

Baertschiger said the Board needed to move the legals to the small weekly paper for several reasons including: one – because the Courier has “a very large diminishment in subscriptions,” two – the county’s “geek squad” said there are more modern ways to communicate than a newspaper, three – people will be able to access legal notices for free without a newspaper subscription and four – the county will save money it can use for the sheriff’s department. Then he undermined his reasoning by criticizing the Courier’s editor while denying vindictiveness had anything to do with the Order.

The Courier has shown its subscriptions are not in “diminishment.” The Courier has had legal notices available on-line for free for years and Mancuso isn’t going to run the legals for nothing.  Even if Mancuso made a deal with the county to get the lucrative legals business, the savings would barely buy coffee for the sheriff’s department.

DeYoung said he felt some “network” organized a slew of letters to the editor in the Courier, emails to Commissioners and got the crowd out to speak against their action against the Courier. He then launched into a litany of complaints about the Courier’s coverage of the Board, further undermining Baertschiger’s denial of any malice in their effort to stop paying the Courier thousands of dollars a year to run the legals.

West, after saying “I do want to hear you,” asked the crowd “is us putting legal notices in the Daily Courier more important to you than having sheriff patrols?” Baertschiger went on to explain how the county had to stay ahead of communication trends and that many, many more people will have access to the county’s legals, a hard case to make since the IV News has about 1300 subscribers vs. the Courier’s more than 9,000. Except for four people, the audience wasn’t buying Baertschiger’s arguments.

Speakers opposing the Boards Order said it is: an abuse of power, a culmination of Commissioners’ petty feud with the Courier, a waste of time, an attempt to bully the local paper, pure vindictiveness that may violate state ethics and the law regarding legal notices, illogical since the IV News is a small weekly that isn’t readily available in the rest of the county, an effort to do away with the Courier, weaponizing the Board against anyone who disagrees with them, making the county vulnerable to a lawsuit, an embarrassment bringing negative publicity, too rushed, not what the citizens want, sneaky, a distraction from serious issues like funding the sheriff’s department, irresponsible, based on faulty arguments, doesn’t pass the sniff test, based on sketchy motives, punitive, thin-skinned, lousy timing, a descent into authoritarianism, a retaliation against a free press’s exercise of the First Amendment, not in the best interest of the community, partisan, weak, a backroom deal and poorly thought out.

Those in favor of the Order said the sheriff needs the money, didn’t think the Board was being vindictive, the protest against the Order is partisan and thought it’s good to move to other forms of communication. Morton said she believed the Courier is untruthful, has lost credibility and didn’t blame them for moving the legals because they “get beat up all the time.” Mancuso defended his paper, saying he actually has about 1800 subscribers if you count those who just get the digital edition. He said the IV News qualifies as a “paper of record” because it runs general news and his paper is expanding its circulation to Merlin, Murphy and Williams with racks so people in those places can buy it.

Josephine County Treasurer Eve Arce, who is obligated to publish the county’s legal notices by law, told Commissioners “I still feel the Courier gives me the best bang for my buck and getting the information disseminated. She asked the Board to table the Order until the state legislature has time to address the issue. Baertschiger, a former state senator, had alluded that the state legislature, recognizing many counties are without newspapers of record, may someday pass legislation allowing counties to publish legal notices on their website only.

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