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County Commissioners Week of February 1st

Editorial Comment:

Josephine County Commissioner’s power was on display this week, even though the matters they handled were fairly routine. They decided against a land use appeal, considered a host of new fees for the Planning Department and were asked to advance a county employee up the pay scale. Commissioners give department heads permission to apply for grants, they approve budget goals appoint the generally toothless budget committee and have the final say on the county budget which includes how much law enforcement the county gets. Commissioners set goals for and have the final say on how COVID rescue funds are spent. They have the power to evaluate, hire and fire department heads, holding people’s careers in their hands. They have the power to give away a $1.3 million piece of property without public input and they have the power to set the tone in a community by allowing themselves an endless platform during meetings for rants against the Governor, Democrats, the local newspaper, COVID restrictions, environmental restrictions and by severely admonishing anyone who expresses an opinion they don’t like.

Local elections are important!

And Now The Week of 1/31 through 2/5

On Monday Commissioners heard an appeal of a Planning Department decision to grant a land use variance involving setbacks and size of a second dwelling greater than normally allowed to a property owner who wants to use a second home on his property near Fish Hatchery Road as a rental. Neighbors, who asked for the appeal to the Board, complained the property owner was running an Airbnb rental with people streaming up and down their private cul-de-sac and that he was advertising it as such on Travelocity. The property owner, Tom Mathew, denied this, saying he has only had family members visit and said he wanted to rent a small house that his family lived in while they built their large house now that they are in the large house. The Planning Department approved the variant with limitations: it can’t have a full kitchen and the owner can’t rent it for less than 30 days. If they violate those terms the Planning Department can pull their permit. Someone reminded Commissioners they declared a housing emergency in the county and this rental can come under emergency housing. Commissioners seemed to have forgotten about that. Commissioner Dan DeYoung and Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger voted to deny the appeal, saying they didn’t see how, under the conditions, it had any adverse effect on the neighbors. Fowler voted not to allow the variance to stand because he thought the applicant fudged on the length of the setback and the size of the small house.

During Tuesday’s General Discussion commissioners heard a repeat of the fee increases Planning Director Mark Stevenson brought them last week. The fees will be initiated to cover costs of inspections and an administrative fee for evaluating property that needs to be cleaned up. Currently there are no fees for those services but with a dwindling general fund, department heads have been asked to find ways to cut dependence on it. Proposed fees include site evaluation at $125 for a 1 ½ hour inspection, site inspection at $75 an hour, an administrative processing fee of $89 and a re-inspect fee from no-shows at $75. Code enforcement violations will be $185 on a confirmed violation, not just a complaint, Stevenson emphasized and a $75 an hour inspection fee of the violation mitigation but that will be charged at the department’s discretion since the department’s priority is working with people to help them correct violations, Stevenson said. He also added process fees to help cover Sheriff’s deputies time when they are asked to assist inspectors on property deemed dangerous. Working with the Sheriff, it was determined he would bill the Planning Department $106.61 per hour for their time. The owners of the property would be billed for this if they are found in violation.  Stevenson said the fees won’t make money for the department, they just help them cover expenses previously paid for by taxpayers and the fees are in line with what other counties charge. DeYoung said he is inclined to support these fees. Baertschiger said he wanted to know what each department is doing about inflation before he decides. A public hearing on the increases was set for Feb. 16 in order to properly notice it.

Baertschiger asked if there were any additional matters to be brought up. DeYoung said no, then started talking about the weather for several minutes more before Baertschiger called the meeting to a close. Fowler was absent.

Wednesday’s Weekly Business Session on Feb. 2 opened with chatter between Baertschiger and DeYoung before the meeting was officially opened. DeYoung complained that in the Grants Pass Daily Courier A to Z tab, under the list of Commissioners, someone added that DeYoung and Baertschiger were in a recall.

“It’s just crazy,” said DeYoung.

“The citizens of Grants Pass are going to have to do something. I mean, if they want to keep letting the Courier, um, you know, navigate the ship, then I guess that’s what’s gonna happen,” said Baertschiger.

DeYoung, his ire growing, asked “What does the Courier do about COVID? Nothin. Where did the Courier say anything was happening to end COVID? NOPE! Doom and gloom. Still to this day. It’s either the Commissioners or COVID on the front page of the paper.”

“Every single day,” said Baertschiger.

“Every day! And you know what? My wife makes a good point. There’s 87,000 people in Josephine County and we were responsible for all 87,000 as Commissioners. Where’s the Mayor and the City Council because they’re responsible for 37,000 of the 87,000. Maybe even 42,000 of the 87,000. They had ZERO. They got a ton of money too and had ZERO programs. Other than giving away $25 gift cards over at the Methodist Church,” said DeYoung.

At that Baertschiger started the meeting but DeYoung was still fuming. Fowler was absent.

They only had one action, the approval of a quitclaim deed on North Applegate Road. In the Consent Calendar they approved changes to the Mining Advisory Committee (MAC) mission statement. MAC is now an advocate for mining instead of just an advisor about mining.

While waiting for technical difficulties to be solved for a public comment speaker, DeYoung criticized the Courier for running “hateful” letters to the editor that questioned Travis Boersma’s plans for installing slot machines in his new Flying Lark casino. He accused the tribes of making up losses their casinos would suffer and said Josephine County is “lucky to have people like Travis and like Thomason with the Human Bean…. all the philanthropic people here and then comes the hate mail and we have a newspaper that prints it.”

Baertschiger tossed in his two cents about the Courier, saying it has maligned his idea of giving away the Sportsman Park. “We transfer it to a non-profit. What’s wrong with that? Just because we’re (Baertschiger and DeYoung) members out their they say we’ll gain. He predicted all the misinformation in the Courier will cause people to quit reading it.

There was only one public comment, from Mark Seligman, who has filed to run against Commissioner Darin Fowler. After a spate of technical difficulties Seligman finally had his say. He accused Fowler of criminalizing homelessness while on the Grants Pass City Council, and now as a Board member, criticizing what the City is trying to do about it. He also accused the Board of being negligent during the pandemic, that Baertschiger, who voted against taxes now wants to raise taxes for the Sheriff’s Department and brought up again his contention that the county’s strict land use regulations for legal marijuana growers has created the black market here.

Baertschiger, on Zoom from home, wasn’t in his seat during Seligman’s comments. DeYoung began the rebuttal, ranting against Seligman and accusing him of never doing his homework or getting numbers straight. He said he appreciated that Seligman is doing his civic duty by stepping up to run for a seat on the Board but cautioned the job looks a lot easier from the outside than it actually is. DeYoung, apparently not through ranting about the Courier, pivoted back to his criticism, taking on letters to the editor that have been critical of him and in favor of the recall. He accused the paper of not fact-checking the letters he called “full of hate” and accused the paper of “weaponizing” against the Commissioners.

Baertschiger, also critical of Seligman, said he doesn’t do his homework then repeated his mantra that the county is poor because timber receipts dried up. “I hope you never make it into government office,” he told Seligman…..” That would be a tragedy.”

DeYoung, still obviously frustrated, took off on the recall, denying every point the recallers made on their petitions and in their ads. He said he talked to department heads and none were disgruntled, said the Commission has always told people to consult their own medical professionals about COVID vaccinations, denied the Commission was against vaccines and said he has enough problems without poking into other people’s health care decisions. He lamented that he wanted to use ARPA money to give out testing kits but wasn’t allowed by the Oregon Health Association because positive tests wouldn’t be counted and now the government is giving tests away to everyone.

Baertschiger accused the Courier of turning people against the Commission, saying they’ve been accused in letters to the editor for being responsible for COVID deaths. (Note: Commissioners, who say they allow all opinions during their public comments section of the agenda, don’t seem to realize that is exactly what a newspaper does with letters to the editor.)

Thursday’s Administrative Workshop was a continuation of Baertschiger’s rant about the Sportsman Park. He said he wanted to clear up what he called misinformation printed in the Courier and spread by the recall effort about his suggestion to give the Sportsmen’s’ Park shooting range to the non-profit Sportsman Association which has been running it for years. He repeated what he said last week that the county’s insurance company doesn’t want to insure a shooting range, but he has not presented any proof of that or had the county’s Risk Management official address the issue. Baertschiger insisted the public’s access to the shooting range would not change if the non-profit owned the park. He did not say if a public hearing would be held on the matter.

In other matters Human Resources Director JJ Scofield said he’s auditing a “handful” of positions to see if their job descriptions match what they actually do and if they should be compensated for additional duties. He said this is about retaining good employees he doesn’t want lured away by better offers elsewhere. Josephine County Community Corrections Director Nate Gaoiran told the board he wanted to step his Deputy Director, Scott Hyde, up two steps on the pay scale and said his department can absorb the cost. Community Corrections provides community safety and attempts to reduce recidivism through the supervision, treatment, services and sanctioning of adult offenders, according to their web page on the county website. Gaoiran said his deputy job is hard to fill because “we supervise a treatment division that has very complex and nuanced requirements. We deal with sex offenders and domestic violence and cognitive behavior therapy.” He said Jackson County has an opening in their Community Corrections that pays $20,000 more than Josephine County pays and he’s afraid if they don’t up the salary range “we’ll lose a good employee.”

DeYoung said it would be expensive to find a replacement for Hyde and that it’s important to retain valuable employees. “We pride ourselves in having the best here,” he said.

Baertschiger said he wants to bring the matter back to the board for discussion after he’s seen a comparison of salaries “side by side on paper.”

Jim Goodwin, Juvenile Justice Director made an appearance to get permission to sign for a grant. Then Financial Director Sandy Novak came on Zoom to ask Commissioners if the strategic plan and goals for the budget are still the same. The strategies are: finding stable funding for law enforcement, creating a safe community, providing for quiet enjoyment of private property and fire protection. Baertschiger said those are just on top of a long list but didn’t say what the rest were. Novak said budget goals were: to improve community outreach and communication to the public by increasing efficiencies within county departments and providing enhanced services to citizens, to develop a sustainable plan for all mandated and essential county programs and to provide access to county services to the citizens of Josephine County in a transparent, open and professional manner.

DeYoung said these have been the goals ever since he’s been here and said he felt hemmed in by strategic plans. Novak said the strategic piece is new.

“It’s hard to predict what is a good idea and what isn’t a good idea, especially when you haven’t heard it,” he said after saying strategic plans are like goal posts.

Novak, trying to keep a straight face, replied “this is true….”

“I don’t want this strategic plan to become a set of shackles for the board when they’re trying to think outside the box. Think outside the box. Ooops. The strategic plan says you can’t. It’s not in there. So that’s frustrating. It doesn’t come up very often but it does,” said DeYoung.

Baertschiger said he wants to add to the budget goals how the county is addressing inflationary times and what method we’re using to calculate that.”

Novak signed off by saying “OK. I have my marching orders.”

Baertschiger continued “clearing the air” about the Sportsman Park saying people have told him that property should be turned into a homeless camp. He said that would be impractical since so much money has been spent on establishing the shooting range. He repeated the history of the park, saying the county acquired it 55 years ago through a tax foreclosure and shortly thereafter entered into an agreement with the Sportsman Association to operate a shooting range on it. The range is a great tourist draw and benefit to our law enforcement, he said. “We’re just going to give it to the citizens,” he said. He called criticism of the give-away “politics as usual and Commissioner DeYoung you and I are unfavorable with some people in the county and they will use any issue to try to shame us and try to exploit us and that saddens me because what we want to do is for the benefit of the public, to continue having this great facility that we’re very fortunate of having in Josephine County. It will continue on in perpetuity that way it is now and the county will not have the liability that it has right now and I think it’s a win-win for the citizens of Josephine County, the Sportsman Association and definitely the taxpayers,” he said.

DeYoung floated the rumor that he “heard” that a group of investors would like to buy the Sportsman Park but didn’t elaborate. Instead he talked about his history with the park: he gave them and old pickup for the grounds man and he once repaired the heating system. “I’ve been a supporter of that park forever,” he said. “They used to have the Buffalo Barbecue on Memorial Day weekend out there with a Black Powder shoot and competitions. It brought a lot of tourists here to stay in motels and spend money.”

Baertschiger said he heard about the private investors and was worried they’d turn it into a private gun club that may not allow law enforcement to practice there.

Other matters they considered Thursday were granting approval to allow the county to bypass the bidding process for small construction jobs, consideration of a request to put non-binding questions on the May ballot, the need for a discussion about the language on the ballot for the code enforcement issue and a matter concerning 80 acres in the Rough and Ready Flat area near Cave Junction the county sold in an auction. Because the county still holds the deed on the property until it is paid off, the property owner has to ask permission to improve the property. Helene Lulich, County Property Manager, said the owner wants to put up a barn and five greenhouses. This lit up the Commissioners, thinking an illegal grow might be going on property the county sold. Helene said the property owner has to abide by federal and state laws and federal law says they can’t grow cannabis on the property. DeYoung asked if that included hemp. Lulich said yes. Baertschiger said if they want to grow cannabis or hemp the people could buy the county out but until then they have to abide by federal law.

After an executive session the Board, with just DeYoung and Baertschiger present, reconvened and said they talked about fairgrounds property in relation to the TMB league, the OSU Extension property on Ringette and a confidential member regarding Burgundy Lane property.

With nothing else going on, DeYoung got back to grousing about the recall: “I got the Sneak Preview yesterday. I keep hearing that, that the recall against us is not vile and not underhanded and stuff and yet I see the advertisement in the Sneak Preview and none of it matches what the complaints were…that’s on the petition that ya’all are signing or not signing. You know you’ve got to get the right information on what you’re signing there. I think that’s probably the important part of it. Yeah I saw that. Somebody’s put a lot of money in this and they’re working hard at it and that’s the American Way. But, uh, I don’t mind somebody tellin’ the truth about us but I really don’t like em stretching the truth about it to be quite honest with ya. That’s the only way I can put it. Yeah, had a quote down there that DeYoung’s playing the lottery and so on and so forth. You know what? That’s a serious problem that few have with the sheriff’s budget and its not because the lack of us DOING anything over the last five years. I been here five years. And you know, I was anxious on the levy….to inform the people exactly what was going to happen with and without the levy and when we get to the sheriff’s situation we’re going to have to do that again. And so, you know, when you say you haven’t funded the sheriff…you know how did you ignore the sheriff and now he’s $4 million upside down. Recall em! You know I don’t care who’s sittin’ here. I REALLY DON’T CARE WHOSE SITTIN’ HERE. If it was one of yours, one of mine. If it was my cousin, my uncle, it doesn’t matter. The situation is the same. It’s a grave situation with financing for the sheriff. We all know that. Now how you gonna handle…. are you just going to throw your hands up and say I guess it’s gonna correct itself? Well, it’s not. Takes hard work on the part of Josephine County Commissioners in order to do this thing. You know we got $160 million that we have to pay attention to. Four million dollars for the sheriff. That’s very important to people. We’re working on it. We’ve got some ideas. We’ve got it now where we’ve got a little bit of breathing room. And now is not the time to bash the Commissioners that are trying to get funding for the sheriff because you will have a very…. you get us out of here…I don’t know whose gonna come in to take our places that has any more knowledge of what the situation is then us three. And you’re gonna step in at the eleven-thirty hour with your idea. Well, we’re open to your ideas right now. I never ask anybody which side of the spectrum you come on. You got an idea to fund the sheriff, by golly that’s great. And selling the Sportsman Park isn’t one of em. Chairman Baertschiger was very specific in the rules governing that sale. So, its just frustrating to me.”

DeYoung went on to talk about a minor correction he had in the Sneak Preview’s interview with him about the code enforcement issue and ended his soliloquy by saying he’s frustrated “but I’m a frustratable kind a guy.”

Baertschiger kept his rebuttal to a minimum, saying if anyone has any questions about the Sportsman Park they can call him and said this a “crazy time with the COVID and all” and that misinformation in the Sneak Preview isn’t helpful.

The Herman and Bill Show, KMED Tuesday February 1

The two experts on international affairs talked about Ukraine and the possibility of war. Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger said he gets it why Russian leader Vladimir Putin wouldn’t want NATO at his back door. “Not allowing Ukraine to be a member of NATO sounds very reasonable. I get it. Who wants foreign nukes? It would be like having them on the Mexican border.”

Host Bill Meyer expounded on the possibility of a war being started by a mistake and alluded that the Biden Administration was full of incompetents likely to make a mistake. Baertschiger agreed and they both snickered.

They shifted their conversation to the trucker’s convoy in Canada and expressed hope that American truckers might do the same, expressing some glee at the prospect a large city in the US could be brought to a standstill over “medical freedom.”

Baertschiger switched to his claim that he heard Dr. Fauci say the pandemic is almost over and life will return to normal soon on some obscure early morning farm show and asserted that because it hasn’t had a broader broadcast someone is trying to cover it up to keep the pandemic going on longer. Meyer agreed, calling the pandemic a “charade” stifling our freedom.

The conversation shifted again, this time to their favorite punching bag, the Oregon State Legislature. Meyer called it “the most freedom-destroying institution we have here in the state of Oregon.”

Baertschiger, being Meyer’s expert on the legislature, went through the history of it, saying it was originally intended to be a “citizens’ legislature” that meets every other year for just 180 days but those wily voters gave them permission to meet for a 30-day short session during off years “and now it just turns into another session.” Baertschiger said the 30 days were supposed to be used for tweaking legislation and budget matters, but it’s bloomed into a full-fledged session with more than 200 bills proposed. Meyer, who earlier said he hasn’t kept up with the bills, called Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene a “red diaper doper baby” for proposing a bill that defines self-defense in Oregon so people can’t use that excuse to kill someone. “This is the kind of thinking that is coming out of many of these diseased minds,” he said.

They both jumped on Rep. Lily Morgan for introducing a bill that had some language in it they though was “social justice.” They claimed Morgan’s HB 4419 about gun-free zones includes wording that makes a person of color’s life worth three times as much as a “non-person of color.” This was outrageous to the two of them who lamented “why are we talking about color and race all the time.”

Baertschiger went on to claim he went to a “very diverse” high school during the late 60s and early 70’s and “I don’t remember any, any of this kinda talk…..You know, or racism….we were very diversified, not just with Black people but, you know, we had a lot of Hispanics, we had a lotta Asians. It was very divers and we all seemed to get along just fine and that saddens me because when I talk to high school people I went to high school with and we all say ‘you know I don’t remember any of that stuff.’ “ (Note: Baertschiger seems to have forgotten that the 1960s and 70s were the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement in the US).  As further evidence of his enlightenment, Baertschiger said he had “long conversations” with Sen. James Manning, D-NW Eugene, a Black man. “I had an absolutely fabulous relationship in the senate and we’ve been to many retreats together and stuff like that and him and I have had these conversations and you know, I recognize, you know, and I acknowledge that there’s been a lot of things in the past and you know, we need to keep, you know, working on correcting some and make sure those things don’[t happen again….” Meyer interrupts….”it’s kinda hard for me to believe its just about the color of your skin because there are an awful lot of poor white people out in Josephine and Jackson County who are born white but they’re not doin’ that well. OK. Let’s be real.”

Baertschiger called Manning “a kind of an interesting guy, kind of a mixed bag, but he’s also been a very successful person in his military career and now on the Senate and stuff so I always would say to James ‘well you’re the example of success…chuckle chuckle….so we would have really interesting arguments but we could….over the holidays I talked to hm quite some time and we still visit a lot and everything and so I’m just saddened that this narrative that the United States is a racist country because I’ve traveled around the world and I can tell you one thing. There’s a lot of countries in this world that do have racism but I’ll tell you what, the United Sates, in my opinion, is we’re doin a pretty good job. I think we’re goin backwards with some of this narrative that the Democrats are pushing.”

Meyer urged Baertschiger to help push back on this in Oregon. “Herman, you know, I don’t know. It’s politics and they’ve learned that this is a good wedge issue and they got traction as long as they have traction with it it’s gonna continue. Republicans should stop rising to the bait….”

“Yeah, I would say so. I mean if there is a legitimate concern that can be proved then we need to react to it. But if its just a political rhertoric that we’re supporting, that’s gonna continue to tear this country apart.”

Here, Meyer gets into his “s***stirring mode and starts in on Baertschiger about Republicans not fighting hard enough against the Democrats. He said he didn’t get the kind of “fight” he wanted out of Rep. Cliff Bentz about vaccine mandates and medical freedom. Meyer ramped it up as he talked about how “frustrated” he is that Republicans aren’t causing havoc in Washington DC over mandates, vaccine passports and masks and urged Baertschiger to encourage his friends in the Oregon legislature to go back to walkouts in order to protest Democrat’s overreach.

Baertschiger said they won’t because they are now facing $500 a day fines for doing so.

Meyer said Republicans should defy the fines and stop being “squishy.” “Who’s going to collect?”

They went on to discuss DC politics and how they are suspicious that Democrats don’t seem to be concerned about losing the House and Senate after mid-terms. They attributed this to some sneaky plan Democrats are hatching.

“Well, what the Democrats are going to do is when the Republicans take power, the Republicans are going to submit bill after bill that Biden’s not gonna sign and then they’ll use those bills against the Republicans in the ’24 election for president. They’re worried about the presidential election a lot more than they’re worried about these mid-term elections,” said Baertschiger.

Meyer, who is paid to bash Democrats on talk-radio, allowed he just wanted to “share frustration. I’m tired of giving away power….and gracefully lose with honor. “There needs to be a come to Jesus meeting with some of these people (Republicans in the statehouse). Just a warning.”

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