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County Commissioners Week of 11/29-Dec 3

Week of November 29-Dec 3

Josephine County Board members went through an update of their emergency operations plan this week, approved a $1.6 million grant from the state to help Sheriff Dave Daniels combat illegal marijuana grows, drafted yet another letter chiding Gov. Brown about “vaccine passports,” a right-wing media rumor burning the airwaves, then turned around and put together an emergency declaration asking for $10.4 million from the state to help combat illegal cannabis grows in the county. They also found money to pay for free county parks passes for disabled veterans and time to rant against fellow Republican Sen. Art Robinson who opposes their recently passed code enforcement ordinance and the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

During their General Discussion Nov. 30 Commissioners listened to Emergency Management Director Emily Ring present an updated version of the county’s Emergency Operation Plan. Ring redesigned the layout of the plan, making it easier to read, saying few actually knew what was in the old plan and some people were surprised they had an assignment. Ring was praised for the new format, but when she got to the part about electricity shutoff situations, Commission Chairman Dan DeYoung went ballistic. Ring said during high fire danger the private power company serving this area may temporarily shut down electricity to de-energize lines. They have committed to providing a shelter with water and places to recharge devices during this time, Ring said, because the power company believes “in red flag conditions nobody should be running a generator.”

DeYoung (42:31) started ranting about freedom and not depending on the government, how the county isn’t responsible for people with power outages so they should take personal responsibility for that and running a generator should be a matter of personal choice. He apparently thought the county was being asked to set up shelters for people with no power but Ring reminded him the private power company has already arranged for that. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said where he lives running a generator isn’t a fire hazard and he should be allowed to run it. Ring said there is a permit process for running a generator in a safe manner and said she would look into making changes in the plan to suit the Commissioners but she wants the plan completed by the time she meets with the Grants Pass City Council. The plan covers the city as well.

Baertschiger reported that he had gathered all the department heads for a review on inflation and how it might affect their departments and it was well-received. DeYoung launched into the history of recessions during his lifetime and Fowler called the “Brandon” administration an “economy killer.”

Later on November 30 during their Legal Council Update Parks Director Sarah Garceau asked Commissioners if they wanted to continue the practice of giving disabled veterans free county park passes for the season. She said last year she gave out 358 passes. Each season pass is worth $30 and that amounts to more than $10,000 out of her shoestring budget and she still has to cover visitor expenses. She will not be raising the fees for day use or annual passes and the disabled who are not veterans will continue to get their discount. Fowler said last year Commissioners took money out of their travel budget to cover the cost of the veterans’ passes because they didn’t go anywhere during the pandemic. The Commissioners’ travel budget recently got a boost from $26,000 a year to about $33,000 so they decided to dip into that fund for the passes again.

Baertschiger brought up the issue of vaccine passports that had been a matter of discussion last week on KMED, a right-wing talk radio station. Commissioners were incensed by the idea that people will have to submit to state sanctioned vaccine passports in order to access certain venues and travel. This idea is false, however, because Oregon Public Health is only proposing a convenient digital vaccine card for people to use on their phones to display their COVID vaccine status. The phone tool, modeled on what the states of Washington and California have done, consists of software that would verify the user’s vaccination status, then provide a link so they can display it on their phone. Use of this is optional and intended as a convenience for people who travel or attend events that require proof of vaccination status. This was explained in various newspaper articles and on local television news. Whether or not Legal Counsel Wally Hicks figures this out remains to be seen.

During a discussion of county property to sell, Fowler recommended they remove a controversial parcel Grants Pass wants to buy so it won’t block Dollar Mountain development with a privately-owned parcel right where a trail is planned. The property will only be pulled out of this auction and could be put back on the block this spring if the city and county don’t reach an agreement. The county put a minimum bid on the parcel at $70,000 but it has been assessed at $9,850. City officials called the price the county set for the property excessive during a city/county monthly update recently.

Also during that meeting, Commissioners decided the full board will do evaluations of department heads again this year. Personnel Director JJ Scofield said each person to be evaluated is asked to submit a self-evaluation, then meet Commissioners for a full evaluation. Scofield said he has a form for this.

During the Dec. 1 Weekly Business Session Commissioners accepted a state grant of just over $1.8 million for help with the county’s battle against illegal cannabis grows. Fowler said he was glad “the state is finally responding to the problem they created when they legalized marijuana but kept all the money from it.” DeYoung said every dime the county gets needs to be documented so they can show how significantly the state money helped. That grant will help fund more detectives and support employees for the next growing season.

Recently beefed up code enforcement is still riling Republicans in Josephine County. During the Public Comments section of Wednesday’s meeting Catherine Austin claimed illegal marijuana is being used as a cover to bring in land use code enforcement. She said the county doesn’t need code enforcement if it’s getting all this money from the state. Austin told Commissioners Sen. Art Robinson has requested to meet with DeYoung several times and has been ignored. She complained that Commissioners didn’t retain the lesson from eight years ago when an attempt to put teeth in the county’s code enforcement rules was defeated by voters.

Judy and Craig Hinkle, who supposedly came around to accepting the new code enforcement rules after a talk with DeYoung the previous week, bounced back to opposing code enforcement saying it will “create havoc for property owners.”

The Hinkles, as well as Austin, didn’t leave without also voicing their favorite anti-vax propaganda, with Austin calling the new Omicron variant the “moronic” variant made up by nefarious government people and the Hinkles admonished the board for accepting COVID money. Craig Hinkle called for a “face diaper revolt” and said board members promoting the vaccine in ads will subject them all to a “felony arrest” after they leave office. Another regular, Guenter Ambron, called to cite Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s new book on Anthony Fauci he recently saw reviewed on a Tucker Carlson show on Fox. He said he learned special prosecutors, grand juries and Nuremburg-style trials are now being formed to expose Fauci’s greed and fraud.

During Commissioners’ response period, DeYoung and Fowler decided the callers were right about everything they said concerning COVID but wrong about everything they said about code enforcement. Fowler said he read Kennedy’s book and learned Fauci makes $850,000 a year from the government plus patents on his research that brings him more. According to other sources, Fauci actually makes around $434,000. Kennedy is a well-known anti-vaxxer who’s work has been debunked many times but apparently Fowler believes him. Fowler also agreed with Craig that masks need to come off and it’s discouraging that the governor is heading toward vaccine passports. Regarding code enforcement Fowler said this argument needs to “mature.” Code enforcement isn’t without due process, he said and it will be on the ballot in November after people have a chance to see if the new ordinance works. “I’m tired of people worried about what might happen. We need to combat this (illegal grows) and we have to rise to the occasion realizing we can’t please all the people all the time.”

Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said the current sheriff’s funding is a “band-aid” and the county will need another $10 million over the next two years and urged everyone to contact their state representatives about this need. On COVID he said people in urban areas are still scared to death by it and politicians are using their fear to promote their agenda.

When it was DeYoung’s turn to deliver a response to public comments, he looked into his Zoom monitor and directly addressed Robinson, who has been leading an attempt to get code enforcement on the ballot. DeYoung then went on for nearly 20 minutes, shaking a door hanger left by Robinson promoting his effort and engaging in a one-man argument for code enforcement in the county. DeYoung denied he ever turned Robinson away or failed to respond to his calls and said he hadn’t been contacted except for the door-hanger. He lamented that those opposing the new code enforcement ordinance probably haven’t read it because if they did they’d see that it will not go after anyone but illegal pot growers. He said he was disappointed Robinson called him a liberal because he listens to both sides of a situation. After DeYoung exhausted all possible points in his argument with the absent Robinson, who he may have suspected was listening, DeYoung went on to complain about vaccine passports, the New York interim female governor, and how he was vaccinated but isn’t going to get a booster because he has concerns about it.

When DeYoung finally stopped talking Baertschiger rolled his eyes and said he was trying to get into the holiday spirit.

During their Administrative Workshop December 2 Commissioners discussed declaring an emergency regarding illegal cannabis grows. Hicks presented a draft resolution which Ring says evokes authority for the sheriff to do mandatory evacuations of property. She asked Commissioners if they understood when the sheriff would implement evacuations and what would happen to the evacuees. That may be something to “huddle” with the sheriff and someone from Public Health because this “could mean a lot of consequences and a lot of services involved.” Fowler said he’d also like to pass it on to the Cannabis Advisory Committee. It’s too late for them to make any changes, since the declaration will be coming up for a vote next week, but DeYoung said he didn’t want them blindsided by this. “I’m worried about three-minute screamoffs here. This allows us to do different things.”

Commissioners are declaring the emergency, in part, to ask for more funding from the state over the next two years. They want $10.4 million to hire more people in the sheriff’s department and several more code enforcers in the planning department to handle land use violations committed by illegal growers.

Other business Thursday included a discussion about Justice Building second-floor renovations in anticipation of adding a fifth judge and making appointments and re-appointments to the Illinois Valley Airport Board. With business out of the way, Commissioners took the opportunity, under Matters from Commissioners, to get a few things off their chests.

Fowler launched a diatribe against the Grants Pass Daily Courier, which ran an editorial December 1 disputing his claim that he wasn’t around when a lawsuit prompted a judgement forcing Grants Pass to allow the homeless to camp in city parks. According to the editorial, written by Editor Scott Stoddard, “Fowler was mayor for nearly six years in the runup to the suit being filed, a period when the city was engaged in unconstitutional actions against the homeless, according to a federal judge. As Fowler continues today to make sneering complaints about the homeless, it’s not much of a surprise that the city was sued.”

This was Fowlers response: Fowler…” The editorial by Stoddard is attacking me and promoting Mayor Bristol because they agree with her political bent. Stoddard only wrote one editor’s column the entire month of November. I don’t know how he gets away working only one day a month but it made my point. The lawsuit started when I was mayor but was not resolved until after I was out of office and into this office. And so, it was the response of Lindsey (mayor before Bristol) and Bristol in the past almost five years that has led us to all of those tents in our parks. They have done nothing except for the past month or two on trying to find a place and satisfy the judge’s orders and so attacking me is easy when you getta cherry pick your facts, when you getta give half-quotes. He made it sound like I was anti-homeless and anti-trying to help. I know Dan DeYoung’s been in the room for years when I always said hey, homelessness is different than vagrancy and transiency. If you’re homeless due to no fault of your own, or some circumstances happened that you couldn’t control and you want some help to try and get back on your feet there are programs that are for you and help you and I have the compassion to try and help you as well. But if you’re trying to purposely live in the cracks, live outside society, not pay your fair share, not contribute to society I don’t want to enable you to do anything. And so that didn’t quite make it in there, and it just gives me confidence that they will be attacking me because I’m up for election and promoting anybody else. It will be fun to watch this happening. I wonder if Scott will have one more or maybe that was his only editorial for December. We don’t know yet. He may be taking more vacation. But the tone and tenor of the Courier has forced people to stop paying attention and I’ll bet more than half the folks don’t even pay attention to the editorial page. They’re there for the good stuff in the paper the sports stories, the community events, the personal stories that are great in our area. I think our newspaper was pretty good at that but this new editor has turned our paper against the majority.”

Baertschiger’s only comment was to say “I’m under the impression you’re not going to subscribe any time soon.”  DeYoung just griped that nothing good the Commission does ever makes the paper and backed up Fowlers claim the homeless situation isn’t his fault.

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