Josephine County Commissioners Meetings

May 30th, 2023 4H Budget Meeting

A 4H fracas turned into a full-fledged War on Woke after Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner John West voted to cancel the modest levy funding the youth program for 27 years. Also, a casualty of this war is the Master Gardener program, providing training for adults interested in growing and preserving their own food. Meeting as the 4H Budget Committee on May 30, along with three members of the public, Diane Hoover, Larry West, and Dan Zaklan, Commissioners pummeled OSU Extension Office Manager Kala Sheets who presented the annual budget for the 4H district and Southern Region Director Jamie Davis with concerns about 4H enrollment, staffing, budget essentials, religious persecution of Christian 4Hrs, “woke” 4H lessons and an ad for a symposium on LGBTQ issues for 4H counselors.

Committee members listened intently as Kala Sheets presented the $939,613 budget, funded by a .0459 cents per thousand levy and matching funds from Oregon State University (OSU). Sheets said there have been no significant changes in the service district since it was approved by voters in 1996. The Committee was asked to approve the budget and recertify the levy, which brings about $415,000 to the district. Other revenue comes from class fees and the district has budgeted a building fund of $375,478 for repairs, updating, and maintenance of facilities.

DeYoung started the questioning, saying “My knowledge is to look at what’s essential and what’s nice to have. Is this an essential budget?

West’s questions concerned staffing.

“When I look at the staffing of the invoice sent to be paid $117,000 my understanding is that included five staffing people in the budget. I’m still trying to figure out where are all the other people. I’m trying to figure out where $117,000 for a quarter comes in,” said West.

Baertschiger, who had been selected to chair the committee, opened the hearing to public comments.

“I’m really concerned about 4H. I’m not sure 4H is serving the public the way it used to. I’m Very concerned they were required to take Christian shirts and turn them inside out and that sort of thing. I’m quite certain they would never ask somebody who showed up in a hijab to remove their hijab. I’m quite sure if somebody came in a rainbow shirt, for LGBTQ, they wouldn’t be asked to take that off, so I’m just concerned about the program itself, the message they’re sending to the community and I think we need to take a look at that and see if it continues to represent the community in the way that it had in the past. I just want to take a look at it. I’m not feeling comfortable right now. I know there’s another program that’s come up in the community, an ag program and it is inclusive of Christians and the Christian program whereas I’m not sure 4H is anymore,” said Josephine County Republican Party Chair Holli Morton.

Commissioner West said he shares her concerns while Committee member Dan Zaklan tried to get to the heart of the matter.

“I went to OSU Extension and got their religious neutrality policy. Section 4, 3.1 says members can wear their own clothing and jewelry with religious symbols. And so, not having been part of previous discussions but reading it, it seems like there’s grounds to resolves some of these issues because I fully support the 4H program and I fully support the United States system of individual freedoms in all government acts and I used to adjudicate these for a school district. So one of the key components of our adjudication at that time was a real disturbance. If something was going to disturb the operation, then you could take action because you can’t run by disturbance. But basically, by looking at the policy, it does give you some guidance to go back and review individual situations to see where it could’ve worked better,” said Zaklan.

Baertschiger then asked what the 4H membership is now. Sheets said she didn’t bring that data as she was prepared to discuss the budget. Baertschiger scolded her, “You can’t remember how many we had at the beginning of last year? Well, we gotta know. If we have people that are no longer participating in one of our programs, maybe we don’t need the program. So, I mean when I get a number from Josephine County Ag and West says it’s 300 and growing, so I havta go ‘the funding that the citizens put for kids to learn about agriculture, well this Josephine County Ag doesn’t have access to that funding.’ So I’m kinda startin’ to say, ‘What’s going on here?’ So….”

Sheets said many of their programs are self-sufficient with the levy paying mostly for infrastructure.

“But it helps those programs but not helping the new group of people. The funding doesn’t help them, right?” asked Baertschiger.

They can elect to pass a levy if they like,” said Sheets.

Baertschiger argued “but the levy was passed to help kids in these programs. This huge section that you have now not participating do not benefit from this funding anymore, correct?”

DeYoung, who kept referring to the levy amount as .4597, also asked if the levy was still justified since 4H is losing membership. DeYoung, Baertschiger nor West mentioned that the membership in 4H is down because of the tee-shirt fracas that caused religious 4H parents to pull their children out and start a religion-based agriculture group.

Davis exchanged places with Sheets at the podium and answered DeYoung. “Absolutely. Jamie Davis, Southern Region Director. Happy to be here to answer some questions. So the 4H youth development program has a number of different engagement strategies and that’s how we reach youth. So one of the traditional ways is the 4H program developed as a club model, so that means we train volunteers who have a specific interest in an area and reach youth that way. However, we have a lot of different ways besides that club-based model as in after-school programs, day camps, all those different ways that take place. So I believe our traditional…so when we talk about numbers of youth it’s hard to quantify because there’s a lot of direct contact in schools a lot of direct contact after school, but what I think you’re most interested is the club-based model that traditionally has shown and exhibited at county fair. And so before COVID, that number was in the 200s. That was the youth raising livestock, showing horses, dogs, participating in shooting sports, foods, nutrition, all those different projects you really saw and advocated for exhibited at county fair. But then there were also all these other things going on like different engagement strategies in school, after school. So over the last year, you’re right, our enrollment has declined in that club-based model, and I believe the most recent ones that we pulled and I apologize not bringing those numbers we were prepared …”

DeYoung interrupted with “You gotta bring your A-game when you come before this board, I can tell you that right now…

Davis continued….”We were prepared for the budget. But you’re right, I believe those numbers are in the low 100s so you are correct. In the club-based model, shows at county fair has declined. So where they’re focus right now is those other engagement strategies, day camps, after-school programs, and partnering with other educators.”

“So in your defense, I guess, what’s your participation in these other deals so they can be lumped in?” said DeYoung. “Are all those other programs, in the most vulnerable time for youth, I don’t want your program to be a vehicle for programs the public is not willing to accept. And that’s what we were trying to find out the other day, is how much of your program is devoted to, and I’ll say the word “woke” and I don’t know whether we have a scale to work with that. And our…and this has nothin to do with budget, but I’m concerned about youth and what they’re learning outside the family. And outside Sunday School. And what they’re learning other places because it is…they’re vulnerable and I’m gonna watch that like a hawk. But I just wanted to know if you’re down to a hundred and your program, you’re .0459 cents, is designed for a 4H program back in 1996 to accommodate 4H programs for over 700 youth. And then Master Gardeners, Master Homemakers, and many other education programs, to me those are more the adult side. I’m gonna say that not knowing much about it. But if you’re down to a hundred, holy cow, do you have, and I think we did the math the other day with just the …you have like 14 kids per instructor. I went wow, that’s pretty amazing. So I struggle, but I don’t know what to do about the .459 cents. I think budget is the time you come in and justify the spending of the .459 cents and if you have so many supervisors. If you didn’t have the supervisors imagine what you could put in your building fund. About $25,000. You could rack that baby way up but….”

Davis replied to DeYoung’s “struggle” with a levy designed to support 700 but now only has low 100s. She said the levy was not just the 4H but the Master Gardener program and many others. DeYoung asked if some of the money they get comes from state and federal funds. Davis said yes.

“Are you using 4H to expand in other areas that are not 4H?” asked DeYoung. “Who puts your perimeters together? Look at the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, age-old institutions, Eagle Scouts, all over now Boy Scouts is watered down by getting others involved.”

Baertschiger stepped into the conversation saying he didn’t need to be educated about 4H.

“Look, I know about 4H. I’ve been around it all my life, I know it inside and out. It revolved around agriculture and I mean they had all kinds of programs. They had programs for sewing and canning and cooking and everything but it was all based around activities on the farm. That’s what 4H is about. And when this was passed back in the nineties, this was passed and if you asked any voter why this was passed the perception of the public was this is for kids that raise or participate in clubs that raise animals or chickens or whatever. That’s what it was. Now you’ve expanded to all these other things, that was not what the taxpayers voted for back then. They didn’t vote for you to partner with the Boys and Girls Club, partner with the YMCA, and all that kinda stuff. The perception was that money was going to kids that participated in 4H clubs where there was livestock raising or growing vegetables, or whatever the kids show AT THE FAIR! THAT’S WHAT IT WAS FOR! OK? So that’s what I’m looking at. THOSE KIDS HAVE LEFT! You got a problem! They’ve left,” said Baertschiger.

Commissioner West added, “ So, 4H programs for over 700 youth in 1996. So now it’s 2023 and according to the program, you’re down to low hundreds. I believe it’s lower but I’ll stick with your low 100s, so you’ve had a steady decline. You really have a steady decline because Josephine County Ag…the parents sent a message that said, ahhh, you’ve apparently taken our budget and you’ve decided you’re going to teach our kids what they weren’t supposed to be taught. You have Joe’s Place (a religious group), Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, you got a list of all these groups, these kids go there after school, how they’re funded, do they do their own funding. The YMCA charges, I don’t know what they charge…family membership, but I know the Boys and Girls Club, they just had a fund-raiser, Joe’s Place is gittin’ ready to have theirs. They raise money. I’m not sure what the 4H program is doing to help those when they already have those kids goin’. 4H is not. Growing up, 4H was the farm and as the Commissioner said, I’m not sure how we got from 4H bein’ farm and the rainbow virtual class in Salem. That’s not how Josephine County wanted their money spent. It was about teaching them how to raise a pig. And a horse. And a cow. And uhh all the stuff. It seems like now the program doesn’t serve only kids. Can I become a Master Gardener and if I make a half a million a year I get the taxpayers to pay for me to go to a Master Gardener program for free? So is the taxpayers paying for that if that’s the case? You know, it’s not based on an income, I don’t believe. So I’m just throwin’ that out there you know, you got all these programs and a lot of em don’t support the kids necessarily, they support whoever and, and I feel like the taxpayers is puttin’ this money in and it’s getting away from the youth and it’s to keep the program alive. Its had to be expanded to try to take everyone in and then push what the parents from back in 1996, umm, they had a goal and while they support their kids they’re not gonna support their kids in the “new” (says with disdain) the new model of…and you’re seein’ it. You went downhill from last year, you been on a steady decline so uhhh when you look at that percentage from 1996, your 700, to little over a hundred yur, yur, gonna hit bottom here soon and the message I git the taxpayers are, um, they jist don’t understand. They don’t understand what’s happened. And, uh this board, I believe, is more concerned about the kids than you would ever believe and this isn’t about the money, this is about and making sure we’re not spendin’ you know, what happens in government is government seems to siphon off a bunch of money for management and administration fees and pretty soon you’ve created all these jobs but the kids aren’t gittin’ served. And that’s what this whole program and this budget is supposed to be about. Service to the kids.”

Committee member Larry West was next to comment. “I think the last three speakers has really pointed out what I started out with, what’s essential, essential to the original intent, meaning, there are questions from the audience about politics coming in, different influences, that’s not gonna sell to the public. This is a conservative area. They want to stay with the original intent. Farms are farms. Broaden it out to social behavior and things like that really shouldn’t have a part in this at all. I know it’s a little outside this budget but it does affect this budget. Essential is the key.”

DeYoung continued…”And we are the budget committee, we’re not the Board of County commissioners. We are the budget committee and I think our concern here should be limited to the .459 cents and is that legitimate going forward to approve that? We’re going to basically approve the property tax rate later on in this meeting or not approve the property tax rate. I think I’ll wait till after the (motion to) second but I think that you heard, I hope that you heard us loud and clear as to what our concerns are as the budget committee…is this rate still justified as it was back in 1996 by the voter? It was set to point at .0459 cents. Does it need to stay there? The authority, I think, would it be with this budget committee to change that rate?”

Baertschiger got ready to make the motion to accept the budget. Then DeYoung added more…”Does this see us headin’ on or do we leave it this way cause we’re gonna meet every year, and I think well, uhh, I’ll wait till we have a motion and a second, I think to discuss where we’re gonna go from there. I think you’ve heard, and now, and now I’m interested in the next year, as to changes that were made and did OSU hear us? That’s the main thing. You get all your funding from OSU. I think our tax was $414,000 roughly, that would sting pretty good. That would take away a lot of your income. Whether that is appropriate at this time we’re gonna leave it up to the budget committee. I just want everybody to understand, this is the budget committee. Whether we decide to renew this property tax rate or not I think is what we’re here to talk about today.”

Sheets stepped up to the podium. “I just want to quickly say that I appreciate that but I also would hope that you guys would hear us and our explanation of the situation because a lot of the things that were said on the 10th were exaggerated or untrue and I’ve reached out a couple of times to have a conversation with you guys and let you know exactly what happened. We had the forum back in January that you all were invited to, to discuss exactly what had happened, so I just wish you guys could hear our side, and then also to contrast that the things you’re saying about our SNAP program and other programs, I don’t think you quite fully understand what our programs do. I would love to sit down and educate you a little more about what our programs do because it doesn’t seem like you quite understand what we do.”

Baertschiger hit back with “Well I understand completely what you do. But the facts are you had a vast majority of your 4H kids leave your program. That’s a fact. So, you talking about what really happened? That’s what really happened! So any other discussion?”

There were other comments but they were inaudible. Then Baertschiger asked Sheets if she’d seen the ad, presumably the rainbow ad Commissioner West brought up. “Have you seen the advertisement coming out of Oregon State Extension Service? Have you SEEN IT!”

Sheets shakes her head no then adds, “I understand your concerns and I hear you. I do. We hear you at the office. We do. But I think the situation that has been presented to you has been exaggerated. The situation that happened is pretty simple, we pointed out…and I have a photo of it, the tee shirt with the cross on it was a giant cross in the middle and our point was just to not associate that with 4H but never was it said you can’t wear crosses, it was never…I wish you guys could hear our side, cause it seems like you’re hearing a lot of the other side.”

“Those are the ones that county. I’m sorry. Your side don’t count. The other side counts. That’s cause they’re the voters,” said Baertschiger.

Commissioner West, getting angry, addressed Sheets as well. “So you make the assumption that a kid has a big cross on their shirt and that’s not acceptable but then the Salem 4H can have the Rainbow Classic from a drag queen to everybody else on the picture but that’s acceptable. But a cross. Just a cross. There’s not one kid, you could put 100 kids out there and that cross on their shirt does not mean you have to be a Christian, you have to believe in God you have to do anything. It’s just a cross. But that’s not acceptable. But then we’re supposed to send our kids to these people that are not acceptable and our county says it’s not acceptable but then you say we exaggerate I think yur, I, I uh I need to be very careful on what I say.”

“We’ve had enough discussion. I think we need to, you know, I uhh, uhh, uhh, I’ll entertain a motion to approve this budget with an amendment to not renew the tax levy, thus eliminating the ad valorem property tax, zero point five four nine per thousand,” said Baertschiger.

Sheets corrected him. It’s .0459. You gave us a penny, she said.

“I said .0459. No. Then we got it wrong last year,” said Baertschiger.

DeYoung announced he wouldn’t be supporting that motion because he didn’t think the levy should be eliminated at this point but he did bring the rainbow ad up again. “I won’t be supporting that because I think it’s a real drastic move on our part. I think we’ve been pretty point blank and I think there needs to be opportunities, I don’t want to ditch the 4H program. I want you to take a look at this ad because this ad was for it was a symposium or deal for summer camp….”

Sheets said she would love to see the ad.

DeYoung finished his sentence…”for summer camp advisors and camp counselors and it hit me right between the eyes and I said if that’s summer camp …no that’s not gonna happen, and it’s….and the sad thing about it it’s got the 4H logo on the top of it which tied you in. It didn’t have that in there and it didn’t have all the stuff from the state sayin this is perfectly ok and programs within that, camp counselors thing, teaching kids their more than likely going to get arrested by a white officer if they’re Black…”

“Let’s try to keep our comments….” Interrupted Baertschiger.

DeYoung continued….” but I will not, I will support giving this a year’s reprieve at the .0459 cents per thousand and see what you come up with and give you the opportunity to turn your program around. I think you’re hearin’ from the citizens – you’ve heard from our audience. One person in the audience and she (Morton) represents a lot of people. But I think you need to take this to heart, you’ve had two different doses of this and I think you need to have the opportunity to do that so I will not be supporting that motion so we’ll have to let that one do what it does cause I’m just one vote.”

Commissioner West added…” I think in summary, what we’re looking at we don’t want the same thing happening in schools imposed on our children. I, I think that’s what you’re hearing in a loud message.”

The motion died after a few more comments that were inaudible.

DeYoung made a new motion, that the budget and levy be approved “knowing next year we’ll be looking at this very carefully.” Baertschiger said he couldn’t add a caveat to the motion to approve the budget and levy. That motion was carried with two people on the committee voting no, Baertschiger and West.

Baertschiger closed the meeting of the budget committee and opened it as the Board of Directors for the extension service district. The budget committee voted 4 to 2 to recommend to that Board, consisting of the three county commissioners, that they pass the budget and renew the levy. Baertschiger made a motion to eliminate the tax. West seconded it.

DeYoung had his final say, “Mr. Chairman that’s painting the whole program with a pretty broad brush and I think there’s a lot of probably good things in the 4H program other than what we have seen are concerned of, like I say, I would like to see us hold off on that till next year and pass this budget. That’s just my comment. I don’t want to end the program. 4H program’s been around forever and has been supported by the people and I think this is the year, you all would have your year to prove that you are, that you deserve the .4 cents per thousand. And that would be my recommendation.”

DeYoung’s comment barely ended, Baertschiger and West voted to end the levy. Then Baertschiger adjourned the meeting.

May 31st, 2023 Business Meeting

During the May 31 Weekly Business Meeting Morton appeared during public comment time after Commissioners dealt with some routine business.

“On yesterday’s budget, it was difficult for 4H but that organization has gone woke and I don’t think anymore it reflects the needs and desires of and I think that’s evidenced by the fact there used to be 700 and some members now they’re down to 119 and I think the citizens of the community need to recognize the courage that it takes to make those tough decisions. I think you saved the county $415,000 or something along that line, so I want to commend you all for taking that position and having the courage to do that. I think in a general sense we have some signs over at the office (Republican headquarters across the street from the courthouse) that say something to the effect that we’re not woke, we’re wide awake and I think that’s what’s happening to this community. Over a period of time, people are saying what the heck is going on around here? People are stepping up and we hear people say they want to have a community that’s moral where people can participate in their own religion without being discriminated against, where things don’t have to be shoved down our throat all the time, particularly sexuality. I mean we all have our sex lives, hopefully at home, and it gets really frustrating, I think, to this community to have all that shoved down our throats and particularly our children. You know we just don’t want our children to be exposed at such a young age to the seamy side of life, we need to just cut back on that and say enough is enough. Anyway, I want to thank you again. I think you guys are makin’ the tough calls and I really appreciate you,” she said. Morton has said at Commission meetings in the past that as Chair of the Josephine County Republican Party, she was on a mission to restore morals here.

Cave Junction City Counselor Jean Ann Miles was next to comment and had a number of things to say including she didn’t think the merger of the Emergency Management Department with IT is not a good idea and that those living in the outskirts of the county are very concerned. She also mentioned the proposed county charter that has been released from the two-year Charter Review Commission. She said by changing from non-partisan to partisan commissioner elections, she, as a non-affiliated voter, would be disenfranchised.

Judy Ahrens got up to speak about how awful it is that schools are teaching 12-year-old boys to put on a condom and described “drawings of a boy and a girl complete with pubic hair” she saw in a book for kids.

Mark Jones suggested the county put out a simplified budget so the average person could read and understand it.

Baertschiger didn’t mention pulling the levy from 4H but West brought up Target, Kohls, and Budweiser as part of a “woke” movement and how the Board of Commissioners’ sole purpose is “to look out for kids’ best interests.”

After dissolving the Charter Commission the meeting was adjourned.