Hot off the Press
Commissioners – 3/1 Meeting – Homeless? What Homeless?
Even though a half-dozen people showed up at the March 1 Josephine County Commission meeting to urge the Board to declare an emergency and make the county eligible for funding to help get the homeless out of Grants Pass parks, it didn’t happen. Why?
Commissioners say declaring an emergency means they hand over power to the state. Opposing the idea of declaring an emergency were Josephine County Republican Party Chair Holli Morton and the owner of a right-wing publication called the Eagle, Richard Emmons. Morton said families should take in their homeless relatives to keep them off the streets. Emmons mentioned the Soviet Union, land restrictions, how money from the state might be used for a motel to house the homeless and how that would deprive the sheriff of needed tax revenue, then rounded out his disjointed comments by urging the Commissioners to focus on “protecting our life, our liberty and our property and try to stay out of these problems that really aren’t a problem at the county level and let us have more freedom, less government and I think in the long term we’ll all live better.” Emmons did not include the homeless as people who need their life and liberty protected even though some of the pro-emergency declaration people spoke of the crime and hardships the homeless endure.
Other than hearing from those for and against a homeless emergency declaration the March 1 meeting featured several colorful characters. One urged Commissioners to take money away from homeless cats and dogs at the animal shelter and give it to the sheriff, another pleaded with Commissioners to unplug the county’s voting machines from the internet (the machines that count votes are not connected to the internet). One fellow said he’d sent Commissioners videos of the shameful things he’s seen on the internet and urged them to watch and respond. Joseph Rice complained about the lack of transparency in county government because no one will tell him where Commissioners got the money to put out the brochure promoting the sales tax that eventually got voted down last November. A woman asked why the Board has done nothing about the “bioweapon which most people call the vaccine.” She also predicted there will be a famine within a year and wondered why “you guys are going on like life is normal?” She said the Board should encourage people to buy garden seeds for their backyards because “people aren’t going to have enough to eat.”
Several people also got up to suggest uses for the Flying Lark, Travis Boersma’s racino he built on county land before learning he couldn’t have a racino. Arden Sleadd, owner of the Clarion Theater Company that uses music, storytelling and art “to glorify God,” said it should be used for community performing arts groups. Mark Jones said the Flying Lark represents an opportunity to develop a needed revenue stream and asked that “this gift horse not be put out to pasture.” Rebecca Anderson said the Flying Lark was designed and intended to be there to support the horse racing industry and it should be opened as an off-track betting facility.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung said it was never the Board’s intention to get the Flying Lark because it was supposed to be the “spark plug” for “the other side of the river.” He said a hotel and RV park might have been developed had the Flying Lark succeeded. “So we will take a long, hard look and we don’t want to be a too long hard look but we’re going to take in all kinds of suggestions as to what to do there,” said DeYoung.
For nearly 12 minutes DeYoung touched on the concerns of those at the podium with public comments, but mostly tried to justify why he won’t vote to declare a homeless emergency in order to get money from the state to help the homeless. He said if the cities in Josephine County want the money they can declare their own emergency and insisted Governor Kotek’s executive order allowed that.
“When we declare an emergency the power goes away from your elected officials to somewhere off in the state and we don’t have control to say well that’s what we want. They say too bad,” said DeYoung. He said the county had three emergencies going on last year: COVID, a fire and drought. Those emergencies took power away from the Board and gave it to the sheriff, Public Health Department and the state water master, said DeYoung.
Regarding the request to declare a homeless emergency DeYoung said “First off, I don’t know how much money’s involved, I don’t know where the money’s going to go, I don’t know what strings are attached to it and who’s going to administer it and is it going to do any good. We’ve been throwing millions and millions and millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and everybody’s money at homelessness then it gets bigger. Sounds cold-hearted. I’m sorry. That’s the way it is.”
Then, in an apparent appeasement to those present, he promised an “open discussion” before the Board make a decision on the emergency declaration.
Commissioner John West said it was his understanding that the county may not meet the qualifications for the Governor’s homeless grants. “I don’t even know what those standards are.” He went on to declare “everything comes with strings. Everything comes with giving away your rights or freedoms and the state of Oregon would love to take away as many of those as they can take and so we are to do our due diligence in trying to make sure that before we do something like this that we’ve looked out for our county’s best interest and that we know we made the decision based on true facts and true numbers.”
Regarding the Flying Lark, West said he felt confident the Board is going to make the best decision for the taxpayers. Then he addressed some of the more colorful remarks, saying he is in the process of checking out the videos about disgusting internet content.
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger vociferously complained that the Democrats said on their web site they are tired of hearing him talk about his experience with the homeless. (The Democrats actually said he is repetitious with the same story about the homeless whenever he discusses the matter).
“Would you rather me make decisions on issues that I have no experience, that I haven’t investigated? I haven’t tried to figure it out. Would you rather have me do that?” asked Baertschiger. “I’m tired of these very serious issues being used as wedge issues against our community for political advantages!” (Note: the grass-roots task force asking for the emergency declaration called PATH is not political.)
Baertschiger went on to repeat his concern that some agencies actually benefit from homelessness, then said as far as declaring an emergency, “it’s just that I don’t know what is an emergency. What percentage of the population has to be homeless to declare an emergency?”
Baertschiger also addressed the concerns one of the colorful characters had about voting in Josephine County. “The voting is a train wreck in this county. It’s too easily manipulated,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Constitution gives the states, the state legislature, the ability to write the rules on voting and in our particular state the state legislature put it out to the ballot and the reason they got away with giving it out to the ballot, they said, well the Constitution gives us the ability to write the rules on the legislature, the legislature to write the rules on voting and so we’re going to take that authority and give it to the people and so we have vote by mail in Oregon,” he said.
“I hate it,” Baertschiger added.
On the Flying Lark, Baertschiger said “listen, that’s a very complicated situation. It’s a very expensive building. It’s a special use building, It’s not a general purpose building. We are going to get some people that understand that space a lot better than we do and we’re going to get educated on that. This could take some time.”
Concerning a suggestion a committee be put together to make suggestions, Baertschiger said “we already have one. It’s called the Fair Board because whatever happens in that building out there is going to be part of the fairgrounds.”
He then went on to explain to the guy who wants to take the animal shelter funding for the sheriff that the shelter has it’s own money and “we cannot dip into it.”
To Joseph Rice, Baertschiger said he could have just called him to get his answers regarding the money for the sales-tax brochure, then added it came out of the Commissioners’ expense fund.
In other matters the Commission heard about the installation of additional seating for people waiting for busses, heard the first reading of an ordinance changing the zoning from community residential to community commercial on land near Merlin, heard a report from the Collaborative Economic Development Committee on future development and how the county’s airports are important to that.
To the Right of Reality-Anyone see an ethics violation here?
When asked about a $35,000 payment to the Grants Pass Irrigation District due last January during the Bill Meyer Show March 7, Commissioner Herman Baertschiger innocently said he “honestly didn’t know why it got so late.” He said the payment is on the Board’s agenda for approval next week, then turned the conversation into a complaint about the Grants Pass Daily Courier, which has reported how Baertschiger and Commissioner John West have delayed the payment to force GPID to pay the Fort Vannoy Irrigation District, which has less than three miles of canals, $3,000 for wear and tear on its channels by county stormwater runoff. Baertschiger lives in the FVID and has admitted he has a business connection with it. On the radio, after brushing off the non-payment as an oversight that will be corrected, Baertschiger fulminated against the Courier and its courthouse reporter who he says never bothers to call him to get the real story.
Baertschiger went on with a story about how declaring an emergency is “dangerous” especially since only .03 percent of the population in Josephine County is homeless. He didn’t say where he got that number and Meyer tried to get him to correct it. Commissioners have been urged to declare homelessness an emergency in order to receive a state grant that would help move the homeless out of city parks. So far they have refused saying it isn’t an emergency in the county, not recognizing the high number of citizen complains about the homeless residing in city parks because of a court order. The order says until a workable alternative is found for the homeless, they have to be allowed to sleep in city parks. Commissioners have so far not recognized that the city parks are in Josephine County.
Declaring an emergency means the state government will come in and tell Commissioners what to do “like during COVID,” Baertschiger said, then wondered what the city would do with the money anyway when the warming shelter set up during very cold weather “is not being used compared to the homeless population out there.” Baertschiger did not seem to recognize that setting up a place for the homeless to go will satisfy the court order so police can go back to enforcing “no camping” rules in city parks.
Meyer allowed callers while Baertschiger was on. The callers included Ron Smith who said Grants Pass should copy what the Republican mayor of Coronado CA has done to virtually eliminate the homeless in his city. “They enforce a no-camping policy there,” said Smith. Josephine County Commission perennial Judy Ahrens also called in, suggesting everyone seeking any kind of service from the county should bring in a bag of trash first. Meyer cut her off after saying that couldn’t be enforced. A man claiming to be Baertschiger’s neighbor said the homeless living along the river where he goes fishing leave heroin needles scattered all over the place. “Are we okay seeing heroin needles floating down the river?” he asked. Meyer allowed that those who voted for Measure 110, which removes criminal penalties for low-level drug possession and emphasizes treatment rather than jail for addicts, are to blame for carpeting our recreational areas with heroin needles.
Earlier in the week Meyer’s guests tried to wake up Republicans who they said don’t “fight” enough in Oregon. Sen. Dennis Linthicum called in saying he hopes the lawsuit against Oregon counties alleging voters were disenfranchised during the last election helps get rid of mail in voting. Linthicum went on to talk about the “evil government” and how Oregon Democrats want to allow people to register to vote right up to the election. Meyer managed to squeeze in the word “Communist” when describing state Democratic officials.
Oregon Firearms Federation Founder Kevin Starrett also called in to say since Republicans are in such a deep minority in Oregon the only thing they can do is use the only tool they have, a hammer. “If the only tool you have is a hammer you better start breaking stuff,” he said. Meyer praised him for his speech at the Republican Patriots’ Day fund raiser in February as a wake-up call for Republicans. Meyer was so impressed he posted it on KMED’s website here https://kmed.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2023/03/Kevin-Starrett-Speech-10-25-23.pdf. The speech is mainly a review of Starrett’s difficult time in Oregon fighting against liberals who want to ban guns and judges who want to let Measure 114 stand.
Commissioners-Week of 2/21 — So much for Transparency
Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger has said the Board wants the county’s website to be the most transparent website in the state of Oregon. However, you can look all day long on that website and find nothing on it about the county being handed the Flying Lark, the “racino” built by Dutch Bros billionaire Travis Boersma on county land. It was not mentioned during their Feb. 21 Legal Counsel session, nor their Feb. 22 Weekly Business session. Commissioners adjourned the LC meeting to go into executive session but made no announcement on their website concerning the $50 million building even though it was on their executive session agenda.
Of course word of it got out after the Grants Pass Daily Courier filed a records request for the information. So far, Commissioners haven’t said what they plan to do with the windfall. They will probably get plenty of advice at their March 1 business meeting. Note that the lease termination will cost Josephine County $313,999 annually as per the Oregon Live website.
Also during their Legal Counsel meeting Commissioners grilled Community Development Director Mark Stevenson about money that hasn’t been collected from property owners billed after the county cleaned up a mess on their property. Most of the trash was from illegal marijuana grows. Stevenson said out of 117 citations, the county has collected 104 out of 117, resulting in getting $307,000 back with about $75,000 still outstanding. He said he has grant money for an attorney to process those collections through small claims court. The system works well, he said but Commissioners bantered about how to make sure they get every penny owed the county.
The only other discussion held during that meeting was around trying to figure out whether or not to support SB 795 which they thought may give counties more control over their forest lands but they weren’t sure.
The Commissioners’ Business Meeting on Wednesday Feb. 22 was basically just for public comments as they had little business to conduct. Victor Zeitz asked about airport improvements and proposed turning over the county Animal Shelter to the Parks Department and making it self-funding so they could use the money going to that for the sheriff’s department. Voters approved and renewed a levy to support the shelter that can’t be used for anything else. None of the Commissioners would sign on to that idea, knowing they’d have a roomful of animal advocates to deal with if they did. Judy Aherns got up to announce her great idea…declare a “homeless emergency” and get a group of high IQ citizens to put their heads together to come up with solutions to the homeless problem. Apparently she never heard of PATH (Partners Assisting the Homeless).
Tired of hearing about the homeless problem yet again, Commissioner Dan DeYoung said the “one thing that would fix it is quit handing out stuff.” He keeps referring to a “resource sheet” that directs people in need to various local agencies that can help.
“There’s stuff on that sheet that’s not available to the normal citizen,” he said.
DeYoung said he doesn’t think the Board is interested in declaring an emergency relating to the homeless, as Emergency Management Director Emily Ring told them last week might be necessary to secure funding being made available through Gov. Tina Kotek’s homeless program. DeYoung said they don’t like to declare emergencies because that “takes some of the authority away from this board and delivers it to who knows who, maybe Emily Ring, maybe the City of Grants Pass.” The Commissioners are not known for their cooperation with the city.
Commissioner John West echoed DeYoung’s concerns about declaring an emergency. “…as far as declaring emergencies, we have to be careful that as a board we don’t want to give away Josephine County’s rights to maybe have the state or someone else that they come in and run things and then you’re going to be mad at us so we take, you know, calling emergencies we call, we take that very…we, we, we look that over very good,” he said. As far as moving the animal shelter to make it self-sustaining West said “people are very sensitive to animals, probably more sensitive to animals than they are you and me so, you know, I’m not going to get in a fight with the public over right or wrong with an animal. I’m going to stay away from that because I’ll lose.”
Baertschiger told Zeitz the airport improvements that have been done already were the result of grants and he doesn’t see any additional improvements happening in the near future. He repeated his view that homelessness is a “human phenomenon,” that people are living in parks because they like that lifestyle and that Josephine County has no resources to deal with the problem.
Action items on the consent agenda included the process for merging the Parks Department with the Fairgrounds. Director Tamra Martin said this has been “a bit of a challenge only because we have multiple employees that are working within both departments.”
To the Right of Reality – 2/23/23
Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger and Grants Pass City Councilor Dwayne Yunker appeared on right-wing talk radio during the last two weeks. The sum of their discussions is an eight-letter word beginning with “b” and ending with “t.”
Yunker, following the grand tradition established by Baertschiger, called in to the Bill Meyer Show on KMED to complain about the Grants Pass Daily Courier and it’s editor. He was encouraged by Meyer, who’s monologue that day included the paper’s Feb. 19 editorial about city council friction. Meyer said one side wants to “coddle” the homeless while the other wants to “fight.”
“Am I right about that?” Meyer asked. Yunker said he was “right on with that.”
Yunker complained that the Courier never wrote anything bad about the Mayor because the editor is very connected with her. “She loves him and retweets his postings all the time.”
Meyer teased him about being part of what people call “the gang of five” and said they should nickname themselves “Thanos” (a comic book supervillain). “You’re trying to destroy their world Dwayne,” said Meyer.
“Yes, but we’re not going along with their agenda,” said Yunker. This said from someone who ran for election to get rid of all the “liberals” on the council, defining “liberal” as anyone not a part of his right-wing clique in the county.
Yunker then cited an obscure “survey” he said he found on the AllCare website (I looked at everything on that site and found nothing like Yunker cites) as justification for voting to give OnTrack, an addiction treatment facility, $890,000 out of the $1 million the Oregon Department of Administrative Services granted to the city to help find a place for the homeless other than city parks. Yunker said according to this “survey” people’s number one priority was to find mental illness and substance abuse counseling for the homeless but less than 1 percent said they wanted a shelter or tiny homes or anything like that. “So the Mayor and these other couple a counselors, they have an agenda and they don’t want to listen to the people and the people don’t want to pay for a shelter.”
When Yunker signed off Meyer followed with “Dwayne Yunker, also known as Thanos.” Perhaps that nickname will follow Yunker as he upsets and destroys progress on homelessness and other issues because he wants to force his uncompromising right-wing beliefs on the citizens of Grants Pass.
OnTrack operates a residential treatment facility on Sixth Street in Grants Pass but is planning to use the money to move to two buildings on Rogue River Highway. It will provide up to 15 beds for people awaiting addiction treatment. There is usually a long waiting list. This is not a general shelter and won’t solve the problem of people camping in the parks. In exchange for the money, OnTrack will turn over to the city the 4,864 sq. foot building it owns downtown built in 1905. Yunker and Councilors Joel King, Valerie Lovelace, Rick Riker and DJ Faszer voted to give the money to OnTrack and take the building. Councilors Rob Pell, Brian “DeLaGrange and Vanessa Ogier voted against it. The concerns were: so much of the funding will be used for a small number of beds, it doesn’t solve the problem of homeless people in the parks and the old building the city gets in exchange could be a lemon.
Yunker said the people of Grants Pass don’t want to pay for a shelter for the homeless. Mayor Sarah Bristol never said the people of Grants Pass will have to pay for a shelter. Her goal has been to find a place for the homeless, be it land they can camp on or a building where they can sleep, then turn it over to a non-profit to run. That would satisfy the court injunction for a low-barrier shelter so the city could stop allowing people to camp in the parks.
When Baertschiger took to the airwaves later he called homelessness “a wedge issue” and said people come in and ask what they are doing about it. The county can do nothing is what he tells them “because we don’t have the resources and nobody has the solution. Tell me what the solution is and I’ll be glad to work on it. I, like everybody else in this country don’t have a solution…its just a human phenomenon.” Baertschiger says cities like Portland have “tons of money” and they don’t have a solution “so why would a tiny county have a solution?” He then resorted to his tiresome rant about how Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley took away Josephine County’s income (timber money).
During both his Feb. 14 and 21 radio appearance, Baertschiger proclaimed himself an expert in climate change, COVID, inflation and the war in Ukraine. He said Americans don’t spend the time to do the research but he does, then cited books written by people on the far right who have been debunked by scientists and fact-checkers. Baertschiger and Meyer discussed Ukraine like a pair of old retirees in suspenders sitting at a bar repeating everything they heard on Fox News that day. They never mentioned Pres. Biden’s trip to Ukraine or what the stakes for Europe and the US are in this war, but did say “political parties will do anything to stay in power,” even starting a war.
Commissioner’s Feb. 15, 2023 – Don’t Talk to me about the Sheriff or the Homeless
If you want to get Josephine County Commissioners riled up walk to the podium during public comments time and mention either sheriff’s funding or homelessness. During the February 15 Business Session Michael Storms reminded Commissioners funding for the sheriff and homelessness are foremost in citizen’s minds right now, yet the Commission seems to have abdicated it’s responsibility for both.
Storms’ comment set off one of Commissioner Dan DeYoungs’ famous rants…” I honest to goodness don’t know where you’re coming from,” he said. He then gave the history of efforts to secure funding for the sheriff and how they get shot down by voters every time. DeYoung seemed to blame Storms personally for voting no on the Board’s last effort, the seasonal sales tax. “Maybe you didn’t, personally, but five to one it was no. And so if there’s another idea out there that you, the voter, would like to see you bring that to us. What would you vote for? Because I’m fresh out of ideas,” said DeYoung.
Commissioner John West, being new, told Storms the county is working on funding the sheriff “internally” and contradicted DeYoung by saying “We’re not throwing our hands up by no means” although he did concede “…we’re running out of bullets in the gun.” Commissioners are trying to figure out what the public will support, said West. “Don’t, don’t give up on us.”
So far, West has advocated cuts as small as stopping newspaper subscriptions and finding a better deal for the county’s legal notices so that money can stay in the general fund for the sheriff’s use.
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger took DeYoung’s comments a few decibels louder when he yelled at Storms. “The Chamber was against it, the Democrat Party was against it, the Republican Party didn’t support it! I don’t know what to do. It has to be citizen driven. The newspaper was against it!” Baertschiger said he thinks “because of the politics in this county, if it (a plan to fund the sheriff) comes out to the Board of County Commissioners it’s just not going to pass, because these people, they just won’t support it.”
Baertschiger also shot back at Storms’ criticism of the Board’s handling of homelessness by saying “it’s a big problem and nobody seems to have the answer. So we’re going to do the best we can but to expect us three to have the answer with limited resources, extremely limited resources…bureaucrats and politicians that have the resources don’t have the answer so how do you figure we’re going to have the answer!”
Most of the meeting before the Public Comments time was taken up by Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel handing out awards recognizing his jail staff for “what’s not often seen, their compassion and courage…and I will say at times that means saving lives.” He recognized jail staff for being alert to emergencies and saving lives when inmates overdosed on fentanyl, attempted suicide and when an elderly man in jail had a heart attack. Daniel said these people “have our backs and put their lives at risk and I want to thank you so much for your effort, your work and putting your life on the line for us.” The Commissioners praised them as well and said these deputies have their ”unwavering support.”
Others speaking during Public Comments included Kate Dwyer, Executive Director of the Four Way Community Foundation, also spoke to let the Commission know about grants and how important they are to county departments. She warned Commissioners that “well-intentioned efforts to tighten our belts sound like they might take grant funded money away from departments and they may misunderstand some of what has been said. That greatly imperils our county departments ability to reap grant funding and so I would encourage you to learn more about the structure of how that funding works and the way that the funding community thinks about the money they give to our departments.” She said she would be available to talk to Commissioners individually about this.
Also at the podium was the perennial Judy Ahrens who waved around flyers for a Republican fund-raiser and urged the Commissioners to attend. She said there would be “experts” in education there to tell you things that would “make you throw up.” Ahrens lamented that kids aren’t being taught anything in school but sex. Mark Jones said it appears the Commission wants to micro-manage its department heads while Victor Zeitz thanked Commissioners for helping him find information on the county’s website “but my top priority would be to know where and when various boards and committees are going to meet…and what is the agenda.”
Commissioners Report for Week of 2-7-23 — Reducing Transparency
Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger has gotten bolder with his demands since John West replaced former Commissioner Darin Fowler. Baertschiger and West want people who file code violation complaints revealed to those they filed the complaint against. Baertschiger and West want department heads to “modernize” their advertising by using on-line sources instead of the newspaper. Baertschiger and West want the county Public Information Officer to filter everything department heads say to the media. Baertschiger and West want to monitor contracts department heads sign more closely.
Needless to say this got significant pushback from department heads this week…and Commissioner Dan DeYoung during Board workshops Feb. 7th and 9th. Department heads were clear that what the Commissioners decide they will accept “because you’re our bosses.” However, many said the Commission’s Order regarding legal notices was unclear and set them up to mistakenly violate it.
Legal Counsel Wally Hick’s word salad attempt at explaining what Baertschiger and West want regarding citizen complaints was a sign he wasn’t sure exactly what they wanted regarding citizen complaints. West went off on county employees driving down the road looking for code violations while Baertschiger said it bothered him that someone could read something in the paper, get mad at him, and call in a frivolous complaint to harass him. West said when he first came on the Board he met with Community Development Director Mark Stevenson and became concerned about the staff time it takes to investigate complaints like one neighbor mad at another because of a barking dog.
“Every complaint is investigated. If unfounded we keep a record of unfounded violation complaints to see what it turns into,” said Stevenson.
Hicks said the policy of keeping names of complainants confidential arose because people were afraid of illegal marijuana growers.
DeYoung argued that no one would file complaints if they thought their neighbor could retaliate. That seemed to be the intent of Baertschiger and West: to stop code violation complaints. West said he was concerned about county personnel driving around looking for code violations. Stevenson said his employees don’t do that. All their inspections are complaint-driven, he said. Baertschiger said he was still concerned about harassment. Public Health Director Michael Weber said in reality all complaints are filed by the county so legally the person filing the complaint is not actually the accuser.
“You may call to make the county aware of something but it’s the county that files the complaint,” he said.
West said he just wanted to make sure no one was driving around looking for code violations and that he wanted to reduce the number of unfounded complaints that take up staff time. Stevenson said unfounded complaints are “minimal.”
It wasn’t made clear what action will be taken regarding revealing those who make complaints. DeYoung and Baertschiger asked West to send them copies of his proposed changes in the complaint process.
Underlying Baertschiger’s monologue about “modernizing” the way the county’s departments handle advertising was his real intention: he doesn’t want one dollar of county money to go to the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Department heads at the Commissioners’ Legal Counsel meeting asked for clarification of the Board Order moving the county’s legal notices from the Courier to the Illinois Valley News. They asked if it meant all county advertising was banned from the Courier. Baertschiger repeated his long spiel about how archaic it is to advertise in newspapers nowadays. West backed him up by saying the county could save money by utilizing the county web site, street banners and the fairgrounds reader board to get the word out. DeYoung said Baertschiger and West were assuming “everybody’s got a cell phone” they can use to access county website information.
Weber said he was very concerned the county is trying to limit how they use their ad dollars. He said his department has been doing this for years and can tell the effectiveness of their ads by the people who come through their door. He added that his advertising dollars are built into grants and don’t come out of the general fund. Other department heads said state law might require them to violate the Board Order and asked for it be clarified to make it more flexible.
Baertschiger repeated throughout the conversation that his goal was “modernization” while West said he wants to save every dollar he can. Commissioners didn’t indicate they would revise their Board Order to address the department heads’ concerns.
Equally frustrating to department heads was Baertschiger’s idea that all interaction with the media go through the county Public Information Officer. Baertschiger was told by various department heads that they, not the PIO, have the expertise to know what they can and cannot release and have experience doing so. Finance Director Sandy Novak asked if she had to funnel every call she gets by a media person just asking for clarification on a number or a grant. Human Resources Director JJ Scofield asked if the media comes up to the Public Works Director out in a snowstorm should he refer them to the PIO? DeYoung said if the PIO isn’t around and some department head calls him to ask what he or she should say to the media “I’m not qualified to judge that.” Weber said the press needs to talk to the person most knowledgeable about the subject. West said he felt all news media should go through the PIO because “it’s so easy to get caught by TV or newspaper reporters and if you say something it’s out there forever.”
DeYoung said it would be impossible to keep department heads from talking to the media so what “I think we need is training about what the ramifications are.” PIO Jason Roberts said he has offered that training many times to department heads and several have taken it. Baertschiger said it was just his intent to make sure nothing but accurate information about the county gets out. Roberts was asked to update the county’s 1998 policy regarding press releases and media and distribute copies to the Board.
Hicks told Commissioners during their Legal Counsel meeting that “we received messaging that the Board wanted to readdress the contract limitations for signing,” he said. “The policy was last revised in 2020.”
Novak told the Board the current policy says department heads can sign contracts without Board approval up to $10,000. From $10 to $50,000 department heads can sign with the approval of their liaison Commissioner. If contracts are higher than $50,000 they require Board approval, she said.
Baertschiger said he’d like to see anything over $25,000 put on the Board’s consent agenda. Novak said so far this year 280 contracts would have been put on the consent agenda and asked Commissioners to think about the costs and benefits of doing that would be.
West, who indicated he’s the one who brought this up, said he thought taxpayers would want Commissioners to know where all that contract money goes. Baertschiger kept insisting all contracts over $25,000 should be put on the consent calendar but if it becomes cumbersome they can redo the policy.
“The reason is we just had an expense approved by a former Commissioner that we didn’t know about when we were anticipating not having that expense and using the money for something else,” said Baertschiger.
While DeYoung grumbled about the 2020 agreement being fine with him, Baertschiger and West pushed to redo the policy and bring it back for discussion.
During their Wednesday, Feb. 8 business meeting, Commissioners heard Emergency Services Director Emily Ring tell them they might be eligible for money from the state’s push to end homelessness but they would have to declare an emergency based on certain criteria.
“A, the unsheltered homeless has increased by 50 percent or more between 2017 to 2022 or B, the rate of unsheltered homeless in 2022 was 80 percent of the overall homeless population,” she said. Ring said she was told by the state that according to homeless numbers from Josephine County they would probably qualify for B.
This set off a rant by DeYoung who said every time the county declares an emergency the Commission loses power but if they don’t declare an emergency the headline in the newspapers will be that the county deprived the city of homeless benefits. According to Ring, the state wants to allocate funds through counties and not through individual municipalities in those counties.
Baertschiger said he wanted verification of the numbers. He asked Ring if the numbers came from organizations that “benefit from having a homeless population.”
Weber told Baertschiger “that’s a little bit of a loaded statement.”
“I know it is but seriously if we had no homeless we wouldn’t have a UCAN. Correct?”
Weber said we wouldn’t have it here but it wouldn’t stop operating.
West declared the whole conversation was over his head and didn’t comment. However, after DeYoung’s rant he did say he didn’t want to declare an emergency then have the state come sticking its nose in Josephine County Business.
Weber pointed out that the county can determine the language of the emergency so they don’t lose authority.
Ring said she would get more information from the state and get back to them with how the numbers of homeless people in the county could be verified.
Commissioners heard public comments by Libby Watts who was concerned they will stop paying their dues to SOREDI, an economic development resource, from Amanda Metzler, Chair of the county Cannabis Advisor Panel, who asked the board to try to correct the failure to get a moratorium on hemp licenses and others advising the Board to review the state’s open meeting laws, especially concerning committees, and be more efficient at limiting speakers at meetings to three minutes.
To the Right of Reality 2-7-23
People listening to Josephine County Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger repeating his homeless story on The Bill Meyer Show on KMED talk radio are probably getting tired of it. Meyer should gently let him know his story is starting to sound like a bad recording. During his January 31 call-in to Meyer’s show, Baertschiger repeated his story about visiting homeless camps and discovering the people there liked living that way. He launched his story in response to an editorial in the Grants Pass Daily Courier about how Mayor Sarah Bristol was learning first-hand about homelessness by volunteering in a warming shelter.
Baertschiger said the paper never gives him any credit for having visited homeless camps when he was a state legislator, but apparently the only insight he came away with is, “they don’t want to be like you.”
“There was a nice lady at one of our meetings and she’s very passionate about helping the homeless and all the things she wants to do and on and on and I listened to her and then I said to her…and she’s kind of new at this…but she really wants to help and then I said always remember, they don’t want to be like you. Ok? So a lot of people fall into this homeless place and say ‘oh, oh all I gotta do is get those people to be like me and we won’t have a homeless problem.’ Well, they don’t want to be like you.”
Meyer pushed back slightly by telling Baertschiger about a homeless man who got that way through an injury that kept him from working and he did want to get back into living like the rest of us. Baertschiger’s response was “…one thing I would caution you and anybody else, um, you have to really verify these stories cause you’d be surprised that sometimes they’re not exactly how they’re quoted to you.” Baertschiger said he’s heard a lot of stories over the years from people playing “the victim card,” then went on to talk about how he managed to create a good businesses because he didn’t make many “mistakes” on his way up. He said he tells young people those who make bad choices along the way won’t end up as successful as he is.
Meyer rerouted the conversation by praising Baertschiger for getting so much information out on Josephine County’s website. This launched another repeated story about how the Board considers newspapers “antiquated” and that’s why they put all their legal notices on-line where you can sign up to be notified each time the county drops a new notice.
“…and my kids, I don’t think have ever picked up a newspaper in their lives,” said Baertschiger.
Previously, Baertschiger and Commissioner John West voted to switch the county’s legal notices from the Daily Courier to the weekly Illinois Valley News with a much smaller circulation. After spending more than a year complaining about the Courier’s coverage of county news, it was apparent yanking the Courier’s significant source of income was retribution, but Baertschiger is now saying the Board, consisting of three senior citizens, wants to “modernize” the way people get their information.
Baertschiger said the future of newspapers may be to sell by the article instead of selling subscriptions. “I was even talking with Richard Emmons of the Josephine County Eagle a few weeks ago about this and there needs to be a way to purchase by the article because not everybody’s gonna pay five or ten bucks a month for every Substack they want or every newspaper subscription they want because you’ll get to the point where it’s hundreds of dollars a month if you’re trying to get behind the paywall…you need to be able to pick and choose a little bit more.”
Baertschiger was back on Meyer’s February 7 show after Meyer tried to get callers to respond to his criticism of Sen. Jeff Merkley’s visit to Medford and Grants Pass. He pointed out that Merkley didn’t win in Southern Oregon, that Jo Rae Perkins (a QAnon nut) won and that no one from the “conservative world” goes to see Merkley. Meyer tried to gin up people to go to Merkley’s townhall meetings and scream at him like the “gray ponytailed Indivisibles did when Greg Walden held town halls.” No one called in about Merkley. They had other concerns to talk about.
By the time Baertschiger came on the conversation started with the new newspaper in town, the “Rogue Valley Tribune.” They both expect it to appeal to the conservative base in the area. They went on to declare how wonderful the conservative commissioner from Curry County, Court Boice, will be in the statehouse. Boice does not have a great reputation in Curry County, however… https://wildrivers.lostcoastoutpost.com/2021/apr/6/letter-reveals-former-curry-county-emergency-servi/ and Curry Commissioner Chris Paasch Threatens Lawsuit Against Fellow Commissioner and the County Over Alleged Email Claiming Corruption; Offers to Drop Suit if Boice Resigns | Wild Rivers Outpost | Del Norte, Curry Counties (lostcoastoutpost.com) Boice was appointed to fill a seat in the House after the former District 1 Rep. David Brock Smith was appointed to fill a vacant Senate seat.
Meyer asked Baertschiger why Josephine County didn’t get its request to restrict hemp growing licenses granted. Baertschiger said it’s the state’s fault the request didn’t get sent to the right state agency. It went to the Office of Emergency Management when it was supposed to go to the Agriculture Department.
The duo then found common ground in attacking Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s Democracy Agenda, which is basically about making it easier to register to vote by automatically registering people who sign up for the state’s health care program, stiffening penalties for people who harass election workers, and extending the vote to certain people in prison. They went on to discuss the horror that Fagan inflicted on the state by appointing Molly Woon as Election Director. Woon has an impressive resume which includes her work in communications for the DPO and the senate majority office.
“She was the architect of the motor voter law,” said Baertschiger.
Baertschiger noted Republicans spent so much time and money trying to get a conservative governor when they should have concentrated on the Secretary of State position, which has control of elections. Both Meyer and Baertschiger conceded that Democrats are in the majority because they’re much more organized than Republicans in the state. “The silent majority is their demise,” said Baertschiger. “If every Republican spent 10 hours a year and contributed $100 we could turn this state around,” he said.
City Council Members May Exclude Affordable Housing and Homelessness from Their Strategic Plan
At the City Council meeting this Wednesday evening at 6:00 pm, the Council members will be voting on the City’s Strategic Plan for 2023. There are two versions that they are considering. One version includes 14 provisions including the following three: 1) Facilitate homeless shelter site, 2) Explore unhoused vehicle program, and 3) Support and encourage the development of 225 units of housing per year commensurate with the incomes and sizes of Grants Pass households.
The second version includes all the provisions but these three.
Lack of affordable housing in Grants Pass and homelessness are two of the most critical problems our community faces.
I urge you to take the time to attend the City Council meeting and express your desire that the Strategic Plan for 2023 include these three provisions. All members of the public are allowed 3 minutes to express their opinions about anything of consequence during the public session, which is held early in the City Council meeting and will be before the vote by the Council members on this issue.
If you speak, please be respectful, and try to explain why you believe that it is important that these provisions remain in the Strategic Plan. If you are not comfortable speaking, just your presence for support will be helpful, and may swing the deciding vote.
Grants Pass City Council Meetings and Workshops are held in the City Council Chambers at 101 NW A Street.
Council Meetings are held the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m.
Council Workshops are held on Mondays, at 11:45 a.m.
For more information, go to the City Council page. Agendas
Commissioners – 2/1/23 – Cutting Off Nose to Spite Face
“We are not an island,” said Valarie Lovelace.
“Think about what important agencies have silent constituencies,” said Pat Fahey.
These were comments from the public after Josephine County Commissioners hinted they may not participate in Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. (SOREDI) https://soredi.org/ this year. After a similar presentation last spring, Commissioners Dan DeYoung and Herman Baertschiger expressed displeasure with SOREDI for not coming to the aid of Travis Boersma’s Flying Lark, a “racino” designed to support horseracing in Grants Pass. The Flying Lark remains closed after the state determined the betting machines Boersma wanted in the business would classify it as a casino, which are only allowed on tribal lands in Oregon.
SOREDI is a non-profit agency launched in 1987 that works to bring large and small businesses to Josephine and Jackson counties, help those businesses get started then support and help those businesses grow. SOREDI is also able to administer federal grants, such as COVID funds provided to help businesses during the pandemic shutdown. SOREDI is financially supported by communities within its administrative area as well as Chambers of Commerce and sponsors like AllCare Health and US Bank. This support makes it possible for SOREDI to offer a range of complimentary services to businesses willing to locate here, from information about the region to hand-holding through permit processes and filings at the county Assessors’ Office.
“Our primary work is developing and maintaining relationships with businesses through regular outreach to uncover unmet needs and assisting with growth plans to create new jobs and investments in communities of their choice,” said SOREDI Executive Director Colleen Padilla during a PowerPoint presentation at the Feb. 1 Commissioners’ Business meeting. The presentation was mainly for new Commissioner John West since Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner Dan DeYoung know SOREDI well.
Padilla said since 1998 they have helped with $552,192,629 new capital investments which resulted in 13,652 jobs. Some businesses SOREDI has helped include AllCare, Ausland Group, Duro-Last Roofing, Rogue Truck Body, Taylor’s Sausage, Master Brand Cabinets, Timber Products, Fire Mountain Gems, Weekend Beer Company and Playcraft. They are currently helping with grants in areas impacted by fire damage to help businesses rebuild.
West said he’s had “a ton of pushback” because the county spends money to help support SOREDI but they didn’t help the horseracing business in Grants Pass. Padilla has informed the county in the past that SOREDI is a 501c4 non-profit and is prohibited by law from assisting casinos. West also said he’s hearing from people who say “they feel like businesses are going to Jackson County more than are coming to Josephine County and that maybe our county’s bein’ passed by and Jackson County’s gittin’ the businesses. So you know, I have to answer to um, what’s going on there?”
Padilla explained that SOREDI doesn’t direct any business to a specific community. It’s up to the business to select the best place for them in the region. She also pointed out that 17 percent of the workforce in Josephine County commutes to Jackson County while 5.5 percent of the workforce in Jackson County drives to Josephine County to work. There are also about 100 employees who live in Siskiyou County in California who commute to Jackson County for employment, she said.
Baertschiger said the Board’s problem is they have to prioritize spending right now because “our citizens say they don’t like taxes,” so they are prioritizing the Sheriff, “given the fact that after what we just seen happen with marijuana and this madman running around that puts the spotlight on how important public safety is. If it’s not safe we’re not gonna have tourism. Mexico is a good example of that. I want everyone to know we are prioritizing the sheriff’s office.”
DeYoung said he’s not going to invite any business to move to Josephine County if it isn’t safe so they are looking at cutting everything, from dues, travel expenses, subscriptions, remodeling, everything they can put back in the general fund to use for law enforcement.
Padilla said she understood and SOREDI will still maintain contacts in Josephine County if the Board decides, in spite of being one of the founding members of the organization, to stop funding it while working through a tough financial situation.
Also making a presentation was the Rogue Valley Council of Government (RVCOG) https://rvcog.org/ which oversees a variety of services from meals for senior citizens to a wildfire alert system. Like SOREDI it gets funding from municipalities and sponsors. Commissioners, realizing the importance of senior services in Josephine County, didn’t have much to say except “thank you for your lengthy presentation.”
During Public Comments addressing SOREDI, Lovelace warned the Board not to be shortsighted because so much grant funding comes through organizations like SOREDI. Partnerships are really important, she said, for many organizations. Addressing concerns about Josephine getting passed over for Jackson County, “We are not an island,” she said because the concept of “one Rogue Valley” is important for economic development as well as “combating what is up north” with combined power. “Think about long-term investment,” she said. Fahey said he realizes the Board has a “rough job” but asked Commissioners to be cautious when thinking about cutting off important agencies “that have silent constituencies.”
“As you make deliberations, which I do not envy, it’s tough, think about the people who aren’t in front of you and how they are affected,” said Fahey.
Other comments were from a member of Partners Assisting the Homeless (PATH) reminding Commissioners PATH is a grassroots task force that is not political and that Baertschiger’s contention that the homeless don’t want help is contrary to what they are finding out. Two speakers asked Commissioners to keep the airport funded. One refuted Baertschiger’s claim the Grants Pass Airport was just for hobbyists. He said it is very important during fire season and for medical flights.
Mark Jones said community safety also includes fire and ambulances, while Bill Hunker chided the Commission for saying it will be up to a citizens group now to provide a funding source for the sheriff. He contends the jail/juvenile levy has “hobbled” the sheriff’s department. “It’s time for courageous leadership from our elected officials. Do not expect citizen groups to salvage what the sheriff and Commissioners are unable to manage. Citizens don’t fund what they don’t trust,” said Hunker.
A woman took to the podium to complain because of an illegal culvert her property on Lower River Road gets flooded. The last speaker was Rebecca Anderson, a county resident who owns property in the city.
“I would really like to see better cooperation between the county and the city. I live in the county. I own property in the city (an AirB&B). I’m on the tourism board. I see the people (tourists) who come here and get to know them. Sometimes they stay overnight, sometimes for a couple of days. Our bookings are within a 300 mile range. They come here to go to Crater Lake, the Coast, the rivers, the wineries. One thing I’ll tell you is, being conscious of expenses is important and creating new income streams is important.” One new income stream would be Dollar Mountain, which could become part of a mountain bike adventure, said Anderson, who urged the Commission to help with that development. The Commission has been reluctant to part with a piece of property needed by the City of Grants Pass to complete a trail on Dollar Mountain.
Other than DeYoung’s rant about how bicycle tourists don’t spend money here and how the county got cheated out of a lodging tax by the City of Grants Pass the rest of the Commissioner responses were cut off at the end of the long meeting.
Grants Pass Emergency Warming Center
… is open and needs volunteers. We have the Center… now let’s make sure we have the volunteers to actually keep it open. See the email and phone below to help!