The following is a summary of Josephine County Commissioner meetings. For more detailed information watch the meeting videos by going to https://www.josephinecounty.gov/government/board_of_county_commissioners/agenda___minutes.php and clicking on the video of the meeting you are interested in.
Josephine County Commissioners mumbled and grumbled about the Grants Pass Daily Courier in meetings last week that culminated in an attempt to move their legal notification ads to the Illinois Valley News out of spite…and a blatant attempt to stifle free speech in the form of what they perceive as newspaper articles critical of them.
During a discussion about giving county department heads a raise, Commissioner Dan DeYoung said “what would the Courier do?” He was anticipating criticism in the newspaper if the Board approved a 7.8 percent raise for non-union employees even though they removed themselves from getting that raise. Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger said he didn’t care what the Courier would say since they’ve lost about 10 percent of their subscriptions.
“I’m not worried about what they say. We’ve got a responsibility,” said Baertschiger.
The board did approve the raise, exempting themselves because of the flack they got from the community for giving themselves raises last year, after Personnel Director JJ Scofield explained that retention of key employees was vital to the county. He said the raise was included in the budget in anticipation of an inflationary period.
Later during their Dec. 6 Legal Council Update Baertschiger proposed the county stop it’s subscription to the Courier because “several articles about us have been very inaccurate, they won’t do any retractions. They won’t do anything in order to talk to you about it. I think we just drop it.” Baertschiger didn’t cite any examples of inaccuracies, however.
Commissioner Darin Fowler chimed in, saying the Courier misquotes department heads “even when they emailed. I could go on…” Fowler didn’t provide any examples of misquotes though.
“So it’s not a big deal, we don’t read it anyways,” said Baertschiger.
Fowler added that he was up for a discussion about taking the county’s “notification” business elsewhere. Baertschiger he believed they could use the Illinois Valley News “to spread the wealth.” Legal notices are a lucrative source of income for local newspapers.
DeYoung asked about using The Eagle, a right-wing monthly published on-line only (which DeYoung and Baertschiger have written for) but Baertschiger said for legals to run the paper has be at least a weekly. Commissioners got some pushback from a staff member in charge of putting the legal notices in the Courier. She said the cost of running legals in the IV News would be about the same, although the IV News uses a bigger font. She also said because that paper is a weekly timing could be an issue.
Baertschiger asked what would happen if the Courier just disappeared, like the Medford newspaper. It was noted that Medford’s legals are now published in the Courier. Fowler said possibly some “stragglers” (legal notices needing a timely publishing) would have to be published in the Courier. Baertschiger pointed out that about eight years ago the legislature tried to pass legislation allowing counties to run legal notices on their own websites but that didn’t go over well. “But maybe it’s time to revisit that because so many papers are going out of business,” he said.
(During Baertschiger’s appearance on The Bill Meyer Show on KMED talk radio December 13 he went on a rant about the Courier saying “You know Bill I don’t hate the Courier, I just get so tired of them not reporting accurately…we all know we’re gonna write stuff with a little bit of slant but this is over the top. So Shaun Hall wrote an article about us giving COLA raises to the non-union folks which is basically elected officials and leadership in the county. Bill, they ended up reporting about how John West, you know the Commissioner-elect, was not necessarily in agreement with that and that seemed to be the main take….then they went on and talked about how the Commissioners gave themselves a COLA raise last year and that was like ‘are you kidding me’ and then the other thing he never mentioned is that COLA raise was anticipated. It was in the budget because Commissioner Baertschiger has been warning everybody about inflation for the last two years and they’ve taken some of my advice…”) Baertschiger did not give any concrete examples of inaccuracies, however.
In other business, Commissioners approved a $10 raise in adoption fees for the Josephine County Animal Shelter and a raise in fees for the Assessor’s Office, Fairgrounds and the Adult Jail. They also approved five new voluntary annexations to the Library District and approved a Sheriff’s property sale.
During the public comments section of the Dec. 7 meeting Judy Ahrens, commemorating Pearl Harbor Day, presented Commissioners with cupcakes with layers representing sin and redemption topped with strawberries representing the blood of Christ. She was thanked by DeYoung.
Weekly Business Session Dec 14 22
With a captive audience of county staff members waiting to be recognized for their years of service, Josephine County Commissioner Darin Fowler, dressed in suit and tie, led a prayer from the dais asking the Lord to bless the county and their meeting. However, later during the meeting when Public Works Director Rob Brandes outlined plans for street improvements in Northeast Grants Pass, Fowler didn’t extend the Lord’s blessings to bike lanes in that area. Fowler, who favors baggy untucked shirts over his ample frame, complained the expensive bike lanes only benefit the “Spandex mafia” who will ride anywhere, even when bike lanes are installed along M or Bridge streets that have too much traffic for a comfortable ride.
Commissioners were relieved to find out the project didn’t include planter strips and that only a few “small scrub oak trees” would have to be removed to make way for the improvements. DeYoung complained about inconvenient construction at intersections for wheelchair ramps going on in Grants Pass while Baertschiger attempted to educate the public that the money for the $785,000 project comes from state and federal funds earmarked only for roads and can’t be shifted to the sheriff’s department. Brandes pointed out fixing roads is part of public safety. Commissioners also brought up something they saw on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show about the number of cars per person in the United States vs the number per person in Europe, then approved the project after a public hearing. The only person speaking during the hearing on the matter was Judy Ahrens who complained bike lanes take away parking places.
Administrative Workshop Dec. 15
Josephine County may get land sold to Oregon Limitless Inc back because the company has not made any payments on it. The company put a $200,000 down payment and according to the contract will forfeit that to the county if payments are not made soon. In other business Commissioners heard a report on the status of the courtroom remodeling. Tearing into the courthouse has been like opening a pandora’s box of additional problems, Commissioner’s heard. Commissioners also heard an appeal for $50,000 to hire a consultant to help procure money coming from the federal government for broadband projects. There is no one in-house with the tech expertise to do this, they heard. Finance Director Sandy Novak said this would come out of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds already budgeted for projects you can “see and touch.”