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Commissioners 12/13/23 — More Library Opt Out Requests

This is long. Included is Library District Board President Rachele Selvig’s speech and that of Tina Gotchall, Member of the Library Board. Well worth the read! 

The public hearing to consider four petitions to opt out of the Josephine County Community Library District was abruptly halted after Commissioners decided to ask for legal advice before moving on. Baertschiger called Assistant County Counsel Stephanie Nuttall to the podium for advice but she said what Commissioners were asking couldn’t be answered in a public session, so they promptly turned off their microphones and held a discussion among themselves before coming back on and voting to postpone the public hearing until next Wednesday’s meeting.

Two of the opt out petitioners were at last week’s meeting speaking in favor of Mike Pelfrey’s petition. They echoed his reason for asking to opt out, that the library didn’t serve their property. Library District Board President Rachele Selvig countered that:

“Regarding the petitions to withdraw from the library district, commissioners are tasked with interpreting Oregon Revised Statute 198.870 sub 4 which states: I stand before you on behalf of the library district to voice our objection to all the petitions based on the feasibility of service. We firmly believe that each territory in question has viable avenues to access library services. This accessibility encompasses traditional means through our facilities in Grants Pass, Illinois Valley, Williams and Wolf Creek as well as modern options, such as in home internet access, personal devices and telephone lines. It is essential to note that library services are available exclusively to residents holding a valid library card. These services encompass borrowing e-books, audio books, printed materials, on-line courses, magazines, research articles, virtual librarian consultations and the provision for talking books and braille services via mail. Additionally, our library of things offers items such as laptops and hotspots to facilitate remote access to our services. Public libraries, as essential community institutions, have a direct impact on property values. The absence of a library can deter skilled professionals including physicians from relocating to a community. An example of this impact can be observed in the struggles faced by the local hospital to recruit new physicians during the two-year closure of libraries in May 2007, Additionally, senior support services may diminish, leading to potential drops in property values. Approving these withdrawals would unjustly allow petitioners to benefit from increased property values while shifting the tax burden onto their neighbors who continue to pay taxes for vital community services. The central questions for your consideration are two-fold. First, is it feasible for the petitioner to receive services regardless of whether they choose to use them and two, how can the petitioners establish that they cannot and will not feasibly receive services. It is essential to emphasize that the burden of proof lies with the petitioner to clearly demonstrate their inability to receive service. We respectfully request clarification regarding the criteria used by the commissioners to evaluate this proof, both in individual cases and as a general standard going forward. Transparency in these criteria is vital to enable the electorate to comprehend the basis of your decision. It is worth noting that the determination made by the Josephine County Board of Commissioners will establish a precedent impacting not only library districts but also other districts across the state including hospital and park districts. Whether the commission explicitly acknowledges this responsibility or not. Approving these petitions would have severe repercussions for both the library district and the county. The library district would suffer a loss of tax revenue leading to a depletion of service that would affect all current beneficiaries of our library services. Moreover the county would endure a substantial administrative burden associated with the mandatory filing to the secretary of state’s office, and the Oregon Department of Revenue for each commission approved petition. This burden would directly impact the county assessor’s office and the county clerk, resulting in additional costs for local taxpayers. Additionally, these actions would undermine the 2017 election, in which the electorate voted to form the library district. Every territory within the district was given the opportunity to participate in a fair election based on majority rule. Any attempt to subvert that election process not only harms the electorate but also jeopardizes future elections aimed at forming special districts in Oregon. It is crucial to emphasize the statute governing withdrawals from a district is distinct from the statute governing property annexation. The criteria and procedures for withdrawal differ significantly from those for annexation. Furthermore, we must address the commissions’ inconsistent procedure regarding these withdrawals. In the case of the Marshall petition, we believe it should not be approved today because the petitioner failed to provide a copy of the petition to the district as required by ORS 198.70 sub 2. In contrast, other applications, as indicated in the packet, were properly delivered to the district. Marshall filed their application on Dec. 7, giving them until Dec. 12 to fill this requirement, which they did not. Also, half of the four petitions presented today have not been signed by the petitioners including those of Birch and McDonald. Nevertheless, the crux of the matter revolves around the feasibility of petitioners accessing service benefits rather than conflating individuals with territory. Viewing ORS 187 solely in the context of property, while overlooking the potential impact on property occupants and future stakeholders is illogical. It is not whether occupants, owner user like the service, it is about whether the current or future owner or occupant of the property could use the services. Ultimately the core of this argument centers on the question: why should I have to pay for roads I don’t drive on? The answer is simple. Because these roads are fundamental components of a community’s infrastructure and individuals feasibly benefit from them. In conclusion we urge you to deny these withdrawal petitions bearing in mind the evident procedural errors, misinterpretation of the law by the commissioners and the far reaching consequences on both our library district and the county.”

Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger asked what Selvig meant by “transparency.” She said her board was having difficulty understanding the criteria on which Commissioners based their decision.

“You speak of transparency. I kinda lost you on that,” said Baertschiger.

“I think the transparency issue is that we’re having difficulty understanding the criteria upon which the commissioners are basing their decisions to approve, not only the individual petitions but the petitions in general as a whole,” said Selvig.

“I disagree that’s not a transparency issue. That’s just a issue you’re not understanding. So hopefully we can…”said Baertschiger.

“Maybe not transparency but maybe an issue of lack of communication and of building of a substance behind to explain the decision,” said Selvig.

After Selvig spoke the petitioners came to the podium with reasons behind their withdrawal requests. Victoria Marshall claimed she could get the same services the library offers elsewhere. She said she’s also experienced “public vicious vitriol” because of her comments last week which “makes me want to opt out more.” She didn’t say where this “vicious vitriol” came from.

Library District Board member Tina Gotchall said it has definitely been proven that library services are available to every property owner and that these petitions have no standing and based on ORS, no petition should be granted. These petitions have no standing in law “or intelligence.”

“They do, however, have a standing with a group of people who resent the Democratic process for which their neighbors chose to create the district. They do have standing with angry and disappointed petitioners who ran for office and who lost in a fair and public election, partly because of their public statements desiring to close the library. The real question today is whether this Board will continue to violate the law in their attempt to force their agenda on a public that has twice voted against that agenda. This fact is made worse by the fact that petitioners have stood at this microphone expressing their hatred of the local library, by citing events at libraries outside the district, outside the county and outside the state. Further they have testified that the basis for petition is not in law but in their passionate hatred toward libraries based on this evidence of activity and locations of their choice and not of these library services. The deliberate choice to boycott the library is in no way related to the question of whether or not the library provides services. One petitioner even tried to evoke the spirit of the American Revolution by declaring that being in the library district was a clear example of taxation without representation. This situation is exactly the exact opposite of that. The tax was not levied by a king but was put in place by the citizens initiative and a majority vote of the citizens. Further the district is managed by a board of people freely elected by the voters residing within that district. Just because someone loses the vote to be a member of that board does not mean he is unrepresented. He is just not well liked by his neighbors or the person who beat him. It is a fearful thing for every citizen in this county if this board choses to conduct itself based on personal agendas rather than the rule of law. These laws can be changed through legislative, electoral or court systems but the dare not be changed on the whim of a gang of people trying to inflict their desires on a community that has twice voted against them. In spite of this overwhelming evidence and the clear and present danger to Democracy in our county we should fully expect this board to continue its illegal behavior until they are stopped by a court order. Be that as it may, the facts are still the facts and the fantasies and phantoms of logic are still as vaporous as they are moronic,” she said.

After Gotchall’s comment, Baertschiger said he’s going to “stand at ease” on the opt-out petitions until he can consult with legal. The meeting went dead for several minutes, as commissioners talked among themselves with their mics turned off. Those streaming the meeting couldn’t tell what they were talking about. Then after turning the microphones back on, Baertschiger took a vote, which was unanimous, to continue the hearing until next Wednesday at 9 a.m.

During public comments, several people got up to complain about the process used to reject an environmental group’s bid on the Pipe Forks property in the Williams area. Then Mike Jones took the podium with questions relating to the opt-out petitions.

“I have a question about the process for annexation and withdrawal (library district). When I self-annexed my property into the Merlin Park District, there was a $60 fee to do that, that the park district picked up to pay for my process. I’m curious with this process of withdrawal, who pays the fee? Do the petitioners pay the fee or is the county picking up that bill cause I’m pretty sure the district won’t pay. The library district probably won’t be paying for that. So I’m curious, is that a cost that the county is having to absorb? And then the other question is the cost of lawsuits based on this. And I’m really glad to see that you put a stop to the hearing today to get some clarification. It’ll help, hopefully, stop some wasted money on lawsuits,” he said.

After closing public comments, DeYoung said he’d look into the fees Jones was concerned about. West had the ordinance in hand so he obviously knew the question was coming. He didn’t say who should pay, however. He just mumbled something about how he hopes people can agree to disagree on the opt-out controversy “not matter how it comes out.” Baertschiger just stated the board had an obligation to follow the letter of the law.