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Appeals court: Term limits for county commissioners are unconstitutional

Douglas County commissioners cannot be limited to two four-year terms, the Oregon State Court of Appeals has ruled.

The May 16 ruling affirms a 2016 ruling by the Douglas County Circuit Court, which found term limits unconstitutional.

Voters had approved a two-term limit in 2014. It was very popular, garnering 69.5 percent support. John Parker, Jr., who brought the appeal, said Wednesday the appellate court ruling is a “tough hit,” but he may appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.

“I think it’s wrong. The people spoke, they spoke loudly, and they spoke not just loudly, but on a high voter turnout,” Parker said. The turnout for that election, which was a November general election, was 71 percent.

Former county commissioner Susan Morgan was the first to be impacted by the limit. It was she who originally brought the lawsuit against term limits in 2015, as she was nearing the end of her second four-year term, and hoped to run for re-election in 2016.

Morgan could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Morgan argued in her lawsuit that the limit was unconstitutional because the Oregon Constitution only requires that county commissioners be electors of the county.

In a December 2015 ruling, Circuit Judge Richard Barron agreed with Morgan, and issued a writ of mandamus forcing County Clerk Patricia Hitt, the defendant in the case, to place Morgan’s name on the ballot.

Morgan later faced a failed recall attempt, and then chose to drop out of the race. She went on to take a position with the Association of Oregon Counties, and Gary Leif was elected to fill her commissioner seat. Leif recently vacated that seat and now holds the state House District 2 seat that Morgan held before she became a county commissioner.

All of which means the question, at least as it concerned Morgan, is moot. The appeals court mentioned that, but said it would render a decision anyway, because it was a matter involving the public interest, and the problem was likely to come up again.

The appeals court’s opinion, authored by Presiding Judge Rex Armstrong, said a provision in Article VI, section 8, of the state constitution governs the qualifications for every county officer, including commissioners.

That section says the county’s elected officials must be electors of the county. It then goes on to indicate some added qualifications can be made specifically for county assessor, sheriff, coroner and surveyor. Armstrong said that means counties don’t have the power to add qualifications, including term limits, for positions other than those four.

“For all other county officers, including county commissioner, the sole qualification remains that the officer be an elector of the county,” Armstrong wrote.

All of which boils down to the fact that Morgan could have run again in 2016, and that current Commissioners Chris Boice and Tim Freeman, both of whom were just elected to a second term, could run again in four years.

Parker had intervened on Hitt’s side in the original case and took the case to the appeals court. He had been the chief petitioner for the term limit ballot measure.

Parker said Wednesday he believes the county commissioners would be more closely representative of the people of Douglas County if term limits forced more frequent turnover in the positions.

“I think the majority of them would end up being more statesmanlike than political hacks,” Parker said.

He said the commissioners have often made decisions based on the will of the voters, citing the example of their decision to refer rural marijuana businesses to the voters. After voters said no to recreational retail sales and pot farms in unincorporated parts of the county in 2016, commissioners banned them.

“I don’t want to turn this around and make this about the pot sales, but the commissioners as a government body, they used that vote as a reason to be strongly opposed to it. But when it comes to term limits, those same commissioners feel that the people got it wrong,” he said.

Neither of the current commissioners was a party to the lawsuit.

Parker said the decision will also impact Yamhill County, where the county commissioners referred term limits to the voters. Voters there approved a three-term limit for county officials in 1996.

Dillard-Winston Food Pantry looks for new home

WINSTON — The Dillard-Winston Food Pantry, an all-volunteer, nonprofit group is trying to finally find a permanent home for its food distribution service.

The pantry provides food for needy families in a large area of southwestern Douglas County all the way to Camas Valley to the west.

Marlys Hobson, the chairwoman of the food pantry’s board of directors said they are currently running the operation out of the Winston Nazarene Church on Thompson Street, and have been since the first of the year, after a long stint in the Dillard United Methodist Church.

But when the Methodist church was put up for sale, the Nazarene Church invited the pantry to use its building for a year. But with only six months left in the year, the pantry is quickly running out of time to find a permanent home.

“What we are hoping is that in the near future we would be able to find our own home so that we’re not dependent on churches and others to house us,” Hobson said.

The food pantry has been operating for more than 30 years, since the 1980s, and has served a tremendous need in the area. In 2017, 866 different households in the Dillard, Winston, Tenmile, Camas Valley areas, and parts of the Green District, requested food assistance.

“We service so many people in our community, in fact, through April, we’ve given out 835 boxes to families and served 3,443 people,” Hobson said.

Kenneth Herrmann, of Winston, said he is one of many in the community that relies on the food pantry and has been using their service for about eight years.

“Very important, not just for us, but everybody that comes here, they’re not just freeloaders,” Herrmann said.

Mary Young, who lives on Kent Creek, said with her big family, she didn’t know how they would get along without the service and it’s a huge deal for her.

“I have eight people in the house, and two little ones, so yeah it makes a really big difference,” she said.

Bonnie Baird, the co-manager of the food pantry, said the pantry needs to come up with an alternative site very soon.

“We’re hoping we can find enough funding and enough property and enough volunteers to remodel something if need be,” Baird said.

Baird said they want a place of their own so they don’t risk losing the ability to serve the hundreds of families that they help feed every month.

For that to happen, they need to find a site, and of course, they need money. But they have not yet decided how they want to try to raise the money.

“We still have not yet made those decisions on how we’re going to proceed,” said Hobson. “But if anybody in the area has some property they’d like to donate to us, we would be thrilled.”

The old water department office in Winston is a possibility when it is vacated.

The Dillard-Winston Food Pantry gets food from UCAN and from food drives like the Postal Carriers Food Collection, plus they have barrels at the Grocery Outlet stores, and a food drive at Ray’s Food Market in Green.

The pantry is open every Monday and Wednesday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. On first and third Wednesdays they are also open from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. to allow those who work or go to school a chance to come by.

The need, Hobson said, just keeps getting bigger all the time.

“It does, and we provide a tremendous service for those in the community that need help,” she said.

Pipeline case goes to court, public comments open for Jordan Cove

After the seventh time Douglas County extended the timeline for construction to begin on the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline in December, local petitioners sought to reverse the county’s decision in Douglas County Circuit Court on Monday.

The proposed 230-mile Pacific Connector pipeline would cross Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to reach Coos Bay’s North Spit, where the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas facility would be built to export the gas overseas.

The pipeline would be a 36-inch-diameter welded steel gas pipe and include a compressor station near Malin. Construction in wetlands and waterways would include trenching, blasting, fluming, damming and pumping, horizontal directional drilling and other methods, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Stacey McLaughlin of Myrtle Creek, one of the petitioners represented in court on Monday, has been protesting and taking legal action against the pipeline project for more than a decade, because it would directly cross her property. She told The News-Review last week it’s not right that the county keeps granting the pipeline company extensions when it goes against the Douglas County Land Use Development Ordinance.

The ordinance states a discretionary decision approving proposed development on agricultural or forest land is void if the development does not begin two years from the date of the final decision.

McLaughlin said what the county was doing was “unheard of in this country.”

The county has granted the pipeline company an extension every year since 2011, according to court documents.

On Dec. 8, 2017, Douglas County Planning Director Keith Cubic decided to grant another one-year extension for the pipeline to start construction.

Cubic could not be reached for comment in time for deadline.

The ordinance includes several exceptions that allow for an extension, including if the approval of an extension was not a land-use decision.

The ordinance also states an extension may be granted if delays were caused by a change of conditions for which the applicant is not responsible. But McLaughlin said the pipeline company was indeed responsible for the delay in construction because it did not comply with requests from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — the reason why the commission denied the project in March 2016.

In September 2017, the Jordan Cove Energy Project and Pacific Connector pipeline companies submitted a new application to FERC.

Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson heard oral arguments on the case in court on Monday.

Seth King, a land use and zoning attorney at Perkings Coie LLP, argued that the extension wasn’t a land use decision.

The petitioner’s attorney, Tonia Louise Moro, disagreed.

“This is a quintessential land use decision,” she said.

Moro referenced Douglas County’s Land Use and Development Ordinance, which lays out which decisions are administrative, making them subject to appeal, and which decisions are ministerial.

“The county can’t just decide it doesn’t want to subject itself to appeal,” Moro said.

She argued that the county refused to consider the fact that the FERK had denied the pipeline’s application.

King called the most recent extension too mundane for public participation.

McLaughlin said she and many other landowners have also filed to intervene against Pembina, the company behind the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently accepting public comments on the most recent application from the Jordan Cove Energy Project until 5 p.m., July 21.

The Jordan Cove facility would handle up to 7.8 million tons of liquefied natural gas each year, according to the DEQ. The project would include underground utilities and a gas feed to the terminal, a marine slip and access channel, a marine offloading facility, a regional emergency response center, temporary workforce housing and related road and highway improvements.

It would also involve dredging four areas near the Coos Bay channel.

According to the DEQ, the facility would affect waterways and wetlands on the North Spit in Coos Bay, at dredge disposal sites and at the Kentuck Slough golf course mitigation site.

“The applicant has provided mitigation plans to offset impacts on affected wetlands and waterways,” according to DEQ officials. The plan includes enhancing the former Kentuck golf course and abutting land near North Bend and creating an eelgrass bed in Coos Bay southwest of the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport runway in North Bend.

The DEQ requires a water quality certification for any federally licensed or permitted projects that may result in a discharge into navigable waters.

Written comments may be emailed to, faxed to 541-686-7551 or mailed to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, 165 E. 7th Ave., Suite 100, Eugene, Oregon 97401, Attn: 401 Water Quality Certification Project Manager, Chris Stine.

After the DEQ reviews and considers all comments on the application, the agency may request additional information from the applicant and then develop an evaluation report and draft decision.

After that, the DEQ will conduct an additional public comment period before issuing a final decision whether or not to approve the application with or without conditions.

Officials warn of whooping cough in Douglas County

As a whooping cough outbreak continues to spread in Lane County, Douglas County officials are urging residents to make sure their pertussis vaccinations are up-to-date.

Douglas County has had a total of 10 confirmed cases — two pediatric and eight adult cases. In Lane County, officials have confirmed nearly 80 cases at more than 20 different schools, according to The Register-Guard.

Douglas Public Health Network Director Bob Dannenhoffer said that everyone who has not been immunized should get vaccinated, and those who haven’t had one in the last eight years should get a booster.

“Especially pregnant woman in their third trimester, as doing so can pass antibodies to your baby before birth and give them some short-term protection,” he said.

Pertussis is a serious and highly contagious infection caused by bacteria and is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the country, according to a press release from the network.

“For many it’ll be the worst cough they’ve ever had, in fact, adults sometimes will cough so hard they’ll break ribs,” Dannenhoffer said. “It’s really a terrible cough, especially in babies and elderly.”

Initial symptoms mirror that of a common cold. However, over the course of a few days, the cough will usually worsen and can be followed by spasms and vomiting. Infants commonly demonstrate more severe symptoms, which may include gagging, gasping and a “whooping” sound when coughing.

Dannenhoffer said it’s not always easy to tell if it’s a cold or pertussis, but most coughs with colds last a few days and then go away, but the coughing from pertussis could last three months, and it can cause as many as 15 to 20 coughs per breath.

There is no treatment for the disease but you can take antibiotics which will decrease the contagiousness after five days.

“It’s a nasty, nasty disease, but it’s almost totally preventable,” Dannenhoffer said. “The vaccine is pretty good and we’re recommending that everyone get updated on their vaccine.”

The vaccinations he said, are available at most drug stores.