Siege Schatza – IVN copy editor
The Josephine County Commissioners updated the county’s media policy for the first time since 1998 at their March 22 meeting, held at Grants Pass’ Anne G. Basker Auditorium.
The crux of the policy amendment is to encourage county department heads to coordinate press releases with the public information officer prior to their release to the media.
JoCo Human Resources Director J.J. Scofield remarked on the matter, “This policy dictates how we interact with the media. It was last written in the 90s, so clearly it was more than due for an update.”
“There’s been a number of law changes as it relates to public records requests and meetings, rules and basically updates those who keep us in compliance with the law,” Scofield went on. “We now have a PIO that helps us coordinate our efforts to communicate with the media and the public. This policy will help us to have better and more accurate communications.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung commented, “I just read this over this morning and I think our PIO is underutilized and I think this is high time that we utilize him because he’s the guy that knows what to say in front of the microphone.”
Commissioner John West did not comment, saying, “I think we’ve hashed it out pretty good already.”
Among the sentences this amendment added to the media policy: The PIO is responsible for coordinating with departments in releasing information to the media as well as fielding public information requests; When feasible, press releases should be coordinated with the PIO to ensure accuracy and proper dissemination; and All Elected Officials are encouraged to coordinate press releases with the PIO.
Notably stricken from the policy is the sentence: Department heads and their chosen representatives may send out press releases to the media on regular, established programs and services.
While the policy amendment was in the works, critics spoke out at county meetings to opine that the new policy would be a detriment to government transparency because it discourages department heads from distributing information independently from the Board of Commissioners and the public information officer.
The commissioners have maintained that standardizing coordination between department heads and the public information officer will reduce the potential for erroneous information to be put out.
Also at the meeting was consolidation of the Fairgrounds Fund and Parks Fund into the Recreation Fund.
Earlier this month, the county combined the Parks Department and Fairgrounds Department into a single department, named the Recreation Department, with Tamara Martin designated the Recreation director.
Addressing the board in the auditorium, Martin stated, “You have a motion to help streamline some of the efficiencies that we’re doing on our finance of the combination of the merge of the two departments. This is strictly for the operational funds and will still allow us to have some individuality and identify funds and budgets for individual parks properties and still maintain all of our capital improvement funds completely separate, so they stay with their identified properties.”
Martin continued, “Really what this step does is streamline processes for us on a weekly basis where we’re doing two batches to keep everything moving forward for individual departments. So what I ask before you today is if we can go ahead and consolidate that operationally and move into a one process step.”
Commissioner John West said, “I just want to make sure the citizens understand this clear. We’re not mixing one park fund that’s designated for one park. We’re not mixing it with something, we’re not siphoning here or there. It’s all still, it may be one fund, but it still goes to each area.”
Martin reiterated that the budget will still designate cost centers that identify the budgets and revenue goals of individual parks.
“All of that will remain the same,” Martin concluded. “We’re really just adding the fairgrounds underneath that umbrella.”
Both the media policy amendment and fund consolidation matters were approved by a unanimous 3-0 vote.
At the end of the meeting, Debbie Dean was appointed to an at-large four-year term on the Josephine County Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger thanked Dean “for stepping up to the plate” before the board voted 3/0 to approve her appointment.