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County Commissioners Week of January 23, 2022

One of the last things Josephine County Commissioner Dan DeYoung said last week was that he thought the City/County meeting with Grants Pass Mayor Sarah Bristol and City Council President Joel King went very well. Commissioner Darin Fowler was absent.

Mayor Bristol started things off saying the city is still pursuing an urban campground and looking for property to buy. She said some people have the wrong idea of what an urban campground would be. ‘We aren’t going to buy property then just tell people to go camp there.” She said. “We’re talking about a managed facility that people apply and register for with rules. It will be a clean, organized facilty to help connect people with services so they can get back on track.”

King said the relationship between the city and county will make a huge difference. They need to work together and combine resources to make things work.

DeYoung asked what the goal of the campground would be. “Will this take Riverside Park campers and move them to the campground?”

King said going through the city’s goals would be a lengthy conversation and suggested they set up a meeting just for that discussion. “People deserve for us to get together and have a good conversation.”

DeYoung continued. He asked if an urban campground would be cost effective, like the sobering center is in keeping people out of the jail and providing a gateway to sobriety.  King said they could discuss that in their meeting. He kept stressing the need for the city and county to work together. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger asked if the city could get homeless camps out of the parks if they had another place for them to go. Bristol said with an alternative place to go people will feel better about asking them to leave but wasn’t sure if the injunction forcing the city to allow people to camp in the parks would allow them to ban camping if they acquired an urban campground.

King pointed out that a non-profit will be starting a warming center soon but didn’t know where. Baertschiger said the county does have some large tents with heaters that could be used in an emergency. DeYoung said he’s been dealing with homeless issues for 8 years while he was a city council member and another 5 years as Commissioner “and we still face the same problems we had 10 or 12 years ago.” He also reminded those at the meeting who talked about getting grants to run an urban campground that grant money is still taxpayer money.

King talked about effective spending while Baertschiger said he visited homeless people in camps in Portland where he learned they have their own ideas about how to be accommodated which are not always how a city wants to accommodate them.

King said this needs a long discussion. “We’re not going to solve this today.”

Mayor Bristol thanked Baertschiger for mentioning the tents and pointed to the success of Foundry Village, which is not run by the city but a non-profit. She said it is now full and has a waiting list.

King continued to stress the need for more communication between the city and county and more respect for each other. He suggested quarterly meetings where they might exchange what their committees have been up to and discuss pressing issues. Baertschiger said that might be challenging to figure out between everyone’s schedules. “We’ll talk to our office staff and see what our calendar looks like,” he said.  Bristol said she had no problem with scheduling more opportunities to interact.

Bristol then reported what the council’s strategic planning session came up with. Their number one item is finding permanent funding for public safety, she said. The city currently has to get a levy passed every few years to fund public safety. Bristol said by permanent funding, she didn’t just mean the city. Crime in the county also impacts the city and jail capacity is essential for law enforcement in the city as well as the county. Their second goal is to develop an urban campground, the third goal is to establish a kayak whitewater park in the river, fourth is to use urban renewal funds to help the Redwoods Hotel, and fifth is to keep city parks clean and safe for the public to use and the last is to keep looking for transitional housing.  King said they also have a task force looking at urban renewal for the city center.

DeYoung said money has been poured into the Redwood Hotel in the past and said there doesn’t seem to be a “light at the end of the tunnel.” He advised the city to find out what the end game is for the historic hotel.

Bristol hinted that the city might also be able to use urban renewal funds to help with the demolition of the old county hospital on Dimmick in Grants Pass. The county has been doing this in phases as they can afford it. “Depending on what your plans are, it might be in the city’s interest to get something moving rather than have an old, abandoned building sitting there for years,” she said. “it’s nice property and could be better used than what’s there now.” Both DeYoung and Bristol said they were born in that old hospital and it is kind of sad to see it go.

Baertschiger repeated his frequent lamentation about timber receipts and how the county sometimes didn’t even charge people property tax because they made so much money from tree cutting. DeYoung added his retold story about how Sen. Merkley’s rescue dollars weren’t as much as he said because some was scraped up from timber receipts in high yield Oregon counties.

Wednesday’s Weekly Business Session January 26 was mainly public comments. Only Commissioner Darin Fowler and Baertschiger were present. DeYoung was meeting with Rep. Cliff Bentz.

First up was regular collar Guenter Ambron who said he and his Neighborhood Watch folks in Illinois Valley were gearing up for fire season and were in favor of the code ordinance going to the ballot in May, once they read it and will vote against abandoning it. Then he said his medical freedom group watched a hearing conducted by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that featured Frontline Doctors (whose claims have been debunked) and other anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers Ambron’s group follows.

Next in was Jay Meredith of American Mining Research who asked Commissioners to put advisory questions on the May ballot asking voters how they feel about mineral withdrawals and wildland expansion. He said he could put some facts together for the Commission to consider.

Caller Tracy Thompson was last, reminding Commissioners that “extremely partisan rhetoric” and frivolous ordinances like their gun sanctuary affirmation are partisan window dressing that don’t meet the real needs in this county.

“Last week you issued a proclamation about the sanctity of life, but where’s the proclamation to fight teen pregnancy which in Josephine County is four times the state rate and 2 ½ times the national rate? In fact one of the most at risk demographics in Josephine is uneducated unwed mothers. There’s no question poverty is a public health issue both from the perspective of personal health but also from the implications that people in poverty with few options make up the majority of criminal offenders, placing a burden on the community at large. Crime and poverty go hand in hand. Josephine County has a poverty rate of 19 percent, a Medicaid rate of 42 percent and a high school dropout rate of almost 23 percent. These are not good statistics. From my perspective the board should focus less on window dressing matters such as gun ordinance and right to life proclamations and more on building a better economic foundation not based on cutting, digging or drilling, but rather one that will meet the future needs of a society that is leaving Josephine County in the dust,” he said.

Fowler was first to respond. “I appreciate Guenter making us aware of fire season. Now is the time to think about it even though it’s 26 degrees. Take care of your property, do the work and encourage those around you to do the same.”

Fowler addressed the Code Enforcement ordinance he voted for late last year which was put on the May ballot after Sen. Art Robinson, a resident of a rural area in Illinois Valley who opposes the ordinance, initiated a flurry of signature-gathering to hopefully defeat it again. He led a similar campaign about 12 years ago when a previous commission passed an ordinance that would have given the planning department the power to cite code violations aimed at preventing what is now going on throughout the county as illegal cannabis growers set up shop without proper permits for the structures they need. Fowler’s comments reached beyond just responding to Ambron. “Code enforcement is on the ballot so we can have an open honest discussion and not political rhetoric about personal property rights. Rampant criminal marijuana production is going on. If you have another solution let us know. We hope our citizens give our due.”

After thanking Meredith for preparing advisory questions Fowler repeated his contention that federal land lockups are preventing Josephine County from funding itself, then veered off into rhetorical questions about sheriff’s department funding. “What kind of sheriff’s protection do you want? What level of funding do you want? Clearly frustrated, Fowler took on the last speaker, Thompson, with a vengeance, even though it was not apparent he actually heard what Thompson said.

“I disagreed with most of what you said. Still do. I’m gonna always land on the side of freedom and free choice, not government in your lives, but government seems to be hell bent on getting involved in every part of your life. And every time you try and regulate how people’s feelings, religion, social interaction, every time you try and legislate that, you run into trouble. Because Americans have a stiff spine when it comes to telling me what to do. And so I couldn’t disagree with you more.”

Baertschiger said “The COVID issue is a no-win for the board of county commissioners” because they get pressure from “both sides.” He repeated that’s why they’ve taken the stand that, regarding vaccinations, people should consult their medical providers to find out what’s best for them. Regarding Thompson, he said anyone can ask for a proclamation so “if you want one about teen pregnancy come and see me.” Baertschiger then invited Thompson to run for Commissioner. “I have a funny feeling in 60 days you’ll have a different view of what goes on.”

After approving the consent agenda Matters from the Commissioners involved complaints about Oregon’s “lockdown” while other states are opening up. Fowler expressed his distain for Gov. Brown’s “gestapo tactics” imposed with her “star chamber buddies.” He then praised the business community in Grants Pass and said he was optimistic about the economy here and encouraged family members to patch up differences and get back together.

Commissioners met Thursday for their Administrative Workshop where they heard a presentation from Emergency Management Director Emily Ring about the Northwest Youth Corp, which can be hired for $58,500 to help clear defensible spaces around residences out in the forested areas of the county. She said the 12 person crew of teens and young adults does ask the county to provide camping spaces for them with access to restrooms and showers. The county’s own Firewise coordinator would decide where clearings would take place after homeowners applied for the service. Ring said because of some staff vacancies there is a surplus of emergency response funding to pay for the project. After a discussion, Commissioners DeYoung and Fowler authorized Ring to draw up a contract for approval next Wednesday when Commissioner Baertschiger, who was absent for this meeting, could be there.

Ring also told Commissioners about a company that will map emergency exit routes in the county for $85,000. For on-going annual payments, the company, ZoneHaven, will maintain the map and update it as necessary but if the county cannot afford that, the map can stand alone with in-house input when needed. Funding for the mapping project can be paid for through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds initially. Ring stressed that this company is already working on a plan for Jackson County and since some Josephine County areas overlap what they are doing, it is important to go with the same company for the mapping here.

Up next was Community Development Director Mark Stevenson who brought a list of new fees for the board to consider. He said the county has no existing fees for code enforcement so he’s developed a fee schedule that will help make his department more self-sufficient. For general inspection of new construction which previously had no fee, his department will charge $75 per hour. He said he also recommends a processing fee if inspectors arrive but find locked gates and no one around for the scheduled inspection, which happens quite often. With the cost of fuel going up, his department can no longer afford to drive out to remote places only to find no one there, he added. The fee schedule also includes solid waste cleanup and will be presented at next Wednesday’s meeting for a vote.

Finance Director Sandy Novak made an appearance to remind Commissioners that they do have goals even though they don’t do strategic planning like the city does. Those goals are to create sustainable funding for the sheriff’s department, create a safe and quiet community in which to live, quiet enjoyment of one’s property and fire protection. Budget goals include improving community outreach and communications to the public, increasing efficiencies within county departments, providing enhanced services to citizens, developing a sustainable plan for all mandated and essential county programs and to provide access to citizens in a transparent, open and professional manner. Novak asked if there is anything Commissioners want to change. DeYoung said he needed time to “digest those” and wanted to make sure the goals aren’t “dumping a ton of work on department heads.”

Novak said they’ve been going by these goals for years and she’s had very little feedback from department heads regarding any burdens or changes they’d like to make.

Commissioners were going to have a discussion about the Sportsman’s Park shooting range but postponed that until next week when Commissioner Baertschiger could be present.

Last but not least, on the agenda was a request to change the Mining Advisory Committee’s mission statement from being an advisory committee to being “advocates for all legal mining and mineral mining development in the county with the objective of helping improve the overall economic condition of the citizens of Josephine County.” Forestry Manager Dave Streeter said the committee rewrote their mission statement two years ago but it got waylaid by COVID in getting it to Commissioners for approval. They asked Streeter to be available next Wednesday to explain this further when all the Commissioners were in attendance.

During Matters from the Commissioners DeYoung stressed that this week’s city/county meeting with Grants Pass City Council representatives went well and was productive.

The Herman and Bill Show on KMED January 25 2022

KMED radio talk show host Bill Meyer is conducting a campaign to fund the defense of David Westmorland, indicted by a Grand Jury in Jackson County for pointing a gun at Black Lives Matter protestors last June. 2 indicted, accused of pointing guns at Medford protesters | AP News “These people are being attacked for his right to self-defense” Meyer said and called the indictment a “politically oriented prosecution.”

Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said he was saddened that Asante had called Westmorlands’s wife “a bully” and fired her, then referred disjointedly to religious rights and vaccine mandates.  Baertschiger then claimed he’s heard from National Guard people dispatched to help hospitals during the Omicron surge and said they were complaining they didn’t sign up to “empty trash and clean toilets in a hospital.”

Meyer and Baertschiger blamed hospital staff shortages on an Assante mandate requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID. Meyer claimed the mandate needs to go away because the vaccine “doesn’t stop infection and doesn’t stop the spread.” (Josephine County Health Director Michael Weber has said being vaccinated definitely helps prevent severe sickness and vaccinated people are less likely to spread COVID.”

Baertschiger, prefacing his next remarks with “I’m going to get trompled by Democrats when I say that” then went on to use as an example that some countries, like England are opening up while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown to point out that there are two sides to the COVID issue. He didn’t say which COVID issue, however. “You know, obviously there’s two sides to this issue. Of course I’ll get trompled by the Democrats for saying that.”

Meyer went through his spiel about rights and how “my rights and everyone else’s rights, no matter what your political position is, my rights are not based on your feelings or your fear, real or otherwise.”

“That’s kind of how I look at it Herman. I’m tired of playing nice or thinking, awwww, that’s OK, they’re going to wake up from their mass psychosis, they’re going to wake up from their mental illness. In many cases I think they enjoy their mental illness at this point. It’s been helpful politically. But I don’t think it’s helpful politically much longer. I think that’s goin’ away quick.”

Herman. Well, Bill the main reason they have filed the recall petition on myself and commissioner DeYoung is because of what we’ve said over vaccines. We have always said and we will continue to say that this is a decision that we encourage a person to ask with their health care provider to see what is the best response. That’s not what the Democrats, the Democrats wanted us to come out and say we need you and we want you to go get vaccinated and we’re simply not going to say that. We believe it is your decision and you need to have that decision with your health care provider. But that’s not good enough for the Democrat Party. (Fact check: The Democratic Party of Josephine County did not file the recall petition and they never asked the board to promote vaccinations. That was done by a contingent of non-partisan medical professionals from Asante who warned the board that if they did not drop their anti-vaccine tone the hospital could become overwhelmed with COVID victims dying unnecessarily from a now-preventable disease).

Bill…Well I don’t go to Josephine County Health and I don’t go to the Democratic Party for my health advice either when it comes right down to it even though they sure do seem to want to…well, course I guess they look at the fact the Democrat Party tends to control most of the state apparatus here so I guess what they’re thinking is not doing what they say is not acknowledging them….somehow…I think it may be a self-esteem issue here Herman. Maybe that’s what’s going on.

Herman…Well….we get the other side. We get the medical freedom folks, that call us all the time, in fact I got a scathing email cause there was a banner that our Health Department put on Seventh Street in town telling about a vaccine clinic so you know we get hammered on both sides and that’s why we took the position is that it’s a decision between you and your health care provider you know I mean. I would have taken that position anyway. I’ve always believed that.

Bill….Herman I wanted to….we’ll kind of set that aside here for the moment let me ask another quick question about….here I understand that now the latest controversy in Josephine County, other than the fact that the code enforcement issue is going to be on the ballot in May, is that people are giving you hassles over the sports park, or the firearms park….not the sports park the public range. I guess there had been an agreement to transfer that to the people that are currently running it so what’s happening what’s the status of it what kind of incoming are you getting over it?

Herman…Well let’s start at the beginning. About 50 years ago that association was formed and the county agreed to let them use that piece of property which was at the time managed by the Parks Department and over the 50 some years they’ve done a very good and they’ve turned that into one of the best shooting ranges on the west coast. And it’s all volunteer work

Bill…..Has there been any tax money that has gone into this is it actually paid for by taxpayers each year or does the organization that runs the range pay for the upkeep of everything?

Herman….You know there was some investment early on but not a significant investment.  (Fact check: the county leases land in the area to a cell phone tower on the property for $9,600 and gives that money to the non-profit Sportsman Association to help run the park. That is essentially taxpayer money).  it’s all been done by that association out there and they’re volunteers. They are a non-profit organization. They’ve done a great job and you know it’s a huge benefit not just for citizens in Josephine County but there’s a lot of people come from other areas because of that type of range and it can facilitate some very long, you know, the big bore range up there, you can shoot up to 600 yards and that’s really hard to find in any other range. So anyways, the problem that has happened is, it was brought to our attention by our risk manager that our insurance company has eluded that they’re really not interested in insuring that range (Baertschiger has yet to provide any evidence of this). You know. For whatever reason that is unknown but they have told us this. So, we talked about it with our legal folks and our risk manager and we said you know there’s a couple things we…two things we can do because that piece of property was a…came to possession of the county through property tax foreclosure, so there’s only certain things we can do. One we can sell it. And we can give the money, I believe it has to go to the parks or the forestry department. It does not go to the general fund. And that’s what some people are saying. Sell it for 1.3 million and give the money to the sheriff’s office. Well…..you can’t do that.  So, one of the other choices is we can give it to a non-profit organization who will continue to operate it at the benefit of the public. In other words, they have to keep it open to the public and continue to let the public. So that’s the perfect solution. You already have an association who has basically ran this thing and paid for everything for over 50 years so just give it to um. And the benefit to the county is we still have the great shooting range that’ll be open to the public

Bill….Then Josephine County would be liable for nothing that happens there, right?

Herman….Exactly! it’s a no brainer in my opinion. But I am just getting pounded in the Daily Courier that I’m in cahoots with my shooting cronies out there and that I’m going to financially benefit I mean the hysteria and the assumptions are just unbelievable bill.

Bill….OK. I have not read that part of the Courier. Maybe I haven’t dug into the front page news more….

Herman….it’s in opinions (Letters to the Editor).

Bill…in opinions. Ok alright

Herman….And then at the end of the opinion there’s a recall the commissioners. Laugh…chuckle chuckle

Bill…Ooooh! OK. Alright. I see. Now I get it. OK. Allright.

Herman….You know I think if your dog became pregnant it would be my fault. Chuckle chuckle.

Bill….Yeah it probly would I’m sur…just kidding around with ya Herman…..laughter and giggling. So now we understand this is the reality so just to be clear this came because your insurance company the county’s insurance company is not interested….In fact I would imagine that there are many insurance companies not much interested in insuring gun ranges any longer. They look at it as more of a problem than it may be worth to them. For their particular situation.

Herman….My hunch is it’s a political decision. That’s my hunch.

Bill….That’s what I mean yeah, it’s a political issue. In other words it sounds to me like you have a “woke” insurance company. You got to get to work on that part of it. I don’t know.

Herman….Well you know Bill, whether you’re in business…I’ve been in business for a long time and over the years what happens is your insurance company becomes your partner right along with the federal government and what I mean by that is you know I had all my log trucks and everything I had to send the information on any new driver I had to send it in and the insurance company had to approve the driver before I could hire him. So there you go.

Bill….Allright, so just so you know, to be clear though, that you could sell the gun range you could sell the property if you wanted to. Right. If the board wanted to. But the money would have to go into Parks. Are there people that are claiming it would be better in Parks? And then to make the gun range go away? Of course, that would also be politically beneficial to certain people of political persuasion cause they like that kind of stuff.

Herman….Sure people that are anti-gun would love to see that range go away but you know that range is a benefit, a huge benefit to the community, cause let’s say the gun range goes away. What’s gonna happen? People are going to go up in the national forest and BLM lands like they did prior.

Bill….Well frankly they’re going to go up on places like Granite Hill Road and those neighborhoods. When I’m goin up to our transmitter sites. I’m amazed at how much shooting is going on. You know. Outside of those areas.

Herman…..Right!

Herman….So this is a very safe and controlled atmosphere for shooting and it’s a huge benefit for the community. Why would we even want to complicate ..think about changing that arrangement is beyond me but you know, like I said, this is political times and its obvious what’s going on here in Josephine County.

(Fact Check: If Herman is alluding to Democrats again, they have taken no stand on the Sportsman Park situation as he describes it. In fact, the Josephine County Democratic Party has a Gun Owners Caucus whose membership enjoys shooting, is concerned about gun rights and plans to have shoots at the park when COVID subsides).

Bill….It sounds to me it’s a whole bunch of nothing but the Daily Courier is able to put stuff in their opinion page its very cheap. You know to do that. Although I noticed they didn’t put my comment in yesterday yet maybe they’ll put my comment in today. I commented on one of their stories. I commented on a Ron Wyden story. Did you meet Ron Wyden when he came to town? Over the weekend?

Herman…That was all virtual wasn’t it?

Bill….Well I know he did a virtual town hall but he was actually in town talking to the Asante people both in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Herman…..Well he sure in the heck didn’t uh, uh, extend the olive branch to the local elected officials.

Bill…..OK. Albright.  Well, the part that got me concerned is that the Daily Courier had written this article in which Sen. Wyden was talking about how sad this was that the huge cost of the traveling nurses, the insane costs every week to have these traveling nurses coming in and out of our system here…and of course what’s the root cause of that and it would be the fact that Kate Brown has kicked out a good 15 or 20 percent of the medical workers here in Southern Oregon. No one’s talking about that and Sen. Wyden didn’t mention it either Commissioner Baertschiger.

(Fact check: the staff shortages at Oregon hospitals is attributed to the Omicron surge)

Herman….Heh heh heh. No he’s not gonna do that. Of course not.

Bill…But, at the same time, he’s sitting there talking to the Asante worker saying ‘oh you poor people you’re so overworked.’  Well, who did it? Who did this? Come on! Get to the root of it. Alright I know I know I’m preaching to the choir with you on that particular situation.

Herman….Oh yeah, it’s politics at its best. Hey? Did you see….I seen on Saturday and I recorded it on my TV cause I couldn’t believe it but Dr Fauci was on TV, on the US Farm Report, so you can probably look on the YouTube video, and he said because of the high vaccination and unfortunately a lot of people who have been getting sick, which in turn turns into natural immunity, that he anticipates the pandemic to be over here shortly. So, I’ve not seen that anywhere I’ve only seen it on that show. So…

Bill….You do understand though that means the Josephine Democratic Party is in a raw panic now. The pandemic can never be over! Come on the pandemic can never be over Herman. Ever! I’m kidding but…..

Herman…..You know there has been….I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in Josephine County over the last month there have been a lot of sick people.  A lot of sick people. But they’ve recovered. I mean thank goodness so I don’t…..if that was the uhh, a variant of COVID or if it was the flu or what it was but I will tell you I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me ‘boy I really got sick over the holidays.’

Bill……Well, supposedly 98 percent of what’s happening with COVID is Omicron at this point and its nothing to just poo poo about. The part very interesting….I’m aware of people who have been vaccinated and double vaccinated and sometimes even three times and have got it. I’ve also heard other people who have recovered from COVID and got it again. Including with vaccinations and or non-vaccinated. So um, interesting times out there. Do whatever you can to stay healthy.

Herman…..It’s targeting seniors.

Bill…Cold, flu always tended go after elderly. We all leave at some point.

Herman…I hope we’re exiting the pandemic and COVID years.

Bill…..For people criticizing….lighten up on the gun range.

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