Saturday, November 18, 2023

Southern Oregon News: Jackson County Charter Update hits Milestone

The petition drive to update the Jackson County charter hits halfway point.

Denise Krause reports 5,513 signatures in hand  -- 51% of the 10,500 required to get the three initiatives onto the ballot in November, 2024. 

Denise Krause is the chief organizer and campaign manager of the Jackson County For All effort to update the Jackson County, Oregon charter. She reported the progress to an enthusiastic group of 100 supporters at a rally at a local winery Friday evening. The crowd included petition circulators and neighborhood team leaders who have been getting the three petitions in front of voters for two months.

The initiatives change terms that were in place in 1853, when Jackson County was formed in what was then the Oregon Territory, and which were maintained when the current charter took effect on January 8, 1979. A separate petition addresses each proposed change.

1. Change the position of Jackson County Commissioner from partisan to non-partisan. Presently, the commissioner position is the only local elected office that is partisan. The elected County Clerk, Assessor, District Attorney, Justice of the Peace, Sheriff, and Surveyor are all non-partisan, as are all city council members, mayors, and school board members.

My take: I was elected county commissioner in 1980, and served from 1981-85. There is nothing partisan about the issues facing county commissioners. Issues like county road budgets, staffing at the animal control shelter, and setback requirements for cannabis plants do not have a red/blue partisan relevance. Indeed, partisanship gets in the way of commissioners doing their jobs because it encourages commissioners to take partisan positions in non-county business. Partisanship is a distraction at best. More often, it is divisive mischief.

2. Increase the number of commissioners from three to five. The commissioners are intermediaries between county government and the citizens. It is a job of representation and communication, no longer one of hands-on management. Three commissioners may have provided access and representation in 1853 when county population was fewer than 4,000, and voters retained that number in 1979 when the county had a population of 124,000. Today the county how has about 225,000 people.  Time to keep up.

My take: Five commissioners would mean more and better communication with citizens. There are contentious issues, currently about the jail and how best to deal with homeless people camping in public places, that need to be addressed. Commissioners need to hear from citizens; citizens need to hear from commissioners.  

Moreover, there is a deep flaw in any three-person board. The Oregon Public Meetings law requires that whenever a majority of a governing body discusses anything related to county business, the meeting must be announced in advance, an agenda posted, and minutes taken. In a three-person governing body, every conversation is a "meeting." Commissioners cannot legally talk to one another if it involves county business. In the real world of co-workers standing beside each other, they can scarcely avoid breaking the law. The legal workaround is unsatisfactory. It requires that  communication between commissioners be done through the County Administrator -- who becomes a "translator" and go-between. That substantially empowers the Administrator and weakens the representation and oversight function of commissioners. A five-member board would allow better idea-sharing to take place. They could better supervise the Administrator.

3. Reduce the commissioners' salaries. Jackson County commissioners are the highest paid commissioners in Oregon and most of the nation. At over $143,000/year, they receive about $45,000 more than Oregon's Governor. They also get a full array of retirement and health benefits on top of their salaries. They have enjoyed wage creep. The proposal would spread out the current salary package for the three commissioners among the five, bringing their salaries down to the approximate level for other commissioners in counties the size of Jackson County. The net cost to taxpayers would be the same. 

My take: I brought up commissioner pay raises in my campaign in 1980 and urged a cut in salaries. (I refused part of my salary and directed it to local non-profits.) The issue is even more relevant today. There is no real check or push-back in setting the commissioners' pay. They control the purse-strings on themselves. Since they aren't regulating themselves, the public needs to step in. 

 Denise Krause told the rally that the ballot signatures were going well.

We are 263 signatures over [the halfway point] and just today we got another big stack to put in. First of all this is a pretty easy sell. If you are circulating you find that it is a very easy sell. People want to sign these petitions.

I agree. This is an easy sell. These proposals make sense to people I have spoken with. The complaint is that it should have been done earlier. 

There are three separate initiatives because Oregon law requires that initiatives be on single subjects. This is being handled by initiative, rather than the charter change being placed on the ballot by direction of the three commissioners, as it easily could be, because the three incumbent commissioners oppose the initiatives. This doesn't surprise me. They have a sweet deal.

I support the three initiatives. I have signed the three petitions. I have donated to the campaign. I served as auctioneer for the fundraising auction of desserts donated by supporters of the campaign and bought one of them -- beautifully decorated Christmas cookies. This is a grassroots effort, run entirely by volunteers on a shoestring. Jackson County For All has a useful and well-done website.

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Mike Steely said...

So, where can you go to sign them?

Anonymous said...

But what do the focus groups say? This is bound to become a partisan issue as it will be on the same ballot as a Biden vs. Trump rematch. Republican Commissioners will fight hard, whether overtly or through surrogates, to preserve their compensation packages.

Ed Cooper said...

All a signature on the Petitions does is move us toward a spot on the November 24 Ballot, to allow ALL the voters in Jackson County a chance to say Yes, or No to these changes, which will allow the approximately 37% of unaffiliated Voters in Jackson County a voice in Primary Elections as to whom we might want to see on the Ballot.

Ed Cooper said...

One thing concerning Commissioners Compensation-
The Ballot measure on Compensation will require that the Commissioners Compensation be indexed to the Average wages of Jackson County residents, so that when the residents do better, so will the Commissioners, and vice versa.

Ed Cooper said...

This link goes to a listing of available places to sign the Petitions.

This movement has been endorsed by previous County Commissioners from both Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle, including our host, Peter Sage, John Rachor and others. A complete listing can be found on the website.

Doe the unknown said...

There are important issues that are partisan as far as many residents of Jackson County are concerned. Ones that come to mind are the county's stance on COVID 19, relative to the governor's stance; and changing the name of Dead Indian Memorial Road, which we're not going to change. Our commissioners knew that these are litmus-test issues, and that the voters who put the commissioners in their positions expected the commissioners to "deliver" on those issues. Going back into the '80s, "I'm for timber and Jeff Golden" was a bumper sticker that liberals displayed. Josephine County's decades-long unwillingness to support robust law enforcement is partisan; it's a way to oppose government (opposing government is a litmus test) and also to communicate that if the liberals would just let the timber industry come back, everything will be all right. Are you reading the room?

Ed Cooper said...

37 % of Registered Voters in Jackson County are registered as Non Affiliated or some other designation other than Republican or Democrat, andxare thus denied any say in choosing who they might want to be on a Ballot for County Commissioner in a Primary Election. Every other elective Office in Jackson County is nonpartisan and it is long past time for the same to apply to the Board of Commissioner's.