Commissioners-Week of 2/21 — So much for Transparency

Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger has said the Board wants the county’s website to be the most transparent website in the state of Oregon. However, you can look all day long on that website and find nothing on it about the county being handed the Flying Lark, the “racino” built by Dutch Bros billionaire Travis Boersma on county land. It was not mentioned during their Feb. 21 Legal Counsel session, nor their Feb. 22 Weekly Business session. Commissioners adjourned the LC meeting to go into executive session but made no announcement on their website concerning the $50 million building even though it was on their executive session agenda.

Of course word of it got out after the Grants Pass Daily Courier filed a records request for the information. So far, Commissioners haven’t said what they plan to do with the windfall. They will probably get plenty of advice at their March 1 business meeting. Note that the lease termination will cost Josephine County $313,999 annually as per the Oregon Live website.

Also during their Legal Counsel meeting Commissioners grilled Community Development Director Mark Stevenson about money that hasn’t been collected from property owners billed after the county cleaned up a mess on their property. Most of the trash was from illegal marijuana grows. Stevenson said out of 117 citations, the county has collected 104 out of 117, resulting in getting $307,000 back with about $75,000 still outstanding. He said he has grant money for an attorney to process those collections through small claims court. The system works well, he said but Commissioners bantered about how to make sure they get every penny owed the county.

The only other discussion held during that meeting was around trying to figure out whether or not to support SB 795 which they thought may give counties more control over their forest lands but they weren’t sure.

The Commissioners’ Business Meeting on Wednesday Feb. 22 was basically just for public comments as they had little business to conduct. Victor Zeitz asked about airport improvements and proposed turning over the county Animal Shelter to the Parks Department and making it self-funding so they could use the money going to that for the sheriff’s department. Voters approved and renewed a levy to support the shelter that can’t be used for anything else. None of the Commissioners would sign on to that idea, knowing they’d have a roomful of animal advocates to deal with if they did. Judy Aherns got up to announce her great idea…declare a “homeless emergency” and get a group of high IQ citizens to put their heads together to come up with solutions to the homeless problem. Apparently she never heard of PATH (Partners Assisting the Homeless).

Tired of hearing about the homeless problem yet again, Commissioner Dan DeYoung said the “one thing that would fix it is quit handing out stuff.” He keeps referring to a “resource sheet” that directs people in need to various local agencies that can help.

“There’s stuff on that sheet that’s not available to the normal citizen,” he said.

DeYoung said he doesn’t think the Board is interested in declaring an emergency relating to the homeless, as Emergency Management Director Emily Ring told them last week might be necessary to secure funding being made available through Gov. Tina Kotek’s homeless program. DeYoung said they don’t like to declare emergencies because that “takes some of the authority away from this board and delivers it to who knows who, maybe Emily Ring, maybe the City of Grants Pass.” The Commissioners are not known for their cooperation with the city.

Commissioner John West echoed DeYoung’s concerns about declaring an emergency. “…as far as declaring emergencies, we have to be careful that as a board we don’t want to give away Josephine County’s rights to maybe have the state or someone else that they come in and run things and then you’re going to be mad at us so we take, you know, calling emergencies we call, we take that very…we, we, we look that over very good,” he said. As far as moving the animal shelter to make it self-sustaining West said “people are very sensitive to animals, probably more sensitive to animals than they are you and me so, you know, I’m not going to get in a fight with the public over right or wrong with an animal. I’m going to stay away from that because I’ll lose.”

Baertschiger told Zeitz the airport improvements that have been done already were the result of grants and he doesn’t see any additional improvements happening in the near future. He repeated his view that homelessness is a “human phenomenon,” that people are living in parks because they like that lifestyle and that Josephine County has no resources to deal with the problem.

Action items on the consent agenda included the process for merging the Parks Department with the Fairgrounds. Director Tamra Martin said this has been “a bit of a challenge only because we have multiple employees that are working within both departments.”