josephine county commissioners weekly busines meeting updates
Week of June 7 – 11, 2021
An unavoidable levy, a reluctant forking over of $30,000, admission by conservative commissioners that health decisions should be personal, a drought dilemma, a new position in the public health department and a rift over a big gift were on the Josephine County Commissioners’ agenda this week.
During Tuesday’s Legal Counsel Update, Sheriff Dave Daniel appeared to discuss the jail and juvenile justice levy that has helped keep his department operational for the last five years. If it isn’t renewed in November, the Sheriff’s Department, already facing budget deficits, will be back to the barely functional law enforcement entity everyone complained about prior to May 2017. Since then, the phenomenal growth of illegal marijuana/hemp growth has increased the need for more staffing, but some of that could be assisted by a bill put on priority pass in the state legislature. HP 3000 could help Daniel investigate and raid illegal pot/hemp grows, but he still needs the levy to keep law enforcement at the level those in rural areas have come to expect.
The sheriff asked the Commission to start the process to get the levy on the ballot for November with “no increases, no verbal changes, just the same as it was last time.” Commissioners agreed and directed County Counsel Wally Hicks to start the process. Hicks had advised Commissioners to start now because there are deadlines involved in getting matters on the November ballot. Commissioner Darin Fowler said the Animal Control levy will also be on the November ballot and that Board will be asking for an increase of around 10 cents. They really need 12 cents, but don’t think they can ask for that as it means a 50 percent increase from their current levy, he said.
Doug Bradley, manager of the Holiday Inn Express appeared during Wednesday’s Weekly Business Session to ask Commissioners to fork over $30,000 to help with the reorganization of the tourist bureau. Bradley, who is chair of just about every committee on tourism in the county, said the City of Grants Pass has contributed $50,000 to a concentrated effort to promote Grants Pass and Josephine County by hiring an Executive Director to run a marketing effort. He asked Commissioners to contribute $30,000 to the effort. Bradley said tourism is a major economic driver and studies show a good Executive Director can double or triple tourist dollars in an area. Bradley pointed to Bend, Oregon as an example of a community that has become a tourist mecca through good promotion.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung promptly announced “We don’t like Bend. We don’t like the way they vote. We don’t want to be like Bend.”
Then DeYoung asked Bradley if they would find an Executive Director who would support the community in its fight against the governor’s COVID restrictions. “The wrong person could do more damage to Josephine County and our way of life here by inviting…..we’re up to our ears here in growers… it’s a concern.”
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said he was concerned about using taxpayer dollars for free advertising for hotel chains. Bradley said businesses aren’t getting a “free ride” as they contribute to the effort as well. DeYoung and Baertschiger were also concerned that the county wouldn’t get anything back for the $30,000 contribution since most of the hotels, motels, and businesses are in the city. “We’re taking our taxpayer dollars and giving them to your organization but the county gets nothing in return,” said DeYoung. He continued in that vein, ranting for several minutes, until Bradley said he didn’t come to argue, just to explain why promotion is important. Fowler, in favor of the new focus on tourism marketing, teamed up with Bradley to work on DeYoung until he finally consented to vote for the $30,000 allocation. Baertschiger, who had distracted himself during DeYoung’s rant, voted no.
The usual anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists from Illinois Valley called in during public comment time. They warned the Commission to put all their COVID rescue money into an account to defend the county against all the lawsuits that will appear as people start to drop dead from the COVID vaccines. Fowler praised the callers, saying they were doing a good job getting people to start asking questions about what the governor is doing regarding vaccine promotion. “I remember when health care decisions used to be private between you and your doctor and God, and now they’re saying we can’t go to events without being vaccinated, we have lotteries for people who get vaccinated. The California governor was on TV the other night looking like a game show host. It amazes me the lengths they go for something that doesn’t have a track record yet. They need to leave us alone, respect people’s freedom. We already have it in our County Charter that you can’t force parents to vaccinate their children.” Baertschiger, not to be outdone, cited an article he read about vaccine deaths not being counted and agreed with Fowler that getting vaccinated is “a decision between you and your health provider and nobody else.” DeYoung compared the vaccination effort to the book 1984 which he said he read in order to graduate from high school. “People should read Atlas Shrugged ”as well,” he added. (Note: “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand is dystopian fiction written in 1957 in favor of capitalism, often cited by conservatives. It is 1,168 pages long. It’s not required reading in high school).
Oregon Water Resources Department Regional Manager Jake Johnstone told Commissioners Josephine County isn’t in a very good spot right now. He said soil moisture is very poor and stream flows are just 66 percent of normal. It was a warm winter so there is no snowpack recharging our rivers and creeks this year. Johnstone predicted a rough year for firefighters and irrigators. Baertschiger asked what percentage of the low water was because of people taking it illegally. Johnstone said it’s too hard to estimate the impact from water stealing, but his stream gauges are set in streams above where farmers take water. Baertschiger then asked what the impact municipalities have on water levels when they sell water from their sources to water truck companies. Johnstone said that’s been minimal as it’s estimated they use less than 1 percent of their water source for that. He added that water truck companies have been very cooperative with
water managers who make sure they have proper permits and are keeping track of what they use.
DeYoung asked Johnstone if the Pacific Ocean went up a degree would we have more rain? He went on about how we have the same number of water molecules we had since the beginning but they’re shifting around because of changes in the ocean. “Something that used to happen stopped and we can’t say it’s global warming,” he said. Johnstone, looking perplexed, said he isn’t a weather specialist and referred DeYoung to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to find out about that theory. The dilemma the Commissioners revealed is that they have been inundated by “water complaints” and are reluctant to ask the governor to declare a drought emergency in Josephine County because that allows big vineyards and other large agricultural interests with permits to take water from streams to use well water if those streams go dry. Nearby property owners are concerned groundwater pumping could cause their wells to go dry. After another long DeYoung rant about the government, the Klamath water situation, and illegal marijuana grows, during which Baertschiger and Fowler distracted themselves, Commissioners agreed to continue the water discussion to next week so they can allow the public to comment.
During the weekly COVID update, Public Health Director Michael Weber said Josephine County is now in the “moderate” category, allowing restaurants to go from 25 percent capacity indoors to 50 percent capacity. DeYoung ranted about how some stores are still requiring masks while others aren’t and blamed OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Weber said at this point mask-wearing is “a conscious choice by the business owner. OSHA requirements are not tied to what our designation is but is expected to lower levels of enforcement as COVID recedes, Weber said. DeYoung challenged vaccine requirements and asked if the county gets credit for those who have immunity from having COVID as well as the number of vaccines people in the county have received. Not waiting for an answer, he went on and on about how Josephine will never get to 70 percent because people don’t trust the government. Weber asked, “is there a finer point on that question you want me to address?”
Baertschiger continued his “who do you trust” routine with Weber, saying he just read an article by Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier, who was awarded the distinction for his work with AIDS viruses in 2008. The article said Montagnier believes COVID vaccines could cause dangerous new mutants and vaccinated people will get more serious infections. Right-wing media exaggerated Montagnier’s words, claiming he said vaccinated people will be dead in two years, which he did not. Montagnier is known for controversial views and disturbing theories which has lowered his credibility in the community of scientists and virologists have already provided evidence Montagnier’s claims are baseless, according to several scientific articles including “Luc Montagnier’s Views on COVID Vaccines Are Latest Of His Wrong, Vexing Ideas – The Wire Science”.
Baertschiger, however, claimed Montagnier is a Nobel scientist of great credibility and asked Weber “what the heck should I believe.” Weber patiently explained to Baertschiger how scientists will put out a lot of theories, then each one gets examined until a consensus builds to reject some and embrace others. He said one of his on-site doctors has been keeping a “cheat sheet” of all the variants that exist to date and assured Baertschiger the COVID vaccines are still effective against all of them. Baertschiger replied to Weber’s careful explanation by declaring “I’m not a big consensus person.”
That conversation gave way to another DeYoung rant about his problem with how people are being “coerced” by lotteries, prizes beer, and pizza parties in high schools to get the public vaccinated. Fowler joined in complaining the “government” restrictions “were put on wheels and moved and I have a feeling the governor is going to say every county will have to get a 70 percent vaccination level to get off restrictions.” When they both finished their soliloquies, Weber moved on to other business and asked Commissioners to approve a pediatrics sexual assault review person to add to his staff. He said this would greatly help the gathering of evidence since he only has one person qualified to do that now and if she is gone children have to be transported to Medford. Commissioners granted his request to pursue adding another person if he can come up with funding for it.
Finance Officer Sandy Novak was the next person to have to listen to a DeYoung rant and she did it with patience and a poker face. She presented a one-page list of American Rescue Plan rules for using the $16.9 million the Plan allocated to Josephine County. DeYoung wanted to give county department heads money to use as they please but Novak said they couldn’t do that, according to the rules, which set DeYoung, not able to spend the money the way he wanted to, on a rant about the government once again. Fowler, who is the liaison to a committee set up to recommend how to allocate and spend the money, said the committee is in a state of confusion right now and some direction from the Commission might help them get a handle on listing priorities. When Novak tried to explain that the money can be for businesses hurt by COVID Fowler said, “they don’t want money they just want to be allowed to open.” When Novak said expenditures for things like hand sanitizer in the jail could be covered, Baertschiger joked “Yeah, like the Germans used back in the 40s” with DeYoung adding “at the beginning of the train ride.” After going on about airport projects and whether they qualified or not, RV spaces at Whitehorse Park and septic systems. Fowler interrupted DeYoung by saying “individual conversations with Sandy seems like a path forward.” They all agreed to learn more about the rules and continue the discussion next Tuesday.
Herman’s KMED discussion with radio host Bill Meyer on Tuesday centered around defending the free speech rights of the controversial middle-school educators in Grants Pass and defending Rep. Mike Nearman. This was before the legislature voted to expel Nearman for letting far-right demonstrators rampage through the capitol building, destroying property and injuring police. Baertschiger said Nearman should be allowed his day in court because this was a criminal investigation and this should have gone to the conduct committee instead of the bipartisan special committee that voted to throw him out. He predicted Nearman’s constituents would sue the state legislature for taking their representation away and accused Democrats of using the Nearman incident, just like Democrats are doing in Congress with Trump “to divide Republicans.” He said evidence of that is how Oregon Democrats treated Rep. Brad Witt.
“Ooooo ooooo, they took him off a committee. Ooooo ooooo ooooo” said Baertschiger on the radio. Witt was removed from his committees after being accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a colleague.
Week of May 31 - june 4
Letters were Josephine County Commissioners’ main concern this week. On Wednesday June 3 the discussion centered around their letter to every member of the US Senate opposing what they call “land grabs or land lockups” in several bills being passed on as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Commissioners had County Counsel Wally Hicks draft the letter but mining advocate Jay Meredith said the letter needed more “teeth” and suggested they include as reasons not to lock up the land as: increased fire risk, the preservation bills are contrary to executive orders on mineral extraction by Trump and Biden, and that we have rare and critical minerals here that need more research to find out how abundant they are. Commissioners appeared to agree with Meredith, especially about the lack of fire suppression on preserved land, but when they ended up approving the letter as originally presented by Hicks during Thursday’s session.. DeYoung said if they added too much to the letter it wouldn’t get read. Fowler said he contacted Klamath, Douglas, Curry and other counties affected by the “land grab” to get them to sign on to the letter but never heard from any of them on the matter. All three commissioners used the discussion to criticize Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley for “even bringing this up after last year’s fires.”
The next letter was one to Gov. Kate Brown stating that Josephine County would sue if the state requires children to be given the COVID vaccine. They used the excuse that the county charter prohibits requiring parents to vaccinate children. Fowler took the opportunity to say as the pandemic winds down the state government is “grasping at its last few control levers for as long as they can.” He said the “majority” in Josephine County is for “freedom of choice, self-responsibility and self-determination as explained in our Constitution of the United States and our Charter, so we reject this governor’s control mechanism…” In reality, the governor has not issued any order requiring children to be vaccinated or had any discussion about it.
The third letter Commissioners approved was in support of Grants Pass School District 7 educators who spoke out against allowing accommodations for transgender students. Assistant Principal Rachel Damiano and seventh-grade science teacher Katie Medart from North Middle School have become right-wing heroes after opposing a bill in the state legislature that would require the state to create an educational plan for students who identify as LGBTQ. Their district has said it doesn’t condone their message and put them on leave. Fowler bragged that he wrote the letter “with staff’s help” and thought it is a stifling of the educators’ free speech rights to not allow them to publicly comment on legislation that affects them. Commissioners unanimously approved sending Fowler’s letter to Grants Pass School District 7’s Board.
A fourth letter is now being considered by Commissioners after Baertschiger brought up Senate Bill 871 banning horse racing in Oregon, introduced by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. He suggested they ask Hicks to draft a letter to send to state senators saying they support horse racing. Senate Bill 871, in a brief summary at the beginning, says it prohibits “person from holding, or entering equine in, exhibition of equine racing in this state subject to 364 days imprisonment, $6250 fine, or both. The bill was a surprise move by State Representative Courtney during a flurry of introduced bills as the state legislature winds to a close.
During Citizen Comments this week Guenter Ambron blustered about how everyone responsible for giving children COVID vaccines will be liable for all the deaths predicted by whatever source he gets anti-vax propaganda from and Jay Meredith was on the phone pushing the Commissioners to get nastier in their letter to US Senators opposing land preservation. During their response to comments DeYoung warned that it’s best not to comment on Guenter’s diatribe because of the possibility of “potential litigation” if they do so they didn’t reply to him, but Fowler expressed his anger at Oregon’s law providing medical autonomy to 15-year-olds to seek medical attention without parental consent. He complained that teens can have abortions, take birth control and seek help to transition their gender without permission but are required to be 18 to buy cigarettes and 21 to buy alcohol. Baertschiger complained that kids can do this while insurance pays for it. All three Commissioners accused state legislators and those putting measures on the ballot of twisting around the language so people didn’t know what they were voting for.
During Public Health Director Mike Weber’s weekly COVID report he said we currently have 122 COVID cases per 100,000 and need to get down around 100 per 100K to be in a moderate range. He said getting enough people vaccinated in order to drive the numbers down “is a challenge here” but we will continue to have community spread until the virus has no where to go anymore. Last week Comm. Herman Baertschiger requested the miscarriage rate in Josephine County. Weber presented a summary of his staff’s research and said there is no link “whatsoever between the vaccinations and miscarriages.” He said vaccines actually help keep infants safe because a vaccinated mother passes her immunity on to her baby when it’s born. Baertschiger remained unimpressed and called upon Webber “to keep an eye on this.”
Commissioners then asked if it’s possible for doctors “to cook the books” regarding COVID tests, making them come out positive when they are actually negative. Weber said he wished he had a nickel for every time someone accuses doctors of faking results, then, during a lengthy explanation, told Commissioners how difficult it would be to fake results since it is done electronically, and that any medical professional discovered trying to fake lab results would lose his or her license and livelihood. “There is no financial bump for faking results,” Weber said, telling Commissioners there is no incentive for anyone to fake a lab report. Baertschiger said people are distrustful of how the government has handled COVID so are questioning everything and brought up Dr. Fauci’s emails even though he couldn’t cite any particular revelation exposed in them.
After discussing how oppressed they’ve been by the government during the pandemic and how there’s no way Josephine County is going to get to a 70 percent vaccinated rate because of all the skepticism and mistrust here regarding the government, Fowler ranted that “COVID fatigue is real and most people here are done playing this game. It’s really frustrating that there seems to be no end to this tunnel.”
In other business during the two brief meetings this week, Emergency Manager Sara Rubrecht is leaving so Commissioners put her assistant in the job temporarily, Baertschiger defined drought as not so much a shortage of water but too much being grown. Webber was given the go-ahead to assist Curry County, which has eliminated it’s Public Health Department, to administer the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) food program for Curry as well as restaurant inspection as long as the state pays for it. Commissioners were told by Hicks that if they want a sheriff’s funding levy on the ballot in November they will have to start working on it in July. DeYoung anticipated “rocks will be thrown at us” but it has to be put out for a vote. US Forest Service officials, during a presentation, predicted this fire season would have higher than normal temperatures after lower than normal precipitation. There’s no snowpack at all now, and we’ve had drought since 2019 so expect the worst, they said.
Baertschiger on KMED’s The Bill Meyer Show Tuesday, June 1 Meyer and Baertschiger complained about taxes, called COVID relief money “enough to buy everyone’s silence for a while” and groused about inflation. They called increased money for education in this year’s state budget enabling more teaching of Marxism and whined about environmental legislation that they said will cause the cost of electricity to go up. Baertschiger added that he advises people unhappy with illegal cannabis grows to call the governor’s office because they created the mess Side note, cannabis was legalized in November of 2014 by the voters when Gov. Kitzhaber was still in office. He resigned in Feb. of 2015 when Kate Brown took over so Baertschiger is mistaken that Governor Brown created “the mess.”
Week of May 17-21
This week Josephine County Commissioners were set to vote on a code amendment called “Unlawful Respiratory Interference” until County Council Wally Hicks, through a convoluted word salad, said the lifting of the state mask mandate made it superfluous.
This was Hicks’ explanation:
“This was drafted prior to the state lifting mask mandate for people who have been vaccinated, the idea was that prior to the state lifting that the hope was this would create basically a choice of what would be a choice of evils defense which is typically an option or it’s a defense that’s often available in criminal cases. This would be theoretically something comparable in a civil type of prosecution which would be involved, in other words an entity would have hopefully, have an offense, I’m not saying it’s a sure thing but that what we were exploring with this idea, was that it would allow for an entity to defend um, a state prosecution, uh, by saying that it had to choose between the state’s rule or the county’s. Uh, so since that time, since the ordinance was drafted, uh, of course the state has changed its rules and so I think that um you know he’s probably…this is probably one that should go back on the shelf at this point uh unless there’s a higher level of interest in pursuing it but it just doesn’t because the state has changed its rules it’s, it’s not going to have the effect that it was designed to have.”
The Commissioners tried to figure out how their code amendment might still work to free the community of what they call the Governor’s oppressive mask mandate, but Public Health Officer Mike Webber said, essentially, there isn’t a mask mandate. He explained that “guidance” has no teeth and Public Health has no enforcement authority except for restaurant inspection. Hicks said it is still unlawful not to follow a governor’s order, but since the order has basically been lifted with people who have not been vaccinated advised to wear masks while vaccinated people don’t need to, he thought the code amendment should be shelved for now.
During Webber’s Public Health report, he said while Josephine County is still in the high risk category, COVID cases are trending down and we could drop into the moderate category in a month or two. His data shows that schools, workplaces and health care centers still generate the highest number of COVID cases, but when Commissioner Dan DeYoung pointed out that churches were just a small sliver on the chart, Webber said the data was “problematic” because schools, work places and health care keep much better records than churches and other social gatherings do so it’s hard to tell how many COVID cases have come from other sources.
Later, Commissioners discussed going back to meeting in person at Anne Basker Auditorium. Baertschiger put an end to that when he said, “I’m not wearing a mask and if that’s gonna be a deal killer I’ll sit in my office.” Fowler said he would wear a mask under the guidelines that say an unvaccinated person should wear a mask but unvaccinated people don’t have to, indicating he hasn’t been vaccinated. DeYoung has been vaccinated so he deferred to the other two Commissioners concerning a return to Anne Basker. Baertschiger said he had COVID and should be exempt because he has natural immunity, but Webber said that isn’t recognized in the new mask guidelines put out by the state. Fowler asked if he had a test that proved negative, would that enable him to go maskless. Webber said no. You are either vaccinated or not, he said. After arguing about whether revealing your COVID vaccination status by whether or not you wear a mask, or if asking people to provide proof of vaccination violates the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPPA) referring to privacy concerning a person’s medical records, Webber settled the question by saying the statute doesn’t apply here. Baertschiger was concerned that there would be some stigma applied to mask-wearers as the unvaccinated but Webber said many vaccinated people choose to wear masks anyway so that isn’t an issue. Then Baertschiger said he has lung damage from 43 years of breathing forest fire smoke and can’t abide masks. DeYoung, tiring of the discussion, waved his hands just said they will continue meeting by ZOOM.
“People ask me why we aren’t meeting like city hall. I don’t want to be like city hall,” DeYoung declared.
The Commissioners brought up the Pipe Fork timber sale and said they are just a few months away from deciding on that section of forest and haven’t heard a word from the “Pipe Fork people” on whether they’ve made any progress in getting a non-profit to buy it for a preserve. They directed the County Forester to get an update on the property’s value. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said a phytophthora infection (root rot) is spreading among the Port Orford cedar trees out there and possibly into the Douglas fir as well.
Between routine matters, financial reports, continuing matters and executive sessions Commissioners found time to pontificate, complain and criticize their favorite villains: Governor Brown, OSHA, OHA, Democrats, and now the Grants Pass City Council.
Governor Brown and Democratic legislators, they assert, are using Oregon Health Authority to foist unnecessary and confusing COVID conditions upon the public to keep the state legislature closed so Democrats can legislate without being bothered by public input. They gloated about how the City Council, retreating from the “black eye” they got for canceling Boatnik, realized their mistake and reconsidered. No one from the City was present to give their side of the story. Commissioners complained about the large budget surplus the state expects this year, revisited why they don’t trust the government because state leaders are always putting out confusing and contradictory statements.
Baertschiger’s radio comments this week.
During his regular Tuesday discussion on the Bill Meyer Show on KMED, Baertschiger brought up HIPAA concerns which were clarified to be incorrect by Public Health Officer Mike Webber, and he continued his rants about “vaccination passports” to prove you are vaccinated, saying that the new guidelines leave out people who’ve had COVID and have natural immunity. Then he said after “all the drama and finger pointing” they were finally going to get Boatnik. Asked about the scathing editorial about him in the Daily Courier, Baertschiger said he doesn’t take the editor seriously because newsmen are just “people who sit in an office behind a computer throwing mudballs.” Baertschiger continued his push of the “Big Lie” saying that he believes the Arizona “audit” will reveal major irregularities and that the voting machines were hacked.
Week of May 10 - 14, 2021
Quotes: in the May 11 General Session recording
25:51 – Baertschiger “I strongly support we just go down to the bank and get a bag of money…”
26:14 – DeYoung’s rant re: State’s COVID recommendations
28:44 – Fowler alluding to the Big Lie referencing the “questionable” election. Broadband funding , monopoly money, government growth…and in Josephine county “we’re fully resistant to that.”
32:19 – De Young regarding state funding to help with COVID recovery: “I don’t think we want your $20 million.”
45:52 – Boatnik commentary
Public trust wasn’t on the agenda but it dominated this week’s discussions as Josephine County Commissioners wrestled with their conservative beliefs vs help from the government. They rocked between resenting the idea of the government handing out money to concern over small businesses affected by COVID shutdowns. While interviewing people from two companies in the grant dispersal business, SOREDI (Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.) and IVCanDO (Illinois Valley Community Development Organization) Commissioners admitted they couldn’t divide up money provided to Josephine County by Gov. Kate Brown to help those small businesses impacted by the last Extreme Risk shutdown, which lasted about a week.
Brown elevated Josephine and fourteen other counties to Extreme Risk April 30 saying “If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19. She said health officials would review infection statistics each week to see if caseloads were trending down and no county would be shut down for more than three weeks. She added that $20 million would be made available for businesses affected by the shutdown. Josephine County’s share will be $712,400.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung called the effort “divvying up crumbs” and went on a rant complaining about “big government.” He accused Brown of deciding to throw money out after she discovered she made a mistake and now the Commission is forced to deal with dispersing it. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said they should just put the money in a bag and go down the street tossing it out. Commissioner Darin Fowler said it all started with “an election that was questionable for president and we end up now in an era of big government where the government is going to pay for everything.” They decided to have the representatives from SOREDI and IVCanDo, who watched the Commissioners’ rants with some slight amusement, come back Thursday so they could decide who they might choose to help disperse the funds. There were no small business owners present to tell commissioners why they might need the money the governor is providing.
DeYoung and Fowler said they believed businesses should have been allowed to stay open and allowed to work for their money instead of being showered with it. At one point DeYoung accused the government of trying to shut down businesses on purpose for political reasons and then diverted his rant to Boatnik, still accusing the City of Grants Pass for putting hurdles in the way of the festival. Kenny Houck of IVCanDo trying to get a word in edgewise, pointed out there have been a “surprising number” of new business starts during the COVID shutdowns and predicted a rebound as COVID recedes.
Other money coming to the county through the American Rescue Plan set off another round of rants, with Fowler accusing the government of printing monopoly money saying there’s an “obscene” amount coming from the federal government for broadband and that “Josephine County is totally resistant to that. I think all three commissioners are resistant to growing government and the appetite for this free money in Josephine County is just not that great.”
During the Weekly Business Session Wednesday half the meeting was taken up with complaints about big government and the burden of having to decide how “free” money is spent. DeYoung said he was frustrated with the different messages coming from the government about COVID restrictions and recovery and has lost his trust in government, again going back to Boatnik and the fact OSHA didn’t show up to a meeting with Boatnik organizers at Riverside Park. He said during a call to the governor’s office he was told the county should hold free vaccine events, like a spaghetti dinner or pizza giveaway.
Public comments featured anti-vaxxers and Jay Meredith who has elevated the value of whatever minerals that could be extracted in Josephine County if not for Senators Merkley and Wyden from millions to “billions.” The anti-vaxxers, all from Illinois Valley called the COVID vaccines “bioweapon injections carrying an operating system which can be programmed and controlled from outside” and that “all those promoting and distributing it will be held accountable for crimes against humanity including public health and the media.” One man said he has a 90-year-old mother with congestive heart failure he’s keeping away from doctors because all they did was prescribe pills.
Fowler, who called for having county counsel draft a letter from Commissioners objecting to Senators Wyden and Merkley’s ORE Act (Oregon Recreation Enhancement) that would establish a 98,000 recreation area on the Rogue River and expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness area by about 60,000 acres would prevent mining on more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service land near the existing Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. These areas are located at the headwaters of several National Wild and Scenic Rivers and support drinking water for thousands of Oregonians. Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Legislation to Help Recreation and Wildfire Prevention Work in SW Oregon and Near Molalla River | U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (senate.gov)The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management closed 5,216 acres of federal public lands in the North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready Creek watersheds in 2016 with overwhelming public support. Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal | Kalmiopsis Rivers
Meredith said he is working on a resolution he thinks would be a more powerful statement against the land preservation and is trying to get it passed in Jackson and Curry counties as well as in Josephine. DeYoung thought that was a great idea, then rambled on about how timber harvests were stopped to save the spotted owl but the owl is still declining and how the government is trying to starve the coal industry. He added that Gov. Brown’s wishy-washy handling of COVID in Oregon has “destroyed any truest we had…nobody trusts the government anymore cause everybody’s lying to us.”
At Thursday’s Administrative Workshop they admitted they in fact, are the government during a discussion about what to do with $540,000 of vaccine education money coming to Josephine County from the federal government. They were put in the awkward position of having to use this money to encourage people to get vaccinated after listening for weeks to anti-vaxxers and having a vaccine skeptic, Baertschiger, on the Commission. They didn’t decide what to do with the money but agreed with Fowler that their stand on vaccines should be to “tell people a vaccine decision should be between you and your own doctor” and called it “a sticky wicket politically.” DeYoung said people probably wouldn’t trust any government official, including them, who stood up and told them to get vaccinated since most people he knows, hate the government. Baertschiger pointed out that the largest number of anti-vaxxers in Oregon live in Jackson and Josephine counties and we’ll probably never get to the 70 percent vaccinated level the governor requires to open up completely. “We’ll be shut down permanently if that’s the requirement,” he said.
Also Thursday they had continued talking with the SOREDI and IVCanDo people in another round of annoyance over having to disperse money to help small businesses that had to shut down during the Extreme Risk week in the county.
In other business of note this week: Public Health Director Michael Webber carefully explained why COVID directions sometimes seemed contradictory. COVID revealed the “messy side” of science, which was constantly discovering new information about the virus so advisories changed with each new discovery, he said. Commissioners were suspicious COVID testing was finding too many positives and asked Webber about the “cycle threshold” of testing machines.
Webber explained that when testing machines look for COVID viruses the “cycle threshold” is how many times it goes through the material looking for the virus and false positives were almost negligible. He said early COVID regulations were based on the best science at the time and just because those changed over time and sometimes sounded contradictory it didn’t mean anyone was lying to the public.
Over time scientists will learn much more about COVID that will change how health departments and doctors deal with it, he said. “Just look how long it took science to make the connection between chickenpox and shingles.”
Applications for the American Rescue Act funding disbursement committee were looked at and Fowler was selected to be the county’s liaison. The Commission will take recommendations from the committee but make the final decision on how the money is spent.
The Master Gardeners’ new home will be at Rogue Community College but there won’t be room for their greenhouses. DeYoung suggested they put out a plea for someone to donate private land space for their greenhouses. He said the sheriff is always confiscating hoop houses from illegal marijuana grows so they’d have all the materials they need.
Commissioners hope to be back in Ann Basker Auditorium for next week’s meetings after consulting with Public Health to see what requirements will be. They stopped having meetings there several months ago when they were told they would have to wear masks.
During Herman Baertschiger’s radio slot on KMED Tuesday, he continued to accuse Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol of being responsible for shutting down Beatnik, but changed his tune saying even if she didn’t personally do anything to stop Boatnik she is the Mayor and responsible for everything that happens. On Wednesday, May 12 talk show host Bill Meyer invited Sara to his show to give her side of the story. She bravely accepted his invitation to speak on his right-wing show, saying the city attorney, who is paid to protect the city, came up with an amendment to the insurance policy that made the Active Club, not the city, responsible for lawsuits brought by anyone who might sue if they caught COVID during Boatnik. She said the Active Club didn’t challenge that and must have talked among themselves and decided not to hold the event. That Herman accused her of inserting the amendment proves “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She said she loves Boatnik and looks forward to it but this year many events aren’t happening because of COVID restrictions still in place. As more people get vaccinated events occurring later in the year may be fully open but right now COVID restrictions still impact events. Sara also mentioned that she asked the Commission to stand with her and urge everyone to get vaccinated so we can open the county but they wouldn’t.
WEEK OF MAY 3-7, 2021
Budget meetings took up most of Josephine County Commissioners’ time this week. Budget Commission members are the Commissioners plus Jim Brumback, Pastor of the River Valley Church, Zach Maynard, conservative Republican, who ran for District 4 State Representative and Steve Welch who was appointed by Baertschiger.
So far department heads have been making presentations, justifying their spending and trying not to ask for too much from the General Fund. Tuesday’s presentations were from the Sheriff’s Department, Juvenile Justice, the District Attorney and Veterans’ Services. Sheriff Dave Daniel said the jail and juvenile justice levy helped his department’s budget and will be even more important next year as his department requires more revenue to meet expected services. DA Josh Eastman said his department saw less crime last year because of COVID. During the public comment time, perennial commenter Jay Meredith called in saying “my private company American Mining Research” could help fund the sheriff’s department if only public lands were opened up and urged Commissioners to work on that. Commissioner Darin Fowler called Meredith “a very good resource.”
Brumback said he appreciated Meredith’s efforts. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger predicted massive inflation because of all the money Biden is flooding the country with and warned department heads to budget for that.
During Thursday’s budget meeting Public Health Director Mike Webber made his budget presentation, going through all the things Public Health is responsible for, from environmental health to the animal shelter. He said two of his goals for the coming year are to move out of the building he’s in on Dimmick Street in Grants Pass and to get more children vaccinated. “Vaccine hesitancy is a real problem in this area,” he said.
Commissioners also heard presentations from Public Works, Community Development and Human Services. Community Development Director Mark Stevens said his budget has been impacted by code violations from hemp growers disguising illegal marijuana, people building on these sites without permits, and endless neighbor complaints.
There were no public comments in this session, Commissioner Dan DeYoung did most of the talking. All department heads gave the Cares Act and the American Rescue Act credit for getting them through the impacts of COVID without decimating their budgets.
During the weekly business session May 5 only Commissioners Herman Baertschiger and Darin Fowler were present. They approved moving responsibility for public records to the information and tech department after they eliminated the Office Manager’s position in the Commissioner’s office who previously handled public records.
The only other things the Commissioners did Wednesday was approve the consent agenda and listen to public comments from anti-vaxxers. Katherine Austin read a statement from Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuinston who declared a state of emergency in her city “due to wokeness” and declared her city a “Common Sense Sanctuary” against Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID restrictions. McQuinston’s 15 minutes of fame on Fox News lead Austin to believe the Mayor’s idea has “gone viral” and urged people to call the mayors of Cave Junction and Grants Pass to do the same. No one could say exactly what McQuinston’s declaration does other than get her an appearance on Fox.
During Other Matters Baertschiger repeated his allegation that Gov. Brown has “weaponized” COVID for political benefit and said it will mysteriously disappear when the state legislature adjourns. Fowler accused the Governor of having “no compassion” for small business owners affected by the “ying and yang” of her COVID orders, then urged business owners to use government money to lure workers back.
The quest for improved broadband for the county was begun Thursday at the May 6 Administrative Workshop. Commissioners Darin Fowler and Herman Baertschiger began the process to use American Rescue funds to hire a consultant to find out how broadband can be extended into rural areas, as well as improve it in Grants Pass and Cave Junction. Commissioner Dan DeYoung was absent. In Other Business Fowler said he would like the Commission to send a letter of support for the two teachers who have been put on leave for trying to exercise their free speech rights regarding trans students in school. (Administration Workshop – YouTube 19:25)
He also said he would like to have County Counsel Wally Hicks write up a letter declaring the preservation of federal lands “a taking” without public input, depriving the county of the value of the minerals on the land. He said he would like to get other counties to sign on as well.Herman Baertschiger, who has a guest spot every Tuesday on KMED’s Bill Meyer talk show, doubled down on Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol saying she was involved in the creation of an amendment to the Active Club’s agreement regarding Boatnik because she “actively tried to shut it down.”
That turned out not to be true, according to the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Meyer made a brief reference to the May 1 flag rally in Grants Pass saying, “I’m glad you shut down the antifa wannabes.” Herman gave a knowing chuckle but didn’t elaborate.
Concerning the Fire District, Baertschiger claimed supporters are putting forth a false premise when they say the district will be cheaper than Rural Metro. He claims the Fire District assessment at $1.74 per $1,000 appears to be cheaper than Rural Metro’s standards rate of $1.94 assessed value the Fire District includes more of your property in the assessed value. Rural Metro has advised that most standard rate customers are billed utilizing the same method that is proposed in the measure however, they have also acknowledged that they failed to catch a change implemented by the Assessor’s office approximately three years ago relating to how rates were calculated. Some standard rate Rural Metro customers with properties over 5 acres may see an increase in their annual rate due to missing this change in calculation. All other standard rate customers should see a reduced rate.
In a discussion about the Josephine County Charter review, Baertschiger and Meyer said the charter is “subservient” to the state because it says state laws have precedence over county laws and that should be changed. Herman said he hopes to get a good committee appointed to look at the charter and make suggestions and “no politicians will be allowed.”
Also during the rambling discussion, Baertschiger asked why the county needed a public health department when it was run by the state. “Maybe we should give our health department back to the state,” he said and pointed to Curry County which had the state take over theirs after staff left.
County Commissioner weekly update
With the exception of holidays and other planned recesses, the Board of Commissioners convenes the first, third and fourth Wednesdays for Weekly Business Sessions at 9:00 a.m. and the second Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Weekly agendas can be found at this link.
This is where decisions are made that affect every resident in Josephine County.
While these commissioners are supposed to be non-partisan positions, the commentary is continually very partisan and frequently lacks professionalism.
We encourage you to watch live and provide a public comment when they are dealing with issues that are of concern to you. This can be done live, or you can send an email to them at email@example.com
Be sure to add “Public Comment” in the subject line and their office will get back to you.
We will do our best to begin providing a brief review of each meeting after they have occurred, as well as links to the YouTube videos.
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