County Commissioners Week of September 20th

Note: This is a long post which contains numerous direct quotes plus references to facts.

Tuesday’s Legal Review Sept 21, 2021

Other than approving the consent calendar, hearing about rearranging road department funds, approving a land purchase from the City of Grants Pass and approving some routine contracts, Josephine County Commissioners spent most of their public meeting time bellowing about vaccine mandates and the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

Tuesday, they were all set to have County Counsel Wally Hicks rewrite a Jefferson County emergency declaration for Josephine County in anticipation of losing dozens of essential hospital workers, teachers, firemen, policemen and county workers until Human Resources Director J.J. Scofield said there were no county workers leaving.

It wasn’t clear what an emergency declaration would accomplish. The Jefferson County declaration says “to prepare for and carry out any activity to prevent, minimize, respond to or recover from such emergency” but gives no clue to how they would do this.

Commission Chair Dan DeYoung called for a discussion about how they can declare an emergency before an emergency.

Scofield said, regarding county workeers, those who object to being vaccinated can take a medical waiver or a rather general religious exemption and some have done that, but he said he doesn’t know of any who are quitting because of the vaccine mandate. This led Hicks to recommend the declaration be put on hold until they get solid numbers on just how many hospital, law enforcement, EMTs, teachers and others are actually leaving their positions.

Nevertheless, Commissioner Darin Fowler gave his opinion about vaccine mandates with this blustery speech:

“Here’s my perspective. Our state is involved in an experiment to see if they can tell us what to do and mandate things without any discussion, without any court action without any vote of the people by any vote of the legislature. Our government is trying to mandate something that we know is unconstitutional and so we know it will get thrown out eventually but the judges in Oregon and the judges in the federal circuit court we don’t know because of where we live. And so I want to do everything in the county’s power to tell the state to get the hell out of Josephine County with their mandates because we don’t believe in their mandates and we don’t think you can mandate anything to an American citizen. And so I want to do everything in my power…this emergency order I’m on board. If it’s what Wally was describing I’m on board. I know a lot of people think the county commissioners have tremendous power and can change the world and so I want to use this office to do anything I can to preserve the freedom of choice, the freedom of medical choice, employment choice, for all these folks so I’m on board with whatever it takes. It needs to happen in what Wally thinks is the best timing because those deadlines are coming up a new judge deadline by Oct 5 where all the judges and their staff have to be vaccinated and so where along the line would be the most effective time for us to make a stand? And then the second question is how is this one emergency order from Jackson being received? Ah, Jefferson excuse me….being received at AOC (Association of Oregon Counties), in other counties. Is this one of those things we can do because I want to fire all the guns at once if we have to, whatever that looks like, because now is the time to draw a line in the sand not after we lose a bunch of great folks to a mandate that is not constitutional and so it’s amazing to me that we’re at this point but I’m willing to fight to the bitter end to give everybody their own medical and religious freedom. So, I’m on board for whatever, to tell you the truth.

Fowler didn’t say what “whatever” meant but it sounded ominous.

Also before Scofield deflated the commissioners’ ballooning indignation, Commission Chair Dan DeYoung launched into one of his long-winded lectures, this one in reaction to the mandate he says will “cause an emergency the like that we have never seen.” He said he talked to some Asante employees and believes many will be leaving. Then he asked Public Health Director Michael Weber if he thought there would be an emergency.

Weber, poker-faced and non-committal, said his department is concerned and having on-going conversations with schools and medical providers to see what the impact from the vaccine mandate will be and he’s waiting for final counts.

“Who are we trying to protect by telling the unvaccinated you can’t work here anymore when it’s OK for the vaccinated when both can carry the virus and infect everyone around them just as easily so who are we trying to protect by getting the unvaccinated out of the medical field and out of law enforcement,” asked Fowler. “I just don’t understand.”

Weber told him, in a matter-of-fact voice, “I can tell you what the intent is. Unvaccinated individuals are far more likely to develop the disease and be infectious for a longer period of time. They’re far more likely to be infectious if they’re unvaccinated, so that’s the intent.”

Fowler demanded to see the data on that.

“Well, the tendency of getting or developing the disease is about 2.7 times more if you’re unvaccinated vs being vaccinated. And the period of infectiousness…I’d have to look up the exact rates but it’s a significant difference,” said Weber. “And I can get you the research for that.”

Fowler replied with a cynical snort.

DeYoung wanted Weber to listen to his concerns as well and went on about Ivermectin and other “treatments” that have been debunked in spite of people who say it works and how those who have had COVID aren’t getting enough credit for having antibodies, he said.

“There’s a whole faction of this thing that’s just completely ignored and the only answer just seems to be vaccination, vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” said DeYoung.

Commissioner Herman Baertschiger talked about the “political overtones” of COVID because some states want mandatory vaccination and others won’t allow it.

“If all the science is the same, if all the health experts’ opinions are the same, you would think all the states would be the same. But they’re not…its political to a certain point. COVID is a disease. There’s no politics with the disease. The politics comes in reaction to the disease and that’s what’s sitting here,” Baertschiger said. “I’m getting tired of the politics and not doing what’s right. And we have got to start doing what’s right and if that means we declare a state of emergency then we declare a state of emergency.”

Weber, still poker-faced, said the reason the focus is on the vaccine is “because it’s the most effective tool we have right now.” Regarding the treatments DeYoung was referring to….” we have over 500 different treatments that have gone through extensive studies and trials and we are trying to promote the ones that work. It is really difficult for us to try and cut through the noise and cut through misinformation and that’s why it’s so critical for us to stay away from those political pieces and try and simply get the right information out and that can be very, very challenging.”

DeYoung tried to reassure Weber that commissioners aren’t viewing COVID as “just the common cold” and deep down “we all know this is a serious disease.” Then he referred to some numbers Baertschiger came up with last week to claim Josephine County death rates haven’t risen much among normal and people dying had underlying conditions so they died “with” COVID, not “of” COVID while Weber looks straight into his Zoom monitor with his well-practiced poker face while DeYoung digresses into something about George Floyd and Governor Northam.

A fidgeting Fowler jumps in saying he wants to bring the conversation back to the mandate.

“I’m getting exhausted talking about the effectiveness of vaccines because you can find doctors to back up anything in this day and age and just because the prevailing narrative is one thing does not mean it’s the actual truth,” he said. “And so I just want to talk about mandates. And I want to know what the effect is on our county as an organization. Do we fit into anybody’s mandate that says we have to vaccinate our employees? And if that’s true I want to find out how to fight against that. And so, uhh, those are the two things I want to know. What can we do as a county to declare mandates unconstitutional and not enforceable in our county and what we have to do as an organization for our employees, cause we do have over a hundred. I don’t know where that falls since the mandates do change every couple of days. I know it’ll be hard to pin down and I can appreciate that Counselor Hicks, but we gotta have some sort of fight in us,” he said.

DeYoung said he wanted to wait and hear from the professionals about just how many workers may be leaving their jobs before declaring an emergency and lamented at the direction the discussion was taking.

“This is getting highly contentious by the way,” he said. “This is table talk around the kitchen table at night and I don’t like it.”

He then had Scofield explain the process of getting a waiver to opt out of getting the COVID vaccination. Scofield said workers can get a medical waiver signed off by a medical provider that specifies a health condition preventing vaccination or use the religious exemption waiver that is a one-page form that requires nothing more than a statement saying why their firmly held religious beliefs preclude them from getting vaccinated. He said employees have two choices if they want to keep their job: get the vaccine or do the waiver.

Baertschiger said the most troubling part of this conversation, to him, is the fact commissioners are considering declaring an emergency because “our Governor is mandating things our citizens don’t want to do. Let that sink in a little bit.” (Note: the definition of a mandate is basically a law that hasn’t gone through the legislative process. A mandate is made by governors with the power given to them by the legislature in a state of emergency. ORS 401.168 – Governor’s powers during state of emergency (public.law))

DeYoung asks, “are we mandating ourselves into an emergency situation?” No one considered that the purpose of a mandate is to get out of an emergency situation.

After listening to Scofield explain the relative ease of getting out of taking the vaccination while keeping your job, Hicks recommended commissioners work with the county staff, engage directly with representatives and also contact employees from different sectors like nurses’ associations “to get the straight scoop on what their members are saying about the impact this is having and likely to have.” He called for a report to come back to the board next week “to get the direct voice of those who are directly impacted by what we know of the vaccine mandates and make decisions about where to go from here.”

DeYoung gave that duty to Fowler since he’s the board’s liaison with county staff.

Fowler then tried to clarify what he meant during a previous meeting about using the religious exemption to get out of being vaccinated. “I’m not asking people to make stuff up but please realize that the Constitution says you can worship any way, anywhere you want. If your religion is worshipping chickens you can do that and I can’t do anything about it. Now I may have an opinion on that but in America that doesn’t matter,” he said. Fowler goes on about the state’s inability to tell you what a religion is, how you can actually form a non-profit for the purpose of worshipping chickens, and how some people are willing to throw away the freedom that causes people to jump fences and cross oceans to get into our country for over a virus that kills less than 1 percent. (Note: there are religions that include chickens, usually as a sacrifice Chickens and Religion (chickenbreedslist.com)

“It’s very irritating that we’re having these little tiny discussions about whether the shot works or whether you can be six feed away or whether you have to get tested to get on an airplane when the basic principal is being violated over and over and over and so I’m sick of it. Why are we even discussing all this minutia when the underlying principal is so crystal clear, and the government of Oregon is trying to go around and so’s the government of California and Washington and trying to get around that knowing it takes years to get through the court sometime. And so this is a breakdown of the American principle and I’m getting pretty sick of it,” said Fowler.

“Thank you for clarifying that,” said DeYoung.

Wednesday, Sept 22

Auditor Connie Roach had to wait nearly an hour through public comments alleging FEMA now has set up camps and is sending out teams to kidnap the unwilling and vaccinate them in the camps, the conspiracy between the Grants Pass Daily Courier and Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol to get her elected to the commission and a long diatribe against the local newspaper before she could explain an item on the consent calendar the commissioners wanted to know about.

Roach said Playcraft Systems, a business that makes playground equipment, is asking for a temporary waiver of the requirement for expansion that says any expansion must result in additional jobs. They haven’t been able to put on more employees because of COVID. The commissioners approved the waiver at the end of the meeting. That was it.

Public comments included someone who said he was Clark Morningstar from Grants Pass that sounded pre-recorded, basically saying the county could help the housing crisis here by building rent-controlled low income apartment units and by supporting an increase in minimum wage. Then came Judy and Craig Hinkle with the FEMA conspiracy theory and one about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s wife having been the mistress of Jeffry Epstein. Not satisfied with telling vaccinated people they’re all going to die from the vaccine, they are now attacking approved COVID treatments like Remdesivar saying it “kills.” They also cautioned against believing your own doctor because doctors have “agendas.” However, their big revelation was that COVID spelled backward means a kind of demon that enters the soul of living people. Guenter Ambron weighed in on how Ivermectin eradicates disease and urged getting it into hospitals right away.

Joining the colorful characters who regularly call in was Holli Morton, Chair of the Josephine County Republican Party, who has decided to declare war on the Daily Courier: “I don’t usually read the Courier, I think it’s a poor paper but I started doing it so I can keep up. These guys are driving our county by the back seat and I’m really concerned about it. For one thing, you know, they’re trying to make all the commissioners just look terrible which I find very offensive and the reason for that is Chris Bristol, one of the executives over at the Courier, is the husband of Sara Bristol. She’s planning on running for commissioner here and they’re just trying to grease the skids to get her in which I think using the paper for local politics like that…I don’t think that’s a good idea. This is our paper of record in our city so people want to be able to see that paper but it’s not a fair and balanced paper in any way. I’m very concerned when I look at how they talk about COVID and they get that information out, and it’s not good information it’s not fair and balanced information. it’s just a one-sided everybody needs to get vaccinated or drop dead kind of a thing. Ahhh, it’s not healthy for our city to have a paper like this that does not have a fair and balanced approach. It seems like its just an arm of the left wing population which is not the balance of the population in our county. So, I want us to all think about it. I think what we need to do is maybe talk to them and let them know we really realize what they’re trying to do to our county and we don’t approve of it. Ummm….we need to do something about it as a community. That’s it.”

Commission Chair Dan DeYoung made note of the fact Daily Courier reporter Shaun Hall was logged into their Zoom meeting.

Commissioners were ready to join Morton’s battle but addressed the previous commenters by disagreeing with Morningstar and thanking the Hinkles and Ambron for all their new information. DeYoung and Fowler agreed that minimum wage is a “training wage” and isn’t meant to support people and it should be left to the market to determine the cost of housing and people should do what they did, work hard, scrimp and save and get job promotions to the point where they could afford to buy a house. Baertschiger said the housing shortage here is caused by so much land in Josephine County being taken up by the federal government and farmland zones. DeYoung added that limitations on sewer and water inhibit housing buildup in Grants Pass.

Then they started in on the newspaper with DeYoung, at times, addressing Hall directly. Fowler told Morton “yeah, we do have concerns about the Daily Courier and said he doesn’t subscribe because they slant their articles.

“There are people who are trying to talk to the owners of that paper to let them know how bad things have gotten but apparently it’s not getting moved up the chain so hopefully that will have some effect and I really hope Scott Stoddard will eventually find a community that he likes cause he clearly doesn’t like this one,” Fowler said.

During DeYoung’s first long lecture he chided the paper for not covering the good the commission does and said while they are spending a lot of money promoting economic development the Courier is discouraging growth by emphasizing COVID deaths and undermining confidence in public officials. He said they accuse commissioners of lying when they can’t validate a story “cause nobody wants to talk to them and they aren’t doing their investigative reporting.”

DeYoung said the Courier and Hall and Courier Editor Scott Stoddard aren’t answering questions the community is really interested in like “how did 14,000 Haitians get from Haiti to Del Rio Texas without anybody knowing? How did they do that? You know how many planeloads 14,000 is? Who’s paying for that? And why? How did they get there? That’s a question I’d be interested in knowing. We talk about COVID but there’s nothing happening at our southern border. No talk about it. No talk about the 19 percent COVID positive cases at the southern border…. there are lots of things I think you could be focused on that people would be interested in other than the Josephine County commissioners and the sheriff.”

Then he added a comment he didn’t explain: “And when it’s during an election what is County Clerk Rhiannon Hinkles doing?”

Turning directly into his monitor as if addressing Courier staff DeYoung said “Seems there’s a certain amount of ‘lets see if we can spend four years focusing on the people so when an election comes up they will not be elected back in. It doesn’t matter what kind of job they did….all the 10,000 readers of the paper that’s 10,000 votes. That’s an awful lot if they believe everything they read in the paper. So please be fair and balanced. Please I beg you to be fair and balanced. I think you’d help the community and it would do the community, your community as you say, a real service by being fair and balanced instead of being so opinionated about everything.”

Fowler went back to railing against mandates and Baertschiger repeated his contention that COVID is political and being used to create division by labeling the vaccinated as “good people” and the unvaccinated “bad people.” The only comment Baertschiger had about the newspaper was that it’s not helping the county through this and it’s dividing us even more.

During his second lecture DeYoung accused the Courier of trashing his family name, turning friends against him and said the paper should be telling us “What the hell happened at the Emmies and what’s wrong with Portland?”

“There’s a lot in the world to investigate Shaun so go investigate,” he said.