M.A. Hansen carried a sign to a rally on the Douglas County Courthouse lawn Tuesday afternoon that said “Where’s the Transparency?” The answer on the back of the sign said, “There is no transparency.”
Although their specific concerns varied, a shared belief that the Douglas County Board of Commissioners isn’t transparent about its decisions drew about 50 people to the rally.
Attendees cited an array of issues they thought the commissioners hadn’t been transparent about. Among them were logging at Whistler’s Bend Park, a permit granted to the Canadian developers of a proposed natural gas pipeline and the cause of the water turbidity leading to the recent announcement that Canyonville residents needed to boil their water.
Disc golfer Arden Carter told The News-Review he was there to protest the way the commissioners handled a decision to log in Whistler’s Bend Park, home to a popular disc golfing course. Carter said disc golfers only learned after the fact that the county was logging what it said were hazard trees at the park. Opponents of the county’s decision, including Carter, said it looked more like a commercial logging operation.
“To see that kind of disrespect for the park was pretty sad,” he said.
Carter said the disc golfers could have worked with the county if they’d known what officials had planned, and that previous officials did work with them on changes to the park.
Partway through the rally, several attendees addressed the crowd. Pat Quinn was the first. He asserted that the county government is “under the thumb” of big money corporations and the timber industry, which he said tells them what to think, say and do.
Francis Eatherington owns property on the route of the proposed Pacific Connector natural gas pipeline. She pointed to a recent Douglas County Circuit Court decision that the county had illegally issued a permit extension to the pipeline’s developers in 2016 and 2017 as evidence that the county government isn’t transparent. The decision was made administratively by the planning director. Eatherington said there should be a public hearing before a permit extension is granted.
Eatherington also asked why Canyonville residents are currently having to boil their water. She said the only explanation has been there’s turbidity in the water.
“No one is spilling the beans on where the turbidity is coming from. Is it coming from a logging operation? Likely. That logging company should pay for the cleanup,” Eatherington said.
Kat Stone said while the commissioners’ Wednesday meetings are recorded and streamed online, its Monday meetings are not. She said she regularly attends the Monday meetings, at which the commissioners decide how to spend thousands of dollars.
“(Commissioner) Tim Freeman says transparency is a buzzword,” she said. “That’s because he wouldn’t know what the heck a buzzword or transparency was. He wouldn’t know it if it ran him down on the street.”
Stone also raised the issue of the Hanna family receiving a waiver to dump $50,000 worth of material from the Windmill Inn demolition in the landfill for free. Stone said Freeman claimed to receive just $500 in campaign contributions from the Hannas, but she said he’d received much more.
Stone’s comment appeared to be a reference to a comment Freeman made in the commissioners’ Jan. 16 meeting. At that meeting, Freeman said that he had received a $500 campaign donation from Bruce Hanna through the bottling company, but no donations from other Hanna family members.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s records, Freeman’s campaign did receive $500 from the Hannas’ Douglas County Bottling Co. in 2018. The Friends of Tim Freeman campaign fundraising committee had previously received $3,418 from the Friends of Bruce Hanna in 2017 and $16,094 from Friends of Bruce Hanna in 2014 and 2015. Hanna and Freeman formerly served in the legislature together.
Marty Verberkmos was one of two citizens who complained about the commissioners’ treatment of Reedsport citizens. He objected to the cancellation of live communication with Reedsport during Wednesday commissioner meetings.
“It’s like they don’t want to hear what’s going on in Reedsport,” he said.
Richard Chasm urged people to run in the May special election for open school, fire and water board positions.
“If you sit there and say to yourself what can I do? This is what you can do,” Chasm said.
The commissioners issued a statement prior to the rally saying they “fully support the Constitutional First Amendment Rights of our citizens, which includes the right to peacefully assemble.”
However, the statement suggested citizens should have completed an application for the use of government property.
“To date this group has not applied for or submitted a grounds use request for the use of the Douglas County Courthouse or the corresponding grounds,” they said.
They also said they thought it was ironic that the Douglas County Parks Advisory Resource Committee, a subcommittee of Umpqua Watersheds that sponsored the rally, uses a name similar to that of the Douglas County Parks Department when it is not a county government committee.
They also said the decisions being protested at the rally were “presented and discussed at formal and broadcasted public meetings where public comment was available and considered before decisions were made.”
“So it appears that on the surface this group is concerned with transparency in government, when in reality they are just in disagreement with the decisions,” they said.