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HOME-RULE CHARTER CHANGE PROPONENTS MISLEADING PUBLIC
By John Tefteller
GRANTS PASS, OR -- The proposed dumping of our County Charter and replacing it with the newly drafted one and a new County Manager system of government, is the single most dangerous proposal I have seen in my 16 years living in Josephine County. I urge every voter to very carefully weigh this issue before voting and understand exactly what they are voting on before they cast their vote. The future of our County, how it is run and how much more we will ultimately have to pay in taxes, rides on each and every vote.
As many Josephine County voters may remember, I was quite involved in political activities here from the late 1980's until 1996. I ran for County Commissioner twice in the 1990's and was narrowly defeated each time. I walked away from direct political involvement in 1996 and have not spoken out publicly on any issue since. I want to say, from the outset, that I have absolutely no interest in running for public office again. I have moved on. I have doubled my sales in the business I've owned for the past thirty years and have recently started a second business, which is well on the way to becoming a big success as well. My time is extremely limited these days. I say all this because I want to make it clear from the outset that my views on the proposed New Charter/County Manager are based solely on my desire to maintain a good quality of life here in Josephine County and not in any way related to any political aspirations. I have none. Even though I have been quiet, I still care very much for our communtiy and the people who live here. I plan to spend the rest of my life here. My children are model citizens and very active in the community.
Much has been written and said in relation to this new Charter proposal and I will try not to be redundant in my analysis. I will address some of the arguments of the proponents and why I feel they are wrong. This particular issue has divided people of all political persuasions. Interestingly, it has crossed the normal "us versus them" divide which exists in our county and placed some people with very opposite political views on the same team. I look over those in favor of dumping our current charter and count among them some people who supported my past runs for office and past political efforts and some very obvious examples of those who did not. I look at those who have come out publicly and opposed the New Charter/County Manager proposal and I find some friends there as well as some very strange bedfellows.
If you are concerned about government in Josephine County, how it is run and how much in taxes you have to pay to keep it running, then you better pay close attention to the proposed Charter change. Our current Charter, which has been around since the 1970's, has been used (and sometimes abused) by those who wish to affect our lives. Our Charter tells us what form of government we will have in our county, how it will be administered and limits the power of that government. I have always likened it to the U.S. Constitution as it does for Josephine County, in many ways, what the U.S. Constitution does for the country as a whole. Our local Charter cannot be in conflict with the U.S. Constitution, but it certainly can provide additional protections and rules to live by that were not covered by Thomas Jefferson, etc., back in the 1700's. As an example, nothing in the U.S. Constitution addresses whether or not fees in our county can be levied on our county residents with or without a vote of those to be taxed. Our local County Charter/Constitution as it stands now, does in fact make it mandatory that any proposed new fees (taxes) or increase in existing fees (taxes) must be approved by the voters before they can be levied on the residents of Josephine County. The newly proposed Charter/County Manager system would remove the protection on raising fees without a vote and fees could (and will) be raised by leaps and bounds should this proposal pass. Actually, our current County Charter form of Government and the way our local government operates here is very similar to the form and operation of our government in Washington. We have less checks and balances here, but we still have some. If the old Charter is voted out and the new Charter voted in, we will have almost no checks and balances. One man, the newly appointed County Manager, will make the decisions. The so-called "part time advisory board of commissioners" will have some limited input, but the County Manager will call the shots. Yeah, he might be an outsider with a whole bunch of degrees in how to manage a county government, but those guys go to school to learn all the tricks of how to raise taxes and grow government and build empires that they can run. Not one of them, ever in the history of the United States, has come into a community and lowered taxes, fees and reduced government in any meaningful way.
I have never seen, anywhere in the USA, a county manager that did not grow government, build an empire and raise taxes and fees whenever and wherever they could. I travel the 50 states on a regular basis for my business and read all the local news where ever I go. To a County Manager, a well run county, with lots of government services and the high taxes that come with it, is the goal. To stay in power, the successful County Manager will spend their time creating new programs and services and raise fees and taxes every way they can to make it all work. They also know all the tricks of how to insulate themselves from the voters. They keep their "advisory boards" happy by dolling out the taxpayer money in ways that keep their advisors convinced that all is well, despite the howling protests of over-taxed citizens who eventually wind up moving out as they can't pay the ever increasing taxes. They are kind of like cockroaches--once you let them into your community, it is very difficult to get rid of them.
I prefer a system of checks and balances with elected officials who are accountable to the people. Those who know me know well that I have complained long and hard about certain Commissioners (some in office and some now out of office) and the decisions they have made. I know how hard it is to run for that job and even though I never made it, I can certainly well imagine how difficult it would be to have that job. All my complaints, past and present, had a chance to be aired and addressed before three elected officials. While I didn't always like the answers, I could run for the office myself or support those running who agreed with how I thought things should be run. I certainly prefer that system to one of a lone County Manager who is not elected by the voters and answers only to a bunch of "part time volunteers" all of whom will not have the time to really do much of anything other than be "yes men" to the manager. We live in a Representative Republic and I want all my "representatives" to be elected by the people - not appointed or chosen by perhaps well-meaning, but uninformed, part time help.
I think it all comes down to selfishness and a power grab. The selfishness I refer to is not necessarily bad, in and of itself; but without the checks and balances we now have in place, it certainly could become very bad. As an example: Sheriff Dave Daniel supports the New Charter/County Manager form of government. Daniel was elected sheriff to catch as many criminals as possible and protect us as best as his office and deputies can. Tax revenues apparently cannot keep up with his budget needs, so Mr. Daniel has decided that since he needs more and more money to deal with the bad guys and our current commissioners cannot (or will not) give him the funds he needs, that a County Manager would be more open to his requests. In a way, Daniel is simply doing what we would expect him to do as Sheriff. I don't blame him for wanting more money. But I support the system of checks and balances which demands that at least two of three County Commissioners must agree with Daniel (or any other sheriff) that more money is needed (and available to provide) before it is provided. Daniel is simply betting that one man will be easier to sway than two or three. He is just doing the job he was elected to do the best way he sees to do it. I disagree with his views on the proposa, but I can understand his frustration. Others who are frustrated with the commissioners (past and present) for various reasons all seem to be dreaming this same dream--that the new County Manager will be more open and willing to spend the money the way they see fit rather than the way it's currently being spent.
It's all a matter of money, power and the distribution of that money through power. Everyone, for selfish reasons or purely innocent ones, wants the tax revenues distributed the way they see fit. If the Commissioners are distributing the tax money the way you want and you feel your interests are being served, than all is well. If they are not, then a revolt, (even from those under them and other elected officials around them) occurs and this new Charter/County Manager proposal is just the latest form of revolt. And this is the most dangerous form of revolt to come before the voters in all my years living here.
There are those out there, Sheriff Daniel included, who constantly refer to a "good old boy" system of government here and how this new proposal will supposedly end that. Whether we have a "good old boy" system now in place is a matter of debate, but one thing is certain: I believe that should the proposed system of a new Charter/County Manager be voted in, it will result in a virtual government dictatorship that is many times as dangerous to your wallet as the system we have now. If this idea passes, you will see more government here, not less. As more government is created and it grows and feeds on your wallet, you will find yourself begging for the "old way" and cursing the day you ever voted to "professionalize" county government. If you like bigger government and higher taxes and fees, then a County Manager system is just what you are looking for.
Yes, I know there are problems with county government. I spent about eight years of my life and over $200,000.00 of my own money trying my best to bring them to the attention of the voters here and get them changed. Some of what I proposed years ago has happened; but most have not. Many of the problems that I worked so hard to expose (high salaries & overly generous benefits for government big shots) are now being championed by some of the very people who worked so hard to defeat me when I promised to do my best to change those things. Yes, it may take years before all these problems are dealt with and some may never be dealt with. But please, take it from me, this new proposal is far more dangerous and ultimately more costly than anything I have ever seen in this county. The fact that it has gotten this far and found this much support has dragged me, kicking and screaming, out of my political retirement and once again allowing my name to be tossed around in the local newspaper.
Daily Courier Flip-Flops
Our local newspaper, The Daily Courier, has really reversed itself on the issue of revising County Government and controlling the salaries of our commissioners, etc. Back in 1990, my friend Jack Feder sponsored a voter approved Salary Limit for the County Commissioners. The voters loved it, passed it and then the Commissioners took it to court and had it overturned. The Daily Courier was against the proposal from the beginning--with several editorials defending the high salaries of the elected officials by saying in many different ways that we have to pay well to get qualified, quality people. Bear in mind, the higher the salaries the more we pay to PERS (Public Employee Retirement System). Now, the Courier editorials says that salaries are too high and we need a county manager to fix all our problems--problems which they rarely acknowledged even existed during my eight years of trying to make county residents aware.
Daily Courier Flip-Flops, again
In 1992, Jack Feder sponsored another Ballot Measure (17-10) which would have revised the Charter and made it much more of a mandate on the Commissioners to change many aspects of County Government for the better. The voters loved it, the Daily Courier management despised it. Once again, the measure was taken to court and the votes of the people were overturned. One of the biggest arguments used to overturn it was that the proposal violated the "Multiple Subjects" rule because it addressed more than one aspect of County Government. If that measure back then had "Multiple Subjects," then the current proposal is even more stuffed full of multiple subjects than anything Feder had proposed. And many of the very same people who were opposed to Feder's County Charter revision are in favor of this latest proposal. Why???
I urge every voter to consider carefully what I have said here and when it's time to vote, to please vote NO on 17-96 the New Charter/County Manager system. I am willing to stand side by side with some of those who I have taken to task in the past and even some who were solidly against me when I tried to make a difference. I am willing to do so-for the ultimate good of our county.
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John Tefteller was actively involved in trying to make Josephine County Government better from 1989-1996. He ran for County Commissioner twice and was narrowly defeated each time. He published his own political newspaper for two years.
Tefteller owns three successful businesses which operate world-wide. The World's Rarest Records (www.tefteller.com ) in which he buys and sells rare phonograph records from the 1920's to 1970. Blues Images (www.bluesimages.com ) in which he sells reproductions of classic images of Blues singers from the 1920's in the form of Calendars, Posters and T-Shirts. Tefteller is also 1/2 owner of 221-B Baker Street Associates which owns and liscenses the original 1940's Sherlock Holmes radio series through Simon and Schuster publishing in New York.
Tefteller has been happily married to his wife for the last 21 years and has three children. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles, California area and has a B.A. degree in Communications from California State University, Fullerton. He is proud to call Josephine County, Oregon his home since 1987. E-Mail: [email protected]
"I prefer a system of checks and balances with elected officials who are accountable to the people."
"The County Manager will call the shots. Yeah, he might be an outsider with a whole bunch of degrees in how to manage a county government, but those guys go to school to learn all the tricks of how to raise taxes and grow government and build empires that they can run."