County Commissioners Week of December 7th

Week of Dec. 7, 2021

During next year’s growing season Josephine County’s sheriff could conceivably roar up to an illegal cannabis grow in a military-style armored vehicle, round up everyone on site, evacuate the property and set up barriers to re-entry that may include barricading roads. This could happen because Josephine County Commissioners, at their Dec. 8 meeting, voted to declare a state of emergency giving the sheriff additional powers and hopefully more funds. This is to combat the proliferation of hoop houses and outbuildings thrown up without permits by people who so far have found the county’s limited law enforcement capability and attitude leaning toward unlimited property rights fertile ground for illegal activities.

Commissioners, who were going to fund the purchase of an armored vehicle for the sheriff’s department with COVID relief funds said last week they will use “a mix of funding” including money already allocated by the state to help combat illegal grows for the vehicle. “It’s a useful piece of equipment that protects our deputies going out to cannabis sites,” said Commissioner Darin Fowler during a meeting last week.

Just what will become of those evacuated from illegal grow sites, including dozens of undocumented workers, hasn’t been detailed, but property owners can be cited for code violations and charged $500 a day until the property is cleaned up.  At this point, discussions about where that money will go have concluded it will be added to the general fund because the county doesn’t want it to look like any one department uses fines to make money.

The Resolution comes after Jackson and Douglas counties have also declared emergencies because of illegal cannabis growing. On Tuesday County Counsel Wally Hicks explained to Commissioner Herman Baertschiger, who arrived at the meeting late because of technical difficulties, just what Josephine County’s Resolution does: “This one is different (than the other counties. It’s tailored and goes further than we’ve seen other counties go. This declaration declares that the unlawful growing, producing, processing or handling of cannabis…again that’s the unlawful growing of cannabis…is a violation of the declaration thereby punishable by a fine of $500 per offense per day. The declaration also identifies areas where that activity is occurring as emergency areas and empowers the sheriff and the sheriff’s designees to order immediate evacuation from those emergency areas of all residents and other individuals and prevent re-entry. Also, this declaration authorizes the Public Works Department to fully barricade access points to emergency areas, places where the unlawful producing or processing or handling of cannabis is occurring. The declaration then goes on to have a list of requests from the state. Several of those requests involve creating a temporary rule that would effectively empower law enforcement and other enforcement entities from the state and also would create a clearer chain of communication regarding the state enforcers and Josephine County local law enforcement. Additionally, the declaration authorizes the request from the legislature’s emergency board of $10.4 million dollars and there is a cost breakdown attached to the declaration of how that money would be spent. Then it goes into various departments…Water Master, Public Works, hopefully to combat heavy trucks on our infrastructure.”

The $10.4 million is going to the state legislature’s emergency board early next year. If approved, it will cover a two-year period and add as many as 10 detectives, four patrol deputies, pay for legal services, provide additional code enforcement officers, add help in the county Water Master’s department to deal with problems from illegal water use and help for Public Works to assess and pay for damage done to roads and bridges from heavy water trucks going out to illegal grow sites without access to other water sources. This is in addition to the $1.8 million already approved by the state as aid for the county’s runaway number of pop-up illegal grows. Commissioners didn’t say what would happen to all those employees when the $10.4 million runs out. In the past they have cautioned against hiring people with one-time funds.

Baertschiger said “in my view it (the resolution) looks forward and gives us more tools,” while Commissioner Dan DeYoung said he wanted to make clear this is for “unlawful” activity because growing cannabis lawfully is a business “like any other.” The Resolution, explained and discussed on Tuesday, went to the board Wednesday for a vote that enacted it immediately. Commissioner Darin Fowler was absent for the vote. DeYoung said he was “on assignment” which is what he is known to say when a Commissioner is on vacation.

During Public Comments Wednesday the anti-vaxxers disappeared after technical difficulties delayed the meeting but Randy Benetti of Merlin, an emergency vehicle tech with experience in fire services told the board: “The points that I bring to the table today are related to an independent study that was performed in 2020 by a company called Public Consulting Group which was hired by the BCC (Board of County Commissioners). On page 4 of that study, it lists the people involved and I believe two of the Commissioners, with the exception of Commissioner Baertschiger, were a part of that. Why did the BCC spend $50 thousand-plus dollars for a report by an independent company comprised of an ad hoc group of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines if you are not going to pay any attention to the recommendations?  Not one single recommendation was ever implemented or brought before the public. Not one of them. It is one thing to not be aware that you’re the problem but once you become aware of the problem, then it becomes a liability on your watch to take corrective actions. So, section one of that study has the executive summary that says first thing that should be done is to direct county legal counsel to develop a resolution accepting and executing the minimum performance standards for private fire service providers. Those standards were developed by Josephine County’s Fire Protection Committee with members selected by the BCC. The standards are very similar to the standards developed by the Rogue Valley Fire Chief’s Association, accepted by Josephine and Jackson County fire defense boards. All of you have copies of these standards and the report so why has it not been a higher priority? The work has been done and presented to you. We as a county are ineligible for hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars that are allocated to fire and fuels mitigation

But because we don’t have a fire district we are unable to apply for those grants. Standards. Almost every form of business has some sort of standards. Commissioner Baertschiger I’m sure you’re familiar with getting your private wildland equipment inspected and ready for contract fire work. So why is there not standards for private fire companies who run code three lights and sirens to save the lives of our citizens. So, what I’m asking is when are we going to see some movement on this and is there anything that you need to facilitate movement with this?”

During the Board’s response time Baertschiger wanted to make it clear he no longer owns a private wildfire business. He said he sold it to his son and doesn’t do fire fighting anymore. As far as developing standards, Baertschiger replied: (38:50) “Just because you commission a report doesn’t mean you agree with whatever’s in the report. Like I said there’s some things I agreed with some I did not agree with. I do agree that we needed a fire district. I’ve always said that. I’ve worked toward a fire district since the 90s. However, the proposed one came with a set amount and I was in disagreement with the set amount. I think the base of the amount should be determined by the citizens not the Board of County Commissioners. So now I’m on the record with that. As far as standards for the private firefighting companies, there are some standards, some minimum standards that is set by the state through DPSST (Department of Public Safety Standards and Training) that they have to meet or they cannot run around with their lights and sirens and they have to have certain training and stuff. Now if we want to entertain some different standards that are higher than that I am open to that but that discussion needs to have both of those companies (fire companies currently serving rural areas) in the room. I would not feel comfortable having a discussion without both of those companies in the conversation.”

DeYoung complained that while he voted to put the fire district issue on the ballot last May “it is said I didn’t further push for its passage. To be quite frank, as a County Commissioner I refer to the voter. I don’t have to be in agreement or disagreement. We refer that for the voters to weigh in on and it takes it out of our hands. It’s not up to me.” DeYoung acknowledged he did work for the Jail/Juvenile levy but insisted that was just to provide information and not sway voters. DeYoung disagreed with Baertschiger’s take on letting the people, not the Commissioners, set the amount of money a fire district would need. “You gotta give them a base, something to say I’m in favor or not in favor of.”

DeYoung said he hoped to get something “on the table” concerning fire standards by the end of the year “although we’re running out of year” or at least early next year.

In other business this week, Commissioners accepted several more parcels of private property into the Library District. Librarian representatives present when they did that said people willing to come into the district shows support and gives them voting power.

Commissioners also approved agreements with the county’s sanitation companies that pick up garbage, Southern Oregon Sanitation and Republic. The agreements were fairly routine but when Commissioners get someone from Public Works to talk to they like to discuss garbage and culverts at length.

Commissioners also approved some annual grants, finalized approval of new board members for the Illinois Valley Airport board, approved a new member for the Rural Planning Commission, noting there are three more positions available. “That’s a good place to get started in politics, a good place to get your thumb on the pulse of the county,” said DeYoung.

Baertschiger’s KMED appearance

Commissioner Herman Baertschiger had a juicy revelation from a “bloodthirsty radical” to share on the radio this week. He told KMED host Bill Meyer that a crazy liberal Oregon Senator, Kayse Jama, had put on his twitter feed that people shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving but should instead consider something alternative, like listening to native speakers. Jama, a Somali immigrant representing a district in Portland, put the following on his Twitter feed as a thread, under Rethinking Thanksgiving, Native Perspectives. This quote was by Annessa Hatman Haudenosaunee of the Cayuga Nation: “We do not celebrate Thanksgiving in my house and my kids are fully aware of the misconceptions of “Happy Thanksgiving.’ To me, this holiday continues to perpetuate a myth and completely disregards the centuries of genocide and indigenous erasure that is still happening today.” This quote is from JR Lilly of the Navajo Nation: “Thanksgiving is always complex for many Native Americans because of its connection to genocide, stolen land, broken treaties, settler colonialism and violent ideologies like the Doctrine of Discovery & Manifest Destiny. To many of us, Thanksgiving is a Day of Mourning.”

All Jama was saying on his feed is to consider Native American’s perspective on Thanksgiving through some memes featuring Natives with quotes but Baertschiger thought Jama said those things and railed against him for not celebrating Thanksgiving. Meyer chimed in by saying with this attitude some tribe may want their land back where your house is built so you’d have to give it up. Then Meyer said by importing people from Somalia like Jama we are “importing enemies.” They have a history of conflict and conquest in Somalia, Meyer said, indicating immigrants are bringing their conflict and conquest mentality to this country while Democrats have a “Dances With Wolves” mentality (enemies are actually nice people) who are allowing these people in.

With that off his chest, Baertschiger related a Hugh Hewitt show he watched claiming some Moderna executive said revealed something about his vaccine but didn’t clarify what. Baertschiger just complained that we are going down the same road we went down 18 months ago and there will always be some excuse to give people boosters. This led into a discussion about “vaccine passports” Meyer is still milking for his audience even though the “passports” turned out to be a voluntary app for your phone so you can conveniently show your vaccine status when needed. He said when everyone starts using the tyrannical app to get into the Britt Festival or something people will discover it’s a ruse by Democrats to stay in power.

They spent a few minutes hammering senators Jeff Golden and Pam Marsh, then asked “how do we change this.” Baertschiger said “the voters have to do it.”

“That’s why they love the COVID,” said Baertschiger. Democrats absolutely love it and it will continue till voters do something about it.”

Meyer and Baertschiger said their favorite opposition candidate is Betsy Johnson who is running as a non/affiliated candidate for governor. She likes guns, Baertschiger said, which balances out her pro-choice stance. Baertschiger went on to predict Tina Kotek will be the Democratic nominee for governor.

On the sheriff’s support levy he proposed, Baertschiger defended it because “we’ve got a reluctant tax group” in Josephine County. He said he’s been going around having coffee chats with people saying we have to have more sheriff patrols but then they don’t want to pay for it. He said a sheriff’s department levy would create an elected board that would oversee spending. Meyer asked if it would be like the library district in Jackson County full of “loony toons running the library communist snake pit.” Baertschiger said tax districts work well with other services, like the irrigation district but it depends on who you elect to board positions.

“I’m just vetting this proposal now and I’m amazed people are not saying it’s a bad idea,” said Baertschiger.