WEEK OF MAY 10 – 14, 2021
Quotes: in the May 11 General Session recording
25:51 – Baertschiger “I strongly support we just go down to the bank and get a bag of money…”
26:14 – DeYoung’s rant re: State’s COVID recommendations
28:44 – Fowler alluding to the Big Lie referencing the “questionable” election. Broadband funding , monopoly money, government growth…and in Josephine county “we’re fully resistant to that.”
32:19 – De Young regarding state funding to help with COVID recovery: “I don’t think we want your $20 million.”
45:52 – Boatnik commentary
Public trust wasn’t on the agenda but it dominated this week’s discussions as Josephine County Commissioners wrestled with their conservative beliefs vs help from the government. They rocked between resenting the idea of the government handing out money to concern over small businesses affected by COVID shutdowns. While interviewing people from two companies in the grant dispersal business, SOREDI (Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.) and IVCanDO (Illinois Valley Community Development Organization) Commissioners admitted they couldn’t divide up money provided to Josephine County by Gov. Kate Brown to help those small businesses impacted by the last Extreme Risk shutdown, which lasted about a week.
Brown elevated Josephine and fourteen other counties to Extreme Risk April 30 saying “If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19. She said health officials would review infection statistics each week to see if caseloads were trending down and no county would be shut down for more than three weeks. She added that $20 million would be made available for businesses affected by the shutdown. Josephine County’s share will be $712,400.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung called the effort “divvying up crumbs” and went on a rant complaining about “big government.” He accused Brown of deciding to throw money out after she discovered she made a mistake and now the Commission is forced to deal with dispersing it. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said they should just put the money in a bag and go down the street tossing it out. Commissioner Darin Fowler said it all started with “an election that was questionable for president and we end up now in an era of big government where the government is going to pay for everything.” They decided to have the representatives from SOREDI and IVCanDo, who watched the Commissioners’ rants with some slight amusement, come back Thursday so they could decide who they might choose to help disperse the funds. There were no small business owners present to tell commissioners why they might need the money the governor is providing.
DeYoung and Fowler said they believed businesses should have been allowed to stay open and allowed to work for their money instead of being showered with it. At one point DeYoung accused the government of trying to shut down businesses on purpose for political reasons and then diverted his rant to Boatnik, still accusing the City of Grants Pass for putting hurdles in the way of the festival. Kenny Houck of IVCanDo trying to get a word in edgewise, pointed out there have been a “surprising number” of new business starts during the COVID shutdowns and predicted a rebound as COVID recedes.
Other money coming to the county through the American Rescue Plan set off another round of rants, with Fowler accusing the government of printing monopoly money saying there’s an “obscene” amount coming from the federal government for broadband and that “Josephine County is totally resistant to that. I think all three commissioners are resistant to growing government and the appetite for this free money in Josephine County is just not that great.”
During the Weekly Business Session Wednesday half the meeting was taken up with complaints about big government and the burden of having to decide how “free” money is spent. DeYoung said he was frustrated with the different messages coming from the government about COVID restrictions and recovery and has lost his trust in government, again going back to Boatnik and the fact OSHA didn’t show up to a meeting with Boatnik organizers at Riverside Park. He said during a call to the governor’s office he was told the county should hold free vaccine events, like a spaghetti dinner or pizza giveaway.
Public comments featured anti-vaxxers and Jay Meredith who has elevated the value of whatever minerals that could be extracted in Josephine County if not for Senators Merkley and Wyden from millions to “billions.” The anti-vaxxers, all from Illinois Valley called the COVID vaccines “bioweapon injections carrying an operating system which can be programmed and controlled from outside” and that “all those promoting and distributing it will be held accountable for crimes against humanity including public health and the media.” One man said he has a 90-year-old mother with congestive heart failure he’s keeping away from doctors because all they did was prescribe pills.
Fowler, who called for having county counsel draft a letter from Commissioners objecting to Senators Wyden and Merkley’s ORE Act (Oregon Recreation Enhancement) that would establish a 98,000 recreation area on the Rogue River and expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness area by about 60,000 acres would prevent mining on more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service land near the existing Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. These areas are located at the headwaters of several National Wild and Scenic Rivers and support drinking water for thousands of Oregonians. Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Legislation to Help Recreation and Wildfire Prevention Work in SW Oregon and Near Molalla River | U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (senate.gov)The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management closed 5,216 acres of federal public lands in the North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready Creek watersheds in 2016 with overwhelming public support. Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal | Kalmiopsis Rivers
Meredith said he is working on a resolution he thinks would be a more powerful statement against the land preservation and is trying to get it passed in Jackson and Curry counties as well as in Josephine. DeYoung thought that was a great idea, then rambled on about how timber harvests were stopped to save the spotted owl but the owl is still declining and how the government is trying to starve the coal industry. He added that Gov. Brown’s wishy-washy handling of COVID in Oregon has “destroyed any truest we had…nobody trusts the government anymore cause everybody’s lying to us.”
At Thursday’s Administrative Workshop they admitted they in fact, are the government during a discussion about what to do with $540,000 of vaccine education money coming to Josephine County from the federal government. They were put in the awkward position of having to use this money to encourage people to get vaccinated after listening for weeks to anti-vaxxers and having a vaccine skeptic, Baertschiger, on the Commission. They didn’t decide what to do with the money but agreed with Fowler that their stand on vaccines should be to “tell people a vaccine decision should be between you and your own doctor” and called it “a sticky wicket politically.” DeYoung said people probably wouldn’t trust any government official, including them, who stood up and told them to get vaccinated since most people he knows, hate the government. Baertschiger pointed out that the largest number of anti-vaxxers in Oregon live in Jackson and Josephine counties and we’ll probably never get to the 70 percent vaccinated level the governor requires to open up completely. “We’ll be shut down permanently if that’s the requirement,” he said.
Also Thursday they had continued talking with the SOREDI and IVCanDo people in another round of annoyance over having to disperse money to help small businesses that had to shut down during the Extreme Risk week in the county.
In other business of note this week: Public Health Director Michael Webber carefully explained why COVID directions sometimes seemed contradictory. COVID revealed the “messy side” of science, which was constantly discovering new information about the virus so advisories changed with each new discovery, he said. Commissioners were suspicious COVID testing was finding too many positives and asked Webber about the “cycle threshold” of testing machines.
Webber explained that when testing machines look for COVID viruses the “cycle threshold” is how many times it goes through the material looking for the virus and false positives were almost negligible. He said early COVID regulations were based on the best science at the time and just because those changed over time and sometimes sounded contradictory it didn’t mean anyone was lying to the public.
Over time scientists will learn much more about COVID that will change how health departments and doctors deal with it, he said. “Just look how long it took science to make the connection between chickenpox and shingles.”
Applications for the American Rescue Act funding disbursement committee were looked at and Fowler was selected to be the county’s liaison. The Commission will take recommendations from the committee but make the final decision on how the money is spent.
The Master Gardeners’ new home will be at Rogue Community College but there won’t be room for their greenhouses. DeYoung suggested they put out a plea for someone to donate private land space for their greenhouses. He said the sheriff is always confiscating hoop houses from illegal marijuana grows so they’d have all the materials they need.
Commissioners hope to be back in Ann Basker Auditorium for next week’s meetings after consulting with Public Health to see what requirements will be. They stopped having meetings there several months ago when they were told they would have to wear masks.
During Herman Baertschiger’s radio slot on KMED Tuesday, he continued to accuse Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol of being responsible for shutting down Beatnik, but changed his tune saying even if she didn’t personally do anything to stop Boatnik she is the Mayor and responsible for everything that happens. On Wednesday, May 12 talk show host Bill Meyer invited Sara to his show to give her side of the story. She bravely accepted his invitation to speak on his right-wing show, saying the city attorney, who is paid to protect the city, came up with an amendment to the insurance policy that made the Active Club, not the city, responsible for lawsuits brought by anyone who might sue if they caught COVID during Boatnik. She said the Active Club didn’t challenge that and must have talked among themselves and decided not to hold the event. That Herman accused her of inserting the amendment proves “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She said she loves Boatnik and looks forward to it but this year many events aren’t happening because of COVID restrictions still in place. As more people get vaccinated events occurring later in the year may be fully open but right now COVID restrictions still impact events. Sara also mentioned that she asked the Commission to stand with her and urge everyone to get vaccinated so we can open the county but they wouldn’t.