Despite hard work by many people, including myself, the Douglas County library ballot measure failed, sadly. The drafters did not embrace broad input before the measure was finalized. I do hope we will all work together more constructively, including our commissioners as leaders, to support numerous other county programs, including the Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History, which is at risk.
Major governance change deserves broad public input to increase support and avoid pitfalls. Douglas County Oregon’s Home Rule Charter Measure 10-159 was drafted privately, without public input. Did other counties develop charters this way?
Like the library measure, this is a ballot measure. It can be debated, but cannot be revised. Unlike legislation, which includes an amendment process, it must be voted on as is. It is difficult to draft a thoughtful, broadly acceptable ballot measure.
I am not against Home Rule, but this Home Rule measure should, like any other, be evaluated on its merits.
One question is the section that allows the commissioners to modify the sheriff’s enforcement of laws. Why just the sheriff? I feel the commissioner’s power to modify the enforcement of laws should apply to every elected county official equally — or none of them.
There is a perhaps coincidental consequence of Charter Measure 10-159, from my personal point of view — the loss of a direct elected voice for county citizens regarding the management of federal lands within county borders.
With so much federal land within our county, and the checkerboard ownership pattern multiplying the issue, are we best served with loss of direct representation? Should we replace direct representation by a commissioner with indirect representation by an administrator?
Douglas County has more land than Connecticut, over 5,000 square miles, and forests are overwhelming.
Non-forest land — where most vineyards, pastures, cities and rural residences are found — is only 253 square miles, or 5 percent of the county — just 1 acre out of every 20.
Total forest land is 4,784 square miles, or about 95 percent of the county, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Almost 52 percent of the county is federal forest, (2,603 square miles). The other 43 percent (2,181 square miles) is privately owned industrial and nonindustrial forest land, as well as a small amount of state and tribal forest land.
The federal forests are principally managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, large bureaucracies with local offices. Only federal laws and rules apply.
More than 1,000 square miles of the county are under BLM management. Most of these were originally private Oregon and California railroad lands that were returned to the federal government. In turn, Congressional law recognized their historic private status with the O&C Act of 1937.
While the O&C Act requires sustained yield management and the county receives a 50 percent share of harvest receipts, we will not likely ever return to heyday harvest receipts from sustained yield tied solely to Douglas fir’s biological growth potential. Yet today’s major fires and smoke, in the absence of sufficient management, are not acceptable either. Trees get “harvested,” one way or another. An effective voice for the sustainable management of our rich forest resources is important for the county’s wildlife, land, citizens and quality of life.
Not only does Douglas County have more O&C BLM land than any other western Oregon county, but the O&C land was originally deeded in a checkerboard pattern of alternate sections (square miles). Every federal section has private land neighbors and vice-versa.
Over 40 percent of county land is arranged in this public BLM/private checkerboard pattern.
This checkerboard, sustainable management, revenue issues and the magnitude of federal ownership – all point to a unique leadership role of Douglas County among western Oregon and O&C counties.
Our commissioners do lead now, as directly accountable at-large representatives of a majority of citizens. They currently have a seat at the table in federal management planning negotiations. They advocate to our U.S. Congressional leaders, because they are direct representatives of county citizens. Despite the challenges of federal land management, our commissioners do have a voice now.
If Measure 10-159 passes, direct accountability to the voters will be lost. With it, the voice of our commissioners and ability to shape federal forest policy will diminish. Our new administrator or “hired gun” lobbyist will not be similarly respected.
County commissioners face very difficult spending choices, caused by an extreme shortage of funds. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their decisions or how they conduct business can be voiced at the ballot box.
Perhaps another day, a better fit Home Rule proposal for the county will emerge. Measure 10-159 is flawed and compromises our voice of leadership. The stakes are very high.
Every vote counts so much more in this off-year election. Please join me. Vote no on Measure 10-159 on Nov. 7