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"COMMISSIONER REPORT"
JOSEPHINE COUNTY, OREGON
FEBRUARY 2008

 


By Commissioner, Jim Raffenburg

February 26, 2008

NewsWithViews.com

Introduction

Hello again everyone. The Board is now offering the audio recordings of the Board of Commissioner’s meetings online, in an MP3 format. I hope you take the time to listen.

The Josephine County website.

Commentary

I have been told it is not a good idea to get into an argument with someone who buys their ink in 55 gallon drums and their newsprint by the ton, but nonetheless, I find myself in that position.

Let me be very clear. I have the utmost respect for the “fourth estate,” the media. They have a responsibility to keep the public informed, especially about what government is doing. What I do have a problem with is the abuse of that responsibility, especially when I’m on the receiving end.

Although I have no beef that I know of with the owner or publisher of the local newspaper, I feel that abuse is manifested in the current management of their newsroom.

The evidence that the management of the local newsroom is involved in a deliberate smear campaign against me is now overwhelming.

In the 2004 election, the newspaper endorsed incumbent Commissioner Jim Brock. The smear campaign began when the newspaper published a “news article”, based upon a “complaint” by Mr. Brock’s supporters, which alleged I had lied about my professional background in my campaign literature.

The editor and government reporter knew the allegation wasn’t true because more than two months earlier, in July 2004, in a good faith effort, I brought all of the written proof supporting my background experience directly to the editor and government reporter of that newspaper. My intent was to show them that everything I said in my campaign literature and in the Voters Pamphlet was true. They acknowledged that fact to my campaign coordinator and me and thanked us for being so forthright with them.

Two months later, that same reporter, with the support of this same editor, printed a front page article they knew to be false, claiming I had lied about my background.

The Secretary of State’s Office investigated that claim and found it to be without merit. The newspaper printed that article on page 9, not page 1, effectively burying, or at least downplaying, that fact from most readers.

When our campaign requested a Guest Opinion to respond to these false allegations, our request was denied by the current editor of the newspaper.

We were forced to purchase ads in that same paper to protect my name and honor. It apparently was a nice way to increase their bottom line. Smear someone and then force them to pay to respond in their own defense.

I have long had no doubt they would try again. And now they have, even though they know I am soon going to leave public service. They have never controlled me, and I believe they want to make sure that no one like me ever enters elected public service again.

They endorsed Jim Brock and then knowingly used their power of the press to mislead the public by smearing his opponent (yours truly) in an attempt help “their man” win that election.

After I won the election in November 2004, things seemed to settle down. However, I find it interesting that over the course of the next three years, the newspaper’s approach to delivering the news seemed to change, depending who was serving as Chair of the Board of Commissioners.

When Jim Riddle and Dwight Ellis served as Chair, the newspaper honored the normal protocol that calls for the media to contact the Chair for information regarding county government.

When I became Chair in 2007, the same year that their “new man” Dave Toler took office, they deliberately ignored that protocol. I was virtually never contacted by the newspaper for comment on County issues. Check the back issues of the newspaper for yourself. What you will find is article after article quoting new Commissioner Dave Toler, not the Chair.

I raised this point with the government reporter several times, and she told me she was just doing what she was directed to do.

As far as the current editor is concerned, I was made into a non-person for the sake of delivering news to the people of Josephine County. This is the type of behavior I would expect in a third world totalitarian society, not in the United States of America. It is an affront to the very basis of the news media’s main claim to legitimacy: impartiality.

In the 2006 election, this newspaper endorsed Dave Toler. He is “their man.” They have “cared for” and “protected” him since he took the Oath of Office. They have never looked into any of the many allegations that he is in fact, not what he claims to be.

They have never asked for an explanation about his ties to radical social change organizations like the Social Justice Alliance or the Mackenzie River Gathering, from Eugene, Oregon, itself a radical organization for funding other such groups.

They allow him to continuously lie about his ties to the radical Environmentalist Industry organization “The Siskiyou Project,” where his name is listed in issue after issue of their publication “The Voice of the Wild Siskiyou.” The newspaper never questions Dave when he says “…he worked with the “Siskiyou Field Institute” not the “The Siskiyou Project.” He claims that, “Unfortunately, people get the organizations confused because of the name similarity.”

Two points:

First point, why doesn’t the newspaper ask Dave to explain his published role as a valued member of the volunteer staff at the “The Siskiyou Project” over the past eight or so years if he has in fact never worked with them?

Second point, maybe the People would like to know that, in fact the “The Siskiyou Project” created the “Siskiyou Field Institute” and later separated the two groups for reasons of their own. Dave would know because he was working with the “The Siskiyou Project” while the “Siskiyou Field Institute” was still part of it.

Running a “news” article they know to be false, like the local newspaper did in 2004, was a deliberate action, an act of commission. But there is another way to manipulate the news, to try to control what average people believe. That other way is to commit an act of omission, by withholding information from the public.

Failing to tell the People the truth about “their man” Toler is a clear example of the manipulation of the truth by way of omission.

The following is another example of what they have not told you about the latest attempt to smear me and make “their man” look good in the process.

Regarding my trip to Washington, D.C., and the controversy over my authority to make the applicable travel plans, County Policy D-6, was rewritten last year and subsequently approved on February 7, 2007 by Commissioners Toler and Ellis. This County Policy clearly states that an Elected Official can approve out of state travel. I chaired the county team that rewrote this policy and supported the first draft that said only the Board of Commissioners could approve out of state travel.

However, other elected officials became very angry over this draft wording and demanded it be changed to allow elected officials to approve their own out of state travel plans, saying each elected official has a right to do so. After my initial objections, the Board (3-0) approved the new policy in its present form. There is no provision for the Board to approve any out of state travel, for any elected official.

Last year’s trip to Washington, D.C. was planned before this policy change took effect, that is why I asked for Board permission last year. I did not need to ask permission this year, because both Ellis and Toler signed the document giving each of us the authority to approve out of state travel. If they did not like that idea, why did they sign the new policy order?

This is not a County Charter issue, as Toler wants to frame it. It is a County Policy issue and Toler signed off on that Policy.

Commissioner Toler absolutely knew this to be true when he decided to make this year’s trip a political issue during the County Administration meetings on February 12th and 15th. He now says that I am not an elected official, that only the Board, “collectively” is an elected official.

But you have not read any of the above in the local newspaper. You have only been given excerpts of what Toler has said. Why is that?

Is it because a new campaign season is underway, and they want to make sure my integrity is challenged once again in their newspaper, through omission this time? At the same time, are they trying to support “their man” Mr. Toler, whom they endorsed in the 2006 campaign?

Regarding my memo for receiving back wages:

In the County Administration meeting on February 15, 2008 Dave Toler and Dwight Ellis voted to deny me County funds to pay for the Washington, D.C. trip. In the same meeting, as the record clearly shows, they were both prepared to approve new pay raises of between 15 and 30 percent for more than ten percent of the entire county workforce. Total cost for these raises is nearly one-quarter of a million dollars annually.

When I pointed out the actual number of raises and the true costs, which had not been clearly presented to the Board by staff, Dwight decided to vote no with me, but Toler voted against my motion to deny those raises.

Neither Dave or Dwight asked any pointed questions of staff. Dave calls that “micro-managing” county government. He believes paid staff knows best, and the record will show he goes along with those recommendations the vast majority of the time. Had I not been there, those raises would have been approved.

Did you read that in the newspaper? Of course not. Listen to the audio recording if you want to hear it for yourself.

This meeting drove a very sad point home with me. Once I leave Office on December 31st, there will be no more tough questions asked of staff. This county will return to the ways of the past. Unfortunately, I cannot trust my fellow Commissioner’s judgment regarding the future expenditure of public funds.

When I said on KAJO radio on February 19th that I would pay for the Washington, D.C. trip from my own wages, I will, one way or the other. I had decided to receive the ten percent of my wages held in the County Treasury from the pay I earned between January 2005 and June 2007.

I wanted to make sure this money was spent to the benefit of the People of Josephine County. I can think of no higher or better use for this money than to use it to protect our Rights to either timber harvest revenue receipts or to seek reauthorization of the Safety-Net money in lieu of those timber harvest receipts.

Before I went on KAJO that morning, I gave Chief Financial Officer Rosemary Padgett a memo telling her that I wanted to be paid the ten percent of my wages that had been held in the County Treasury since I took office in 2005. I planned to use these funds for the specific purpose of paying for the Washington, D.C. trip.

Here are the facts behind my claim to receive my back wages.

In January 2005, I was verbally told by Human Resource Officer Kent Granat that under Oregon Law I could not cut my pay as I had promised in my campaign. That left me with a moral dilemma.

What I worked out with Kent Granat was to “hold ten percent of my wages in the County Treasury.” This was the only way possible for me to keep my campaign promise. My intention was to let the money build up and take a lump sum payout when I left office.

I would then donate that money either back to county government or to local organizations such as those that benefit our youth or the elderly.

I have never planned to, nor will I ever, use this money for personal benefit.

The following is an important twist to all of this.

While I was in Salem at the O&C Board of Directors Meeting on February 21st, CFO Padgett told Commissioners Ellis and Toler about my request for a payout of my back wages during an Executive Session meeting with County Legal Counsel.

Under Oregon law, all information discussed in an Executive Session is privileged information and it cannot be discussed outside of that session. Decisions also cannot be made in Executive Sessions, yet Ellis and Toler decided to direct CFO Padgett not to honor my request.

What is more disturbing yet, the next morning, the government news reporter with the local newspaper, who Toler knew before he took office and before she went to work for the newspaper, asked the Commissioners Office for a copy of the memo from me to CFO Padgett. As it was not a public document yet, a copy was not provided.

How did she even know about it?

The day after that, on February 23rd, another thinly veiled “smear” article appeared in the newspaper, quoting from that memo and alleging, among other things, that I “never intended to give the county the money” by taking a pay cut. Once again, the words commission and omission come to mind.

The article mentioned that I did not respond to a telephone call or email the day before the article was published. Would not a reasonable reporter want to get a comment from the subject of this type of article if they truly wanted to be impartial?

Had the newspaper reporter asked, she would have been informed that I was out of the office on Friday. What was the hurry here? Was this such “breaking news” that the article could not have waited until the next week to run?

Or did the fact that I decided to pay my own way to Washington, D.C. make “their man” look bad?

Clearly, this article is a combination of a “smear” on me and an exercise in “damage control” to protect their investment in “their man” Toler.

The question has nothing to do with the media’s right to know something. I don’t really care that they know about it as I had already begun to write this Report to clarify why I asked for the back wages.

What I do care about is the fact that someone in that Executive Session meeting told the press about my request.

Someone violated the law by disclosing privileged information to the press, this time in a clearly collaborative attempt to mislead the public and smear my name.

I have since found out that Dave Toler would not deny that he leaked this privileged information to the newspaper when he was asked about it by county staff, claiming instead that it should never been an Executive Session item in the first place.

However, once an issue becomes privileged, it is completely irrelevant whether it should have been included in Executive Session or not. The Board could have put this matter on the Agenda for future discussion. That is the only lawful way to openly discuss an issue protected by Executive Session privilege. The point is, the Board has not done so before the leak occurred.

Dave Toler, on his own initiative went to the press, without the approval of the Board.

Is there a double standard at work here?

This really goes right to the heart of the matter, showing that Dave believes himself to be above the Law and is willing to abuse his authority and his Oath of Office to protect the Public Trust, for his own personal political gain. Unfortunately, the local newspaper’s management is apparently a willing partner in this effort.

Why go to all of this effort just to stop me from going on this trip?

Based upon my personal experience working with Dave Toler this past year, there is no doubt in my mind that he does not what me to go on this trip because he is afraid I will be successful.

I believe he is committed to changing the political landscape of this county. His role as a Organizer for the very radical Social Justice Alliance organization offers absolute proof of their “social change agenda,” to anyone who cares to research the goals of this organization and the other funding organizations that support it.

He is “on record” as being opposed to the continuance of the federal safety-net money. Refer to his 2006 guest opinion in the local newspaper where he says so, calling the safety-net payments “a dole,” or welfare.

What’s more, he has stated in many meetings that it is “the hope of getting this Safety-Net money” that keeps people from voting to approve new, higher taxes. I believe he is intent on removing that hope.

Not getting the money is one thing, but using your position of Public Trust as an elected official to influence events to make sure we don’t get it is beyond the comprehension of this humble public servant.

It is a breech of trust of the highest order.

He is also on the record as being opposed to the commercially viable harvesting of timber on the O&C Lands. The facts are, 1.2 billion board feet on new timber growth could be harvested every year, with no annual loss in the amount of standing timber, because that is how much new timber grows each year.

The new BLM plan calls for cutting only 700 million board feet each year, leaving 500 million board feet of new timber growth standing. But Toler only talks vaguely about maybe cutting 300 million board feet per year. Toler opposes this plan.

If 700 million board feet were cut each year, there would be no need to cut services or raise taxes. If the full amount were cut each year, the County would be able to save money and provide quality services, including 7-day Library services, full Sheriff services, better animal control and public health services as well as improved roads.

Unfortunately, Toler believes new taxes on homes should pay for all of these services instead of timber harvest or Safety-Net revenues.

I believe Toler is afraid that if I go on this trip I might be instrumental, like I was last year, in getting another one, or more, year extension of the Safety-Net money and that would interfere with his quest to raise taxes.

I think he is also afraid I will again help to stop an attempt by the Environmentalist Industry to change the official policy of the National Association of Counties (NACo), which now supports commercially viable timber harvesting on federal lands. I am honored to have a voting seat on NACo’s Public Lands Steering Committee, which sets that national policy of support for harvesting timber.

I may or may not be successful again this year. But as Columbia County Commissioner Hyde has repeatedly said, “You are either sitting at the table, or you are on the menu.”

I want to make one point very clear. I was strongly encouraged to go on this trip by the leadership of the Association of Oregon Counties, the Board of Directors of the Association of O&C Counties and by many of my fellow Commissioners around this State. They all understand the importance of this trip, because they know that there is nothing more powerful than local leaders explaining to our national leaders what the implications are regarding their decisions. This trip at least assures us of a seat at the table. If we do not try to save future timber harvests revenues or try to get another extension of the Safety-Net money, we place ourselves “on the menu.”

If I am wrong about Toler’s motives, why has he fought so hard to stop me from going, when a $3,000 investment could have brought us a $12 to $15 million return?

Now, let me now explain why I have decided not to seek re-election.

From what you have read thus far, you probably have a good sense of why I am not seeking a second term.

For the past three years, I have bucked an entrenched bureaucracy inside the county government organization that is utterly opposed to real cost cutting and organizational change. Unsuspected until recently, I have apparently also “bucked” another community cabal of influential people who do not support my belief in low taxes and the resulting minimal governmental control over people’s lives.

I expected the resistance in the county organization. I am saddened by this new realization that there is another, unseen set of manipulators, working behind the veils of any public scrutiny, that is clearly willing to go to any lengths to protect their unseen control over this community. They are willing to destroy the reputation of anyone who gets in their way. And I am in their way.

This is not “my America.” This is something much, much darker.

It is very clear to me now that I will not have a second Board vote in any second term and thus have no chance of continuing the successes of my early first term. It simply will not be allowed.

I see no hope for this situation improving. Thus, my personal sense of integrity requires me to disassociate myself from the clear intentions of my fellow Commissioners to promote property tax increases without seriously supporting future timber harvest or renewed Safety-Net revenues and at least implementing real cost controls.

Over the next few years, whether I am in office or not, as long as Dave and Dwight are Commissioners, the People of Josephine County will be bombarded with new Taxing District Measures and new life-controlling Ordinances. Voters will never be allowed to “just say no” to higher taxes because, instead of county government attempting to live within our means, services will just be shut down, eventually leading to civil unrest.

Maybe that is part of the plan?

I want none of it.

Below is a list of what I know the bureaucracy has planned over the next few years.

1) This year, Toler and Ellis will vote to put two new Public Safety Districts on the ballot, with permanent new tax rates exceeding $3.00 per thousand dollars in assessed property value. (As a reference point, last years Temporary Public Safety Levy had a tax rate of $2.49.)

2) This year, Toler and Ellis will put a new Fire District on the ballot, but they will duck the political landmine of setting a tax rate, leaving that to the new governing body created by the passage of that district by voters. That new governing body would then begin putting taxing issues on the ballot to establish the new taxes needed to create yet another layer of public employees, creating a brand new bureaucracy. The only figure I have heard discussed so far is around $4.00 per thousand dollars in assessed property value. But then, that’s just to get started.

3) Next year, Toler and Ellis will appoint a County Charter Review Committee. You will be told it is needed and impartial. But when they tried to do this last summer, they were talking about appointing Harry Mackin and Jerry Smith to this Charter Review Committee. Jerry has since told me he wouldn’t serve on it, but the point remains that these two men, along with Dwight Ellis and others, were behind the failed Charter Change Measure defeated by voters by a 2-to-1 margin in 2002.

This effort will be sold to voters as being needed to “clean-up” the existing County Charter. However, that could be done by simply annotating the current Charter to clarify what has been struck down by the Courts.

The real purpose is very clear: Change the County Charter to establish a County Manager form of government, replacing accountable elected management with appointed, unaccountable (to the People) management.

4) Next year, there will be new County Code Enforcement Ordinances passed by the Board, which will create a new enforcement program to make sure no one in the county is violating any county development, building or other new code. The way it works in other places is, that code enforcers go out into the community looking for violations. They then cite the offending property owner into court or levy a “voluntary” fine that can be paid without going to court. The fine revenue would be used to pay for the code enforcers salary. If the salary needs to go up, well, you get the drift.

5) Next year or the year after, if Treasurer John Harelson is re-elected, he will bring back the “Waste and Abandonment” Ordinance that was passed at the first reading by Commissioners Ellis and Riddle in 2005. It was never passed into law because I held a Press Conference to bring this outrage to the attention of the community, and the Anne Basker Auditorium was full of angry citizens at the second Hearing. Riddle and Ellis reversed their earlier vote of approval in the face of this public outrage and the “Waste and Abandonment Ordinance” did not become law.

This ordinance would have reduced the time a person has to pay the back taxes and fees on their property after it had been foreclosed on by the County, shortening the time from two years under State Statute to just 30 days in Josephine County. John has already told the Board that he has rewritten the ordinance and wants to bring to the Board again for consideration.

This is particularly frightening when you consider all the new property taxes and taxing districts being talked about and planned for with such gusto inside the Courthouse and the fact that our economy is slipping into a recession. How many people would lose their homes once taxes go up, wages go down and there is no time to make things right with the County Tax Collector?

6) Within two years, if either Harry Mackin or former Commissioner Frank Iverson replace me on the Board, you will see a new Library District or Levy on the ballot. Dave Toler, like both of these men, wants to reopen the Library System at any cost.

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Everyone I mentioned above will feign ignorance if questioned about these issues, but the facts still remain as I’ve expressed them.

It is my hope that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The best outcome would be for my fellow Commissioners to prove me wrong on all of these points, as well as others like them. Let us all hope that they do.

Conclusion.

By the end of my term on December 31st, I will have worked for this County for 13 years, 9 of them without pay. I have put my life on the line multiple times as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff, presided over countless Land Use Hearings as a Planning Commissioner, helped many people resolve their lawsuits as a Court Mediator and helped the People of this County save five million dollars as your Commissioner. I have done everything that I can.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this Report.

Jim Raffenburg

© 2008 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.

E-Mail: jraffenburg@co.josephine.or.us

Web site:
www.co.josephine.or.us, then click on the County Commissioners, then Jim Raffenburg


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The real purpose is very clear: Change the County Charter to establish a County Manager form of government, replacing accountable elected management with appointed, unaccountable (to the People) management.