Gov. Kate Brown held a press conference on COVID-19 last Friday where she urged local officials to lead by example, educate citizens on the need to follow COVID-19 regulations and enforce the rules when necessary.
The governor’s comments drew a response from the Association of Oregon Counties on Friday and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners on Monday. Both entities raised objections but disagreed with the other’s approaches — especially on enforcing the rules.
On Friday, the Association of Oregon Counties issued a written statement calling on the governor to fund county enforcement efforts. It asked Brown to reach out to county sheriffs and to provide support and resources.
Association of Oregon Counties Executive Director Gina Firman Nikkel said the counties are already committed to doing their part to protect public health.
“We are partners with the State, delivering critical services to Oregonians on their behalf. Today we ask the governor and State officials to support counties. These increased expectations the governor announced require additional resources that the State has yet to distribute,” Nikkel said in a written statement.
On Monday, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners responded with a statement of its own. Douglas County hadn’t been consulted about the association’s statement ahead of time, it said. Furthermore, the Douglas County commissioners said they don’t believe it’s appropriate for the county to be placed in the role of enforcers at all.
The commissioners wrote that they stand with, represent and support the county’s citizens and businesses, and they want them to be economically stable and healthy, as well as to have access to necessary services.
Enforcement, however, is another matter.
“(W)e do not support county ‘enforcement’ of State issued COVID guidelines. Instead, as the local public health authority, we feel it is paramount for State officials to provide easy to understand, timely access to the latest information, resources and medical guidance in order to educate residents about COVID that allows them to make informed, responsible decisions,” they wrote. “This information should also flow directly to the County Commissioners, so they can share with their residents. We feel that most people will do the right thing, if given the opportunity and knowledge to do so.”
The commissioners also said it’s impossible to understand the unique needs of each of Oregon’s 36 counties, and the state should work directly with county commissioners.
That’s not what’s happening, they wrote.
Instead, communication has to be accessed through an “unclear maze” of emergency managers, public health officials and the Association of Oregon Counties.
That maze, they wrote, has made it incredibly difficult for the county to access and spend relief money where it’s needed most.
“While our main priority for this pandemic has been to save lives and prevent the continued spread of the virus, we want to make it clear that we will continue to advocate for better coordination, education and communication from State Officials working directly with County Commissioners. It is imperative that the State treat us as a partner in this fight and not the enemy,” Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said in a written statement.