Judge asks for clarification on blogger’s post

By Jennifer Jenks
Burns Times-Herald

The next time Harney County residents vote on the county commissioner position, they may all get a voice in the decision, regardless of party affiliation. At last week’s meeting of the county court, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty agreed to write an order with help from the clerk’s office for the court to review to put the issue of moving the county commissioner positions to non-partisan on the general election ballot this fall.

Grasty said he had heard a significant amount of angst from people who did not get to vote on the only elected position in Harney County that is still partisan. Deputy County Clerk Dag Robinson said this happens every time there is an election. In this year’s primary, both candidates for county commissioner were registered Republicans and only showed up on Republican ballots. Some people could not vote for the position because it was not on their ballot and some could vote only by writing a candidate in, depending on their party affiliation. Robinson said people were so upset, he was even “attacked” in a store over this issue recently.

Grasty argued the issue should be placed on the ballot so the people of this county can make the decision. Every county that has put this on the ballot has passed it by a dramatic margin, he said. County Clerk Maria Iturriaga noted that Harney is one of only a few counties, mostly in Eastern Oregon, that have not made the position non-partisan.

Herb Vloedman, who ran against County Commissioner Dan Nichols in the primary election, was in attendance and offered his support, stating the position covers the entire county and all residents should get to vote on it.

During the public comment period, Barbara Cannady, author of the Fizzle Flat Round Robin newsletter, requested clarification on the road inventory the county is assisting the Oregon Cattleman’s Association (OCA) with. Judge Grasty explained the OCA came to the court requesting help in identifying as many roads and accesses in the county as possible with the intention that the more roads that can be identified, the less chance there will be of 5,000-acre blocks of roadless areas being designated as wilderness areas.

“This has nothing to do with county roads,” Grasty told Cannady. “When you attempt to connect the two, you make an issue out of something that is not an issue. They are not connected. The planning department is doing nothing with the OCA.”

Councilor Nichols emphasized the court did not take this upon themselves. It was initiated by the OCA and the court agreed to assist because they believed it would help protect the rights of the people in this county. Grasty added, “We aren’t driving this, we’re assisting the citizens of this community at their request.”

Grasty advised Cannady to talk to the OCA and have them explain what they are working on. He said he could also have the Oregon Department of Forestry send her a press release that may help her understand the issue better, but he still wanted her to print a correction in her newsletter from a prior story she wrote. “I’m willing to describe the actions of individuals, but I’m not going to correct the misinformation that was put out there,” he said. “I ask you to correct that. If the newspaper erred, I would ask them to print a correction.”

Cannady also commented about a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) map that showed a grazing permit on her property. She said this was not accurate. Grasty advised her to speak with the BLM about that as it was their data and the county has no ability to change it.

The court discussed the Oregon Geographic Names Board (OGNB) meeting that will be held in Burns June 23. Judge Grasty said he wanted to emphasize that the board is completely voluntary and the volunteers do not even get reimbursed for their travel costs.

The issue has become a thorn of contention in Grant County, which appealed the decision by the OGNB to replace several geographic sites that currently have “squaw” in their names to Native American names after claiming their recommendations had been ignored by the OGNB. Grasty explained that the word “squaw” is a Native American name from the East Coast that was probably brought to the West Coast by fur traders and others. “It is today offensive to most tribes,” he explained, “and they’ve asked to have it removed.”

Many of the name suggestions have come from non-local tribes, Grasty explained, and this was part of the issue Grant County had with the process. Grasty encouraged everyone who could to attend the meeting, but noted that the features up for name changes are so small, they would not be on any maps.

Commissioner Nichols noted some of the name changes are too long and hard to pronounce for most people and that perhaps a good compromise would be to rename the features with the English translation to the Native American names.

Regarding the request to change O’Toole Spring to Bartlett Spring, the court agreed to write a letter to OGNB showing the county’s support for this name change. It was noted there was a lot of history for Bartlett in the area of the spring and no known connection to O’Toole.

In other business:

• During the public comment period, Mary Ausmus asked about a committee that she had heard was created to review salaries of public officials. Judge Grasty explained Oregon law requires the county court to do this every year and they realized they haven’t been doing it. He has asked three individuals from the payroll departments of large local businesses to be on the committee. Ausmus said she didn’t have a problem with anyone’s salary, but was just interested in the committee;

• The court discussed setting up a new reserve fund for the money Joseph’s Juniper is starting to pay back ahead of schedule. The reserve fund would be used as a revolving fund to provide loans for economic development. Judge Grasty suggested the possibility of combining this fund with the beautification fund that is already in place, but the idea was knocked down by commissioners Nichols and Pete Runnels, who both liked the idea of keeping the funds separated. Nichols said he would like to have a process with qualified financial people to review loan requests and suggested the court talk to someone in the financial arena about their process. “If we’re going to get into it for the betterment of our community because we can’t get help anywhere else,” he said, “we need to learn the standard assessments in the bank loaning community.” Grasty said he hoped the county would be a little more flexible than some of the tougher regulations the banks have;

• The court reviewed an amended agreement with Deschutes County for inspection services. The new agreement automatically renews unless the court takes action. In addition, the county can terminate when they want and can elect not to use their services if they want. The court signed the agreement;

• The court agreed to approve an application for an approach for Gordon and Kay Bloomquist. County Road Supervisor Eric Drushella said the approach is an existing one and that it has culverts and meets all the criteria;

• The court discussed setting a per diem policy for county employee travel. Sheriff Dave Glerup, Treasurer Nellie Franklin and District Attorney Tim Colahan were present for the discussion. Judge Grasty recommended having Colahan draft a per diem proposal for out-of-county travel at the U.S. General Services Administration rate for Oregon, which is currently $46 per day (or less if the employee leaves after noon or gets home before noon). The issue was triggered by a group of people who went on a trip with a grant, since the county’s policy is to reimburse based on receipts and the grant reimburses based on per diem. A lengthy discussion ensued. The court agreed to begin using a per diem system and asked Colahan to draft a court order defining the policy for review at the next county court meeting.;

• The 2012-13 budget as proposed in the amount of $31,204,762 was approved by the budget committee. The court will adopt the budget at the next county court meeting;

The next Harney County Court meeting will be held Wednesday, June 20, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the Harney County Courthouse, 420 N. Buena Vista Ave. in Burns.

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