Josephine County Commissioners – Week of Sept 7-9, 2021
The highlight of this week’s Commissioner meetings was Darin Fowler’s advice to workers who want to defy state and federal mandates to get vaccinated. Commissioners have an on-going complaint accusing the Grants Pass Daily Courier of not covering their work, only what they say during comment time. Their work this week was to listen to a presentation about Firewise, a program helping county residents make their property more fire-resistant, discuss a letter to members of the US Senate saying they want Josephine County excluded from Sen. Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act, approved a grant-funded project to retrofit the dispatch building with seismic protection, approved the consent calendar, approved an agreement with ODOT for chip-seal funding, argued about toilets, approved various airport business including the installation of a new fueling system, approved a contract for cleaning up hazardous materials related to the demolition of the old hospital building, and approved $1 million to help local businesses after using the discussion to take more potshots at the Courier. An executive session involved collective bargaining.
The seismic rehab for the dispatcher center seemed to surprise Commissioners who asked what happened to the sheriff’s attempt to combine city and county dispatchers into one center. None of them seemed to kno
During the Board Review of Public Comments Fowler told workers to avoid the COVID vaccination by claiming it’s against their religion or get themselves fired and sue. No one at the meeting asked Commissioners how to avoid the vaccine mandate. Here’s a transcript of Fowler’s unsolicited advice:
(Sept. 8 ZOOM, 55:10) “My heart goes out to the teachers, the medical professionals, the government workers…um the state government workers, let me be clear, and a few other government workers who are going to have to make a really hard choice…um because of a mandate. Because their government has mandated something they have to make a choice whether to abandon their career, whether to change livelihoods and look for something else, whether to move…um it’s such a big decision and its being forced by the government by saying well no you can’t have unemployment benefits I know you’ve been paying in and you’ve earned em but no you can’t have it and the leverage of giving up your retirement um there’s a lot of leverage there that the government is applying without the people’s consent whatsoever…the legislature is all asleep somewhere. They never come in and back up the governor cause they want to tie this thing around her neck…umm those folks are making some hard decisions so I prayerfully ask you to ask your family, your doctor to utilize the religious exemption because that is right in the constitution of the united states Uh you don’t have to be super detailed on that you just have to say you have a religious exemption um and take it a little further if you’re comfortable with that but utilize that but whatever you do, don’t quit your job. Make them fire you, make them put it in writing, and then you can join the class action section lawsuit that’s coming. Because they did this so fast it’s hard to get a suit rolling but there is one with the OSP, Oregon State Police and the Oregon Firefighters and so there’s gonna be lawsuits but those things take time so you’re decision is now and I really feel for you because you’re being put over a barrel like that that is so un-American for your government to force a decision on you or force you to make a decision like I said man I hope you end up with the best wisdom you ever had in your life….uh and this is a decision you’re comfortable with.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung concurred, saying either get vaccinated or fill out a form and have it in your file with your objection. The religious exemption is a “form of mitigation” to get around being vaccinated, he claimed. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger had nothing to say about the issue.
During Public Comments Wednesday Judy Hinkle was the only anti-vaxxer to call in to report her latest Dr. Anthony Fauci conspiracy theory. She claims Fauci experimented on foster children with HIV AIDS vaccine trials. She failed to mention there is no HIV AIDS vaccine.
Other Public Comment speakers included Holly Morton, who has concerns about an ordinance the county is working on that would allow the building department to cite people for code violations. DeYoung said the increased authority is needed to target the shacks and old trailers on properties where illegal grows are happening. He said it wouldn’t mean inspectors would go out and look for somebody’s woodshed built without a permit. He told her he gets calls every day from residents surrounded by junky marijuana grows and the county has been helpless to do anything. He added that Holly came to see him and they are trying to iron out her concerns.
Jay Meredith of AMR (American Mineral Research) also called in to bug Commissioners about proposed environmental protections he says will hurt his business and ultimately the county because they will get enough taxes to pay for law enforcement. Commissioners are sending a letter to US Senators hoping some of them will recognize out of all the counties in America Josephine is so special it should be exempt from Sen. Wyden’s proposed River Democracy Act. County Counsel Wally Hicks read the letter. It basically says…. please remove Josephine County from the proposed land lockup that they feel most voters disapprove of. They feel Wyden mischaracterized local support for this. AMR believes Wyden is fundamentally anti-environmental because this won’t allow them to mine for tellurium which is needed for solar panels.
During Matters from Commissioners, all of them made various accusations against the Grants Pass Daily Courier that none of them even subscribe to. Fowler accused the paper of trying to hide the fact that the COVID spike has peaked and the number of hospitalizations are going down. He said while the paper is “pretty good” for telling you what’s going on with the Garden Club, its staff conspires to try to make COVID and the Commissioners look as bad as possible so you can’t trust it anymore.
Baertschiger stuck to dire happenings at the state level while DeYoung said he knows what political party the writers of critical letters to the editor belong to. He went on to rant about the Courier editor, a friend who wrote a scathing letter about the Commission who didn’t have the guts to knock on his door to talk, how he was a substitute Courier paper boy in his youth, how there is a “network” out there writing mean letters about the Commission, and then denied he was on a rant. “I’m cool today. Not worked up at all,” he said.
Fowler reminded people to be careful now that kids are back in school, which set DeYoung off again about how kids have “always been superspreaders” and no one should be surprised by a COVID outbreak although he acknowledged it is a little more serious than a cold or the flu. He said he’d like to see the county’s vaccine promotion money spent on rapid test kits made available for free at fire stations.
Thursday’s meeting was mostly a big argument about toilets at the new transit hub that is about to start construction. The Commission was asked by Transit Director Scott Chancey to approve Portland Loo to provide a restroom for the bus hub. He said this would be placed near the hub and take up one parking place in the small parking lot. The Loo would be purchased with the ones the City of Grants Pass is purchasing to serve the homeless population. This set DeYoung off who argued the hub should have a proper restroom. Chancey said there was no restroom in the hub plans and the parking lot is too small to install a restroom facility similar to those in public parks. The restroom, open to the public, needs to be open at the bottom so people can see if it’s occupied and needs to be relatively vandal-proof which the Portland Loos are. He said the cost of the Loo is higher at the beginning but doesn’t need as much maintenance as regular public toilets. DeYoung insisted he didn’t want to “micro-manage” but he said he couldn’t vote for this until he sees all the plans for the hub and figures out why it didn’t include a restroom. He called the Portland Loo a “glorified outhouse” and said the city just wanted the county to buy one so they could get a discount for buying five. Fowler tried to intervene by saying how much vandalism park restrooms have endured and Chancey said this needed to be approved soon to avoid delay on hub construction. Baertschiger brought up restrooms at Baker Park that seem to be vandal proof which sent DeYoung off on a rant about the homeless. The argument ended when Commissioners decided to hold the matter over until the next Tuesday to give Chancey time to look at the Baker Park restrooms and take all his plans to DeYoung’s office so he could look at them, which he apparently hasn’t done even though this project has been in the works for two years.
Evidently primed to argue after the toilet tiff, DeYoung pounced on Financial Director Sandy Novak as she presented the picks for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money. After Ms. Novak explained the process to divide $1 million among qualifying business applicants along with SOREDI (Southern Oregon Economic Development Inc.) representatives Kim Young and Colleen Padilla, she stressed the list needed immediate approval so people getting the COVID assistance can start collecting what they need.
“Don’t paint us in a corner like that please,” DeYoung snapped, then questioned the math they used to divvy up the $1 million giveaway out of the nearly $17 million grant. He wanted to make sure the county had the right to audit businesses who get the money to see if they’re spending it appropriately. The SOREDI representatives said the businesses have to submit their financials and that “tells the story.” Baertschiger brought up PPP loans and said the ones like the Daily Courier got will likely be forgiven. DeYoung wondered just how the Courier was impacted by COVID since they didn’t miss any days putting out a paper and their circulation went up. He said they slipped through the cracks and he wanted to make sure that never happens again. Baertschiger said it was mostly hotels and restaurants that were impacted but “greed drives everybody.” The SOREDI representatives said the Courier had not applied for his round of COVID relief.
DeYoung argued that the City of Grants Pass should pony up part of the $1 million going to the businesses since they got an ARPA grant as well and said someone should go see how much they can get out of them. Baertschiger said he was uncomfortable giving out money when you can’t measure the results. Ms. Novak told them if the applicants for the money showed the pandemic made them profitable they wouldn’t have qualified. Fowler said this should be it for business relief since other COVID related projects are coming up “and we don’t know how much broadband is going to cost.”
Ms. Young, Ms Padilla and Ms. Novak then ganged up on the Commissioners, saying the Commissions’ goal was to get this money out right now and they needed to approve the list this meeting so there wouldn’t be further delay. DeYoung reluctantly conceded “people are expecting this now.” All three Commissioners voted for in favor, including an additional $34,000 for “Essential Worker” pay for the janitorial staff that got left out during the first round.