A new mental health crisis center, marijuana’s legality and upcoming state legislation came up for discussion during the Deschutes County Commission’s annual retreat Tuesday.
Some key takeaways from Tuesday’s fairly free-wheeling discussion:
If a quorum, or majority, of members of a public body meet and discuss official business, Oregon public meetings law stipulates that the group must provide at least 24 hours notice of the meeting.
The group must also make it open to the public and keep written, audio or video minutes. Because the county commission has only three members, that means private conversations between two commissioners can violate the law if they discuss official county business.
Commissioner Phil Henderson said he’d like to look into exceptions to the law to ensure commissioners can have “effective communication.” Commissioners don’t always know what their fellow board members are doing — for instance, Commissioner Tony DeBone has signed three letters on the county’s behalf supporting the state transportation department in applying for a federal grant to improve U.S. Highway 97 in Bend, and Henderson didn’t know about the grant.
Commissioners should be able to share this type of information without really violating the law, Henderson said, comparing the conversations to the technically illegal but generally accepted standard of driving 60 mph on a 55-mph road. But DeBone, Commissioner Tammy Baney and Dave Doyle, the county’s legal counsel, stressed that commissioners should keep their conversations public to avoid the perception of violating the law.
“Someone that wanted to ruin our day could do it just by having a photo of two of us standing together and saying ‘prove to me what you’re talking about,’” DeBone said.
The Oregon Legislature’s 35-day short session starts Monday, and the county plans to closely monitor several bills. Among them is a new attempt to ban a footbridge across the Deschutes River, something the Bend Park & Recreation District wholeheartedly opposes. Deschutes County didn’t weigh in on similar legislation last year, but County Administrator Tom Anderson said park district Executive Director Don Horton and lobbyist Erik Kancler have been asking for county support.
“They’ve given us the full court press to join them in opposing the bill,” he said.
Long-term county transportation plans call for a bridge to link recreation opportunities on the east and west sides of the river, and Anderson said the county could choose to fully support the park district or take a more nuanced stance.
Deschutes County also plans to watch proposals that would tweak last year’s state transportation funding package, several bills related to affordable housing and two bills that would pre-empt county control over giving special events licenses to marijuana businesses and allowing granny flats in unincorporated residential areas in some counties. The county is likely to support a bill guaranteeing that counties receive at least 2.5 percent of video lottery revenue.
Commissioners will start weekly phone calls with area legislators next week.
Grammatically correct or politically correct?
Commissioners found themselves at odds over a seemingly minor change in the county’s mission statement: swapping “residents” for “citizens.” Deschutes County, like the city of Bend and most media outlets, follows Associated Press style, which says to use resident, not citizen, in referring to inhabitants of states and cities. Because the U.S., not Deschutes County, confers citizenship, the county’s mission statement — “Enhancing the lives of citizens by delivering quality services in a cost-effective manner” — isn’t grammatically correct, county spokeswoman Whitney Hale told the commissioners.
Baney agreed, but Henderson said he saw the change and the stylebook itself as “politically correct,” not necessarily grammatically right. DeBone also chose to keep the word “citizen,” meaning the county’s mission statement will remain as is.
Commissioners reiterated their support for a planned crisis stabilization center somewhere in Bend. The center, modeled on one in Kansas City, Missouri, is intended to provide crisis mental health services and eventually serve as a sober station with medical professionals able to help people with substance abuse issues who are brought in by police.
A location for the center hasn’t yet been chosen, but it might be located on the sheriff’s public safety campus or somewhere near St. Charles Bend. A location near the hospital would be better because it doesn’t feel attached to the criminal justice system and is closer to hospital services should patients need them, Health Services Director George Conway said.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said he still has concerns about how the county handles marijuana, which is legal in Oregon but still prohibited federally.
“I don’t want any marijuana grows in the county,” Nelson said. “They’re against federal law. That’s where I’m standing. Marijuana’s against federal law and I don’t want any of it here.”
The county plans to keep looking at how best to regulate recreational and medical marijuana at the local level, DeBone said. The county’s community development department expects to bring back recommendations from a recent series of conversations at a Feb. 14 meeting.
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