Group seeks to change Charter

This coming May 21, Measure 17-116, proposed by Citizens for Responsible Government, will go to the voters. The measure proposes changes to the County Charter which will change the makeup of the County Board of Commissioners. CRG wants to give the voters a chance to elect five commissioners, two more positions than the current board. The proposed changes to the charter also provide for the formation of districts to represent the citizens of Josephine County to allow for more equal representation countywide. The four districts will each have their own elected representative on the Board of County Commissioners and there will be one representative, elected at large, that would be for all of Josephine County. If the 17-116 passes, incumbent John West would become the overall representative with one vote for the whole county.CRG conducted the necessary signatures to bring this proposal to the voters in 2023, easily gaining the necessary signatures from residents all over the county. Other changes to the charter include, according to CRG’s website, “No longer will 3 Commissioners receive full salaries and benefits. Under our current charter, each commissioner receives a full salary plus benefits. Once they have been in office for 5 years, they are entitled to PERS for life. This year’s budget for the salaries and benefits is $406,000. Under the new charter, the commissioners will no longer receive salaries and benefits, or PERS. Instead, each part-time commissioner will receive a monthly stipend equivalent to about $25,000 annually. $406,000 – $125,000 = $281,000 (in savings).” This savings is considered enough to hire “a well-qualified, full-time county manager, pay an excellent salary and benefits and stay within the county budget. Instead of PERS (the public employee retirement system) for three commissioner positions snowballing over the years as commissioners come and go, the county would have just one more department head to put on its PERS roll.” The average commissioner salary in Grants Pass is $82,273 plus benefits and comparitively, the current median income for Josephine County residents is $51,733.SEE CHARTER ON A-9CHARTER …Continued from A-1The county manager will be hired by the new commissioners that win the election for their District.Many residents of Josephine County feel underrepresented by the Board of County Commissioners who has drawn fire for a number of controversial rulings over the last few years. Members of CRG indicated that everywhere they went to speak with constituents and gather signatures revealed wide-spread dissatisfaction with the BCC. “I’m really Illinois Valley-centric,” said city of Cave Junction Councilor Jean Ann Miles, also indicating she wants to insure that the Illinois Valley voice is independent, professional and focuses on County business and would be better represented by a District representative.The measure is controversial. Some people are dismayed at the idea of the districts being drawn by population density alone, feeling uncomfortable with Grants Pass residents and O’Brien residents possibly existing in the same district. A map drawn by County Clerk Riannon Henkels—a task in the job description for the JoCo county clerk position—posted briefly on the county website, was immediately taken down in response to complaints from the current commissioners. Miles says the districts being drawn according to population density is imperative because, “We want our government to be focused on all the citizens of Josephine County, not on commissioners’ personal business or political party affiliations. That’s why we wanted it to be nonpartisan. Equal population distribution needs to be as equal as possible.” The CRG website states: “CRG’s intention is to create a more balanced group of commissioners who would offer more diverse discussions, more creativity, better representation and accountability for all Josephine County citizens.”If the Charter passes, all people currently running for commissioner in the fall will have to reorganize. Their campaigns will be null and void. Then the election results will have to be certified and then candidates can start new campaigns 30 days after certification. Everything will be reorganized according to districts and candidates will have to meet eligibility requirements for each district.The JoCo Republican website cites being concerned that the Charter changes could interfere with the county being a ‘Home Rule’ entity. Home Rule states: “The initiative and referendum powers are reserved ‘to the qualified voters of each municipality and district as to all local, special and municipal legislation of every character in or for their municipality or district.’” This measure fulfills Home Rule obligations by putting it to the vote. Neither political party of Josephine County responded to requests for comments and information.People wanting more information are encouraged to read the Charter and the proposed changes for themselves by visiting https://www.josephinecounty.gov/government/board_of_county_commissioners/index.phpand or https://www.jococrg.org/.