JOSEPHINE COUNTY, OREGON
November 27, 2007
Introduction: Hello everyone. This month I am going to change the format of this Report. There are two reasons for doing so.
First, I originally underestimated the amount of time required each month to wade through all of the official minutes and condense them down to what you have been reading. Unfortunately I cannot continue to commit the amount of time I have up until now.
Second, since I started writing this report the way the Board of Commissioners keeps their official minutes has changed. Instead of having a staff member attend each meeting and writing down what is said, I have started the practice of audio recording each meeting. Both of my fellow commissioners were initially opposed to this change, for reasons of their own, but Commissioner Ellis finally saw the wisdom of the switch and Commissioner Toler soon followed suit.
Now, the only written documents from these meetings are the advance Agendas, any offered Exhibits and a Tracking page for motions and actions.
The next step is to start posting these audio records on the County’s website under the Board of Commissioners page. Please watch for this new service to come online soon.
The benefits of this change are many. It frees up staff time for other work. Manually taking minutes is very time consuming. It allows interested persons to hear what is actually said in these meetings, bringing true accountability for what is said and done in the name of public service. It lifts the veil of mystery surrounding government actions. It also means that I will no longer need to include the same depth of information in the “Facts” section of this Report.
The “Facts” section will continue to offer the “Weekly Business Session Actions” as previously provided, but the only other information I will include are the Motions and Votes of the Board of Commissioners.
For this month only, I have not had the office time to prepare the “Facts” section for October’s official actions. I will combine the October and November action items in next months Report.
Disclaimer: “The ‘Facts’ presented in this Report are based upon the official records of the Public Meetings attended by two or more Commissioners where decisions were made or official action was taken. The words in the “Introduction” and “Commentary” sections of this Report are my own and do not reflect the views or opinions of my fellow commissioners.”
Business Session Actions
Many things have happened since my last Report, some of which I’ve explained above. But there are other very important issues being decided by the Board of Commissioners right now that are going to impact how Josephine County’s government will be conducted in the future.
Recently, the Chief Operating Officer for Josephine County resigned. Commissioners Toler and Ellis have already decided to use this situation to reclassify the position of Chief Operating Officer into a Chief Administrative Officer position. In this situation, the job title name change is very important. Here’s why:
1) Currently, both the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Operating Officer report directly to the Board of Commissioners. This change in job title will have the Chief Financial Officer reporting to the Chief Administrative Officer. The real and potential impacts of Commissioners not having direct oversight of the Chief Financial Officer are significant:
2) This job title change also reflects the clearly stated intent of Commissioners Toler and Ellis to replace the current system of county government (the existing County Charter), with a new one. Commissioner Ellis bristles when this subject comes up, but the fact remains that both Toler and Ellis are on record as wanting our county to be managed by a County Manager form of government, similar to what is currently in place in the City of Grants Pass. In my opinion, this job title change is their first move in turning their desire into a reality. It is clear to me, from the various discussions which I have been included in, the intent of this job title change is to take active management responsibility away from the current Board of Commissioners and place it in the defined (and expected) job responsibilities of the Chief Administrative Officer.
3) When the Board of Commissioners created the Chief Operating Officer position last year, we tread very close to the letter of the law regarding the existing County Charter prohibition of delegating the Board of Commissioners authority to a new, appointed management position without a vote of the People. I believe we went as far as we could at that time without violating the County Charter, and this new change by Commissioners Toler and Ellis will cross that fine line and violate the existing County Charter and I have told them this several times. County Legal Counsel Steve Rich has said it will not, but what the issue comes down to is this, “Does this job title change violate either the letter or the spirit of the current County Charter?” It may violate the letter, but it will violate the spirit of the Charter. That alone is enough for me to oppose this action.
4) One important point to remember in this discussion is that there are “elements” in our County who are pushing very hard for these and similar changes, behind the scenes. Five years ago there was an effort by these same people to actually change our County Charter (along the lines that Commissioners Toler and Ellis have moved towards) and voters soundly defeated that effort by a 2 to 1 majority. Commissioner Ellis was an active participant in the earlier effort, along with local activists Harry Mackin and Jerry Smith. If my memory serves me, County Legal Counsel Steve Rich was also involved as I too was asked to participate and attended one meeting also attended by Steve Rich. I remember someone at that meeting telling me Steve actually helped write the proposed new Charter. I thought the direction they wanted to go was a bad idea then, and still do.
5) Appointed County Manager (as CEO) forms of government are much less accountable to voters than elected Commissioners (who are actually the County CEO’s) would be.
6) To further establish that the intent behind this reclassification decision is to move towards a County Manager form of government is that Commissioners Toler and Ellis have already acknowledged that the education and experience requirements of the new Chief Administrative Officer position will need to be raised, which will also require a higher pay classification (the current Chief Operating Officer position is topped out at $96,000 per year).
7) If the intent behind this reclassification is just to have the Chief Financial Officer report to the Chief Administrative Officer, this is a not a typical business structure in corporate America. Typically, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Operating Officers are of equal stature in the management hierarchy of an organization, their focus is just different (one financial, one operations). Both positions typically report to a Chief Executive Officer, in the case of the County, the Board of Commissioners.
8) By creating this new position of Chief Administrative Officer, Commissioners Toler and Ellis will be distancing the Board of Commissioners from the Chief Financial Officer during a period of extreme financial difficulty. Not a good idea.
My alternative for the County’s near term administrative future would have the Board of Commissioners stepping forward and temporarily filling the operations management role vacated by the Chief Operating Officers departure. By law, Commissioners are the Chief Executive Officers of the County and in view of the financial difficulties facing the county today, there is no reason why the Commissioners should not relieve the burden on the General Fund and actually begin to do the job that I and most people think we should be doing anyway. The near $200,000 saved annually could put two more deputy Sheriffs on the road each year. After we know for sure about our federal funding issues, we can then decide if we want to keep this highly paid management position or not. If my fellow commissioners feel strong enough about changing county government to the County Manager form, then they should put that matter to the voters and let People decide what type of government they want.
Regarding another matter of high importance, I want discuss why the dynamics within the Office of the Board of Commissioners have changed since the arrival of Commissioner Toler. A recent article in the Daily Courier newspaper quoted me as saying that Commissioner Toler and I agree on “virtually nothing”. That reality has become increasingly clear as his months of service have moved forward.
The most glaring differences are these:
First, I believe in limited government and minimal taxation. Dave Toler has repeatedly shown he believes in bigger government and higher taxation.
Second, I believe our abundant, renewable natural resources, growing on our O&C forest resource lands, should be harvested at what the scientists at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) say are sustainable levels and that County revenues from those sales should be used to keep property taxes and fees at a minimum. Dave Toler, again by virtue of his actions, has shown that he is opposed to the use of this renewable natural resource in any meaningful manner.
Third, I believe in saving money. That means you have to be very selective in how you spend it in a situation where revenues are limited. Dave Toler says he is a fiscal conservative, but in my opinion his actions as commissioner have been anything but fiscally conservative. A check of the official record will prove me correct. For example, check the number of personnel actions signed by my fellow commissioners and opposed by me. I believe we must cut back to sustainable employee levels now. Personnel costs are the single largest cost of government and if we don’t control personnel costs we cannot control the cost of government at all.
Fourth, Dave and I have disagreed on the very simple concept of what type of government we actually have today in the United States of America. He call’s our Country a Democracy. I say we are a Republic. The distinction here is very, very important. I like to use the following analogy to describe the difference between these two political philosophies:
Dave Toler said, on the record in a Board Discussion meeting after last May‘s levy failed, that he is not interested in convincing everyone in this County to support a tax increase, he only needs fifty percent plus one vote to get what he wants.
These types of disagreements between commissioners are not new in Josephine County, but today’s disagreement comes at a time of decision regarding two challenges offering distinctly different pathways for the security of our County’s administrative and financial future.
If the current path for the County’s future administration, supported by Commissioners Toler and Ellis, is realized in full, the face of County government will be changed, perhaps forever, because once this path is walked and not challenged by the People, it will become the new norm.
If the path currently supported by Commissioner Toler (non-utilization of our natural resources and higher taxes) prevails, the window of opportunity to protect our very real financial interests in the O&C Lands will evaporate before our eyes and will truly be gone forever as well.
Those are the stakes at hand. That is why there is such a dramatically different point of view and effort by your current Board of Commissioners. That is why, even as the minority view member of the Board, I have no choice but to speak up. If you care about what happens, regardless of your point of view, the time to speak-up is now. If you don’t, you very well could find yourself negatively impacted in the near future. Please get involved.
Thank you once again for taking the time to read this Report.
© 2007 Jim Raffenburg - All Rights Reserved
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Commissioner Jim Raffenburg is serving in his first term as Josephine County Commissioner (Oregon). He was elected in November, 2004. He is married and lives with his wife in the North Valley area. Jim served eight years as either Chair or Vice-Chair of the Josephine County Rural Planning Commission and served two years as a Josephine County reserve Deputy Sheriff. He is a trained, Court mediator. Previous work experience is in both the private and public sectors. He has worked in heavy, commercial construction and construction management most of his life, including serving as Construction Administrator for NASA.
By law, Commissioners are the Chief Executive Officers of the County and in view of the financial difficulties facing the county today, there is no reason why the Commissioners should not relieve the burden on the General Fund and actually begin to do the job that I and most people think we should be doing anyway.