WEEK OF JUNE 7 – 11, 2021
An unavoidable levy, a reluctant forking over of $30,000, admission by conservative commissioners that health decisions should be personal, a drought dilemma, a new position in the public health department and a rift over a big gift were on the Josephine County Commissioners’ agenda this week.
During Tuesday’s Legal Counsel Update, Sheriff Dave Daniel appeared to discuss the jail and juvenile justice levy that has helped keep his department operational for the last five years. If it isn’t renewed in November, the Sheriff’s Department, already facing budget deficits, will be back to the barely functional law enforcement entity everyone complained about prior to May 2017. Since then, the phenomenal growth of illegal marijuana/hemp growth has increased the need for more staffing, but some of that could be assisted by a bill put on priority pass in the state legislature. HP 3000 could help Daniel investigate and raid illegal pot/hemp grows, but he still needs the levy to keep law enforcement at the level those in rural areas have come to expect.
The sheriff asked the Commission to start the process to get the levy on the ballot for November with “no increases, no verbal changes, just the same as it was last time.” Commissioners agreed and directed County Counsel Wally Hicks to start the process. Hicks had advised Commissioners to start now because there are deadlines involved in getting matters on the November ballot. Commissioner Darin Fowler said the Animal Control levy will also be on the November ballot and that Board will be asking for an increase of around 10 cents. They really need 12 cents, but don’t think they can ask for that as it means a 50 percent increase from their current levy, he said.
Doug Bradley, manager of the Holiday Inn Express appeared during Wednesday’s Weekly Business Session to ask Commissioners to fork over $30,000 to help with the reorganization of the tourist bureau. Bradley, who is chair of just about every committee on tourism in the county, said the City of Grants Pass has contributed $50,000 to a concentrated effort to promote Grants Pass and Josephine County by hiring an Executive Director to run a marketing effort. He asked Commissioners to contribute $30,000 to the effort. Bradley said tourism is a major economic driver and studies show a good Executive Director can double or triple tourist dollars in an area. Bradley pointed to Bend, Oregon as an example of a community that has become a tourist mecca through good promotion.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung promptly announced “We don’t like Bend. We don’t like the way they vote. We don’t want to be like Bend.”
Then DeYoung asked Bradley if they would find an Executive Director who would support the community in its fight against the governor’s COVID restrictions. “The wrong person could do more damage to Josephine County and our way of life here by inviting…..we’re up to our ears here in growers… it’s a concern.”
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said he was concerned about using taxpayer dollars for free advertising for hotel chains. Bradley said businesses aren’t getting a “free ride” as they contribute to the effort as well. DeYoung and Baertschiger were also concerned that the county wouldn’t get anything back for the $30,000 contribution since most of the hotels, motels, and businesses are in the city. “We’re taking our taxpayer dollars and giving them to your organization but the county gets nothing in return,” said DeYoung. He continued in that vein, ranting for several minutes, until Bradley said he didn’t come to argue, just to explain why promotion is important. Fowler, in favor of the new focus on tourism marketing, teamed up with Bradley to work on DeYoung until he finally consented to vote for the $30,000 allocation. Baertschiger, who had distracted himself during DeYoung’s rant, voted no.
The usual anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists from Illinois Valley called in during public comment time. They warned the Commission to put all their COVID rescue money into an account to defend the county against all the lawsuits that will appear as people start to drop dead from the COVID vaccines. Fowler praised the callers, saying they were doing a good job getting people to start asking questions about what the governor is doing regarding vaccine promotion. “I remember when health care decisions used to be private between you and your doctor and God, and now they’re saying we can’t go to events without being vaccinated, we have lotteries for people who get vaccinated. The California governor was on TV the other night looking like a game show host. It amazes me the lengths they go for something that doesn’t have a track record yet. They need to leave us alone, respect people’s freedom. We already have it in our County Charter that you can’t force parents to vaccinate their children.” Baertschiger, not to be outdone, cited an article he read about vaccine deaths not being counted and agreed with Fowler that getting vaccinated is “a decision between you and your health provider and nobody else.” DeYoung compared the vaccination effort to the book 1984 which he said he read in order to graduate from high school. “People should read Atlas Shrugged ”as well,” he added. (Note: “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand is dystopian fiction written in 1957 in favor of capitalism, often cited by conservatives. It is 1,168 pages long. It’s not required reading in high school).
Oregon Water Resources Department Regional Manager Jake Johnstone told Commissioners Josephine County isn’t in a very good spot right now. He said soil moisture is very poor and stream flows are just 66 percent of normal. It was a warm winter so there is no snowpack recharging our rivers and creeks this year. Johnstone predicted a rough year for firefighters and irrigators. Baertschiger asked what percentage of the low water was because of people taking it illegally. Johnstone said it’s too hard to estimate the impact from water stealing, but his stream gauges are set in streams above where farmers take water. Baertschiger then asked what the impact municipalities have on water levels when they sell water from their sources to water truck companies. Johnstone said that’s been minimal as it’s estimated they use less than 1 percent of their water source for that. He added that water truck companies have been very cooperative with
water managers who make sure they have proper permits and are keeping track of what they use.
DeYoung asked Johnstone if the Pacific Ocean went up a degree would we have more rain? He went on about how we have the same number of water molecules we had since the beginning but they’re shifting around because of changes in the ocean. “Something that used to happen stopped and we can’t say it’s global warming,” he said. Johnstone, looking perplexed, said he isn’t a weather specialist and referred DeYoung to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to find out about that theory. The dilemma the Commissioners revealed is that they have been inundated by “water complaints” and are reluctant to ask the governor to declare a drought emergency in Josephine County because that allows big vineyards and other large agricultural interests with permits to take water from streams to use well water if those streams go dry. Nearby property owners are concerned groundwater pumping could cause their wells to go dry. After another long DeYoung rant about the government, the Klamath water situation, and illegal marijuana grows, during which Baertschiger and Fowler distracted themselves, Commissioners agreed to continue the water discussion to next week so they can allow the public to comment.
During the weekly COVID update, Public Health Director Michael Weber said Josephine County is now in the “moderate” category, allowing restaurants to go from 25 percent capacity indoors to 50 percent capacity. DeYoung ranted about how some stores are still requiring masks while others aren’t and blamed OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Weber said at this point mask-wearing is “a conscious choice by the business owner. OSHA requirements are not tied to what our designation is but is expected to lower levels of enforcement as COVID recedes, Weber said. DeYoung challenged vaccine requirements and asked if the county gets credit for those who have immunity from having COVID as well as the number of vaccines people in the county have received. Not waiting for an answer, he went on and on about how Josephine will never get to 70 percent because people don’t trust the government. Weber asked, “is there a finer point on that question you want me to address?”
Baertschiger continued his “who do you trust” routine with Weber, saying he just read an article by Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier, who was awarded the distinction for his work with AIDS viruses in 2008. The article said Montagnier believes COVID vaccines could cause dangerous new mutants and vaccinated people will get more serious infections. Right-wing media exaggerated Montagnier’s words, claiming he said vaccinated people will be dead in two years, which he did not. Montagnier is known for controversial views and disturbing theories which has lowered his credibility in the community of scientists and virologists have already provided evidence Montagnier’s claims are baseless, according to several scientific articles including “Luc Montagnier’s Views on COVID Vaccines Are Latest Of His Wrong, Vexing Ideas – The Wire Science”.
Baertschiger, however, claimed Montagnier is a Nobel scientist of great credibility and asked Weber “what the heck should I believe.” Weber patiently explained to Baertschiger how scientists will put out a lot of theories, then each one gets examined until a consensus builds to reject some and embrace others. He said one of his on-site doctors has been keeping a “cheat sheet” of all the variants that exist to date and assured Baertschiger the COVID vaccines are still effective against all of them. Baertschiger replied to Weber’s careful explanation by declaring “I’m not a big consensus person.”
That conversation gave way to another DeYoung rant about his problem with how people are being “coerced” by lotteries, prizes beer, and pizza parties in high schools to get the public vaccinated. Fowler joined in complaining the “government” restrictions “were put on wheels and moved and I have a feeling the governor is going to say every county will have to get a 70 percent vaccination level to get off restrictions.” When they both finished their soliloquies, Weber moved on to other business and asked Commissioners to approve a pediatrics sexual assault review person to add to his staff. He said this would greatly help the gathering of evidence since he only has one person qualified to do that now and if she is gone children have to be transported to Medford. Commissioners granted his request to pursue adding another person if he can come up with funding for it.
Finance Officer Sandy Novak was the next person to have to listen to a DeYoung rant and she did it with patience and a poker face. She presented a one-page list of American Rescue Plan rules for using the $16.9 million the Plan allocated to Josephine County. DeYoung wanted to give county department heads money to use as they please but Novak said they couldn’t do that, according to the rules, which set DeYoung, not able to spend the money the way he wanted to, on a rant about the government once again. Fowler, who is the liaison to a committee set up to recommend how to allocate and spend the money, said the committee is in a state of confusion right now and some direction from the Commission might help them get a handle on listing priorities. When Novak tried to explain that the money can be for businesses hurt by COVID Fowler said, “they don’t want money they just want to be allowed to open.” When Novak said expenditures for things like hand sanitizer in the jail could be covered, Baertschiger joked “Yeah, like the Germans used back in the 40s” with DeYoung adding “at the beginning of the train ride.” After going on about airport projects and whether they qualified or not, RV spaces at Whitehorse Park and septic systems. Fowler interrupted DeYoung by saying “individual conversations with Sandy seems like a path forward.” They all agreed to learn more about the rules and continue the discussion next Tuesday.
Herman’s KMED discussion with radio host Bill Meyer on Tuesday centered around defending the free speech rights of the controversial middle-school educators in Grants Pass and defending Rep. Mike Nearman. This was before the legislature voted to expel Nearman for letting far-right demonstrators rampage through the capitol building, destroying property and injuring police. Baertschiger said Nearman should be allowed his day in court because this was a criminal investigation and this should have gone to the conduct committee instead of the bipartisan special committee that voted to throw him out. He predicted Nearman’s constituents would sue the state legislature for taking their representation away and accused Democrats of using the Nearman incident, just like Democrats are doing in Congress with Trump “to divide Republicans.” He said evidence of that is how Oregon Democrats treated Rep. Brad Witt.
“Ooooo ooooo, they took him off a committee. Ooooo ooooo ooooo” said Baertschiger on the radio. Witt was removed from his committees after being accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a colleague.