Business was light at the Josephine County Commissioners’ Weekly Business Session April 5 so those who came to comment were in the spotlight. First up, usually always first up, was Judy Ahrens who brought Commissioners her legendary cupcakes representing sin, topped with strawberries she said represented the blood of Christ. She then proceeded to tell the board our schools are promoting genital mutilation and get money from the state to teach nothing but sex. Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger thanked Ahrens and said she says what a lot of people think. Then he went on a rant about the Grants Pass Daily Courier saying all it knows how to do is blast the board. Commissioner John West also praised Ahrens and thanked her for the cupcakes, saying with all the negative comments they get she brings a lot of encouragement. Commissioner Dan DeYoung was absent.
The vice president of the Youth Baseball Program in Grants Pass, Terry O’Leary, told the board the city fields the kids use have been taken over by homeless people who leave behind a big mess. He said kids showing up for practice sometimes walk into a “disaster” and said he needs all our elected representatives to hear this. Hopefully you will stand with us to provide a cleaner environment, he said. Baertschiger said he would “communicate” the issues O’Leary brought up and said the city (Grants Pass) needs to do a better job of keeping the homeless from trashing the baseball parks. West also said he would call the Grants Pass City Manager and relay his concerns.
Mark Jones brought up the need for workforce housing in the county. He said as it stands now someone making as much as $35,000 a year can’t afford a house. He asked Commissioners, as the governing body, to look at opening land up for affordable housing. West said the county is looking at some land in the city limits that might be used for affordable housing. Baertschiger didn’t address any of Jones’ concerns.
Jonathan Knapp was at the meeting to do some cheerleading. He got up to praise the Commissioners and say thank you “because you don’t hear that enough.” West said although it’s okay when people say negative things about the Board it was nice to hear something positive. Baertschiger’s rant about the local newspaper was also his response to Knapp.
A man concerned about black helicopters flying over his property asked Commissioners if they knew what that was about. West said he’d refer that to Baertschiger as he probably knows, but Baertschiger didn’t say anything in response.
Holli Morton, Josephine County Republican Party Chair also spoke. She said she’d listed to David Clements give a talk about election integrity in Medford and now she can’t “unsee and unhear what we saw and heard.” She got emotional telling the Board “this presentation was a life-changing experience and we gotta do something about this. When I got involved (with Republicans) my goal was to clean up our backyard and get our own county in such great shape it would be a prototype. We have to make sure election integrity is number one. Without it we have nothing.” David Clements has been debunked as a former academic turned right-wing opportunist who goes around speaking about election denial, Jan. 6 denial and raking in donations for his cause. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-clements/ West agreed with Morton and said, “if we don’t get a handle on things we won’t see elections in the future.” Baertschiger’s rant about the local paper also served to address Morton’s concerns.
Most of the Commissioner’s work was done the day before at their Legal Counsel meeting where they heard that the cost of contracting for healthcare was going up so fast Sheriff Dave Daniels put together a plan to do it in-house through Public Health. They discussed the liability of doing it this way, with County Council Wally Hicks adding they may need to double their coverage. Commissioner Dan DeYoung said this might make care more immediate. Commissioner John West said he felt this was the way to go to combat rising costs. Chair Herman Baertschiger complained about inflation. Public Health Director Michael Weber said with the Board’s consent they would hire an administrator to roll out the program and ramp it up.
With the Sheriff still at the table, West brought up his quest to get the illegal marijuana grows cleaned up better. Referring to his own experience as a large equipment operator, he asked if the clean-up crews should be using an excavator on sites and do more to get all the plastic and trash out of the ground. West had a picture showing a property with broken plastic pipe and trash half buried in the soil
In no uncertain terms Daniels told West he’s been doing this six years now and considers himself a subject matter expert in illegal grow cleanup. He said he has used excavators but they weren’t that effective. He says his team pulls all the chemicals and fertilizers out before demolishing a site and tries to rake it as clean as possible. He said by nature cleanup is dangerous, with unknown pesticides and improperly installed electrical lines and he doesn’t like exposing his deputies to any unnecessary danger. Daniel said he has a routine now that allows his crew to do two clean-ups a day leaving the site very natural and if they were slowed down by some of the things West wanted them to do it would have a big impact. They did 60 site cleanups last year. If slowed by additional requirements they might only get to 20 or 30, Daniels said.
Community Development Director Mark Stevenson said the photo West had was of a very early site cleanup and they don’t look like that anymore.
West backtracked with “I’m not sayin’ you don’t do a great job. What I’m sayin’ it’s my job to help look out for the county and liability issues and doing the best practices so legal counsel can defend us. Baertschiger, adding his political take, said “this whole drug industry is not good for the environment. You’d think all these people concerned about the environment would be very vocal but they’re not.”
At the same meeting Road Department Director Rob Brandes said he’s keeping his eye on Klamath County where the Road Department is forming a district to put all their grant funding in as a way of shuffling funds out of the way of becoming counted against further state funding. Commissioners were concerned people might think of a district as asking for taxes at some point. Brandes assured them he would never use the district to levy a tax. He said the Road District Board would not have to meet often.
At Commissioners’ April 6 Administrative Workshop outgoing Emergency Services Director Emily Ring appeared to wrap up some loose ends before she departs. She introduced a new Firewise director, Mike McLaughlin, and wanted approval of a grant so she could get it submitted before it expires. Baertschiger brought up his fire expertise and all the people he knows in the world of firefighting, then wished Ring “the best on your new journey.” DeYoung thanked her for her service. Ring said she has been talking to several possible replacements and hopes to find “a great match for here.”