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County dissolves advisory committee under fire

Several Crooked River Ranch residents said the parks committee was operating in secrecy and refused to include the public in the decision-making process
News Editor
   Jan. 30, 2002 -- The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 last Wednesday to disband a Crooked River Ranch-based park advisory committee that had come under fire for its handling of a proposed county park and charges by some Ranch residents that they were excluded from its public meetings.
   In dissolving the five-member Jefferson County-Crooked River Ranch Park Development Advisory Committee, the commissioners said they were passing the duties on to a similar committee under the jurisdiction of the Ranch's club and maintenance association to take the reins on a project that's been in the making for years.
   "This commission has chosen to let the Ranch develop a park out there and they've been working on it for years," commissioner Janet Brown said. "We're going to leave it up to the Ranch to decide where it is. We're not in the park development business."
   In a September 2000 election, 709 of 1,013 participating Crooked River Ranch residents approved the donation of 5 acres of Ranch land to Jefferson County in order to acquire $46,000 in System Development Charge funds for the park, to be located between Stallion and Rim roads.
   Those funds were collected by the county from charges levied against developers of property in Crooked River Ranch.
   But since approving the proposal, a Ranch association committee began drafting preliminary plans for the park at the same time the county's park advisory committee worked on designs.
   Jerry Cusick, a Ranch association board member, said some people were sitting on both committees. He and several other Crooked River Ranch residents approached the county commission last week with this concern, leading the three commissioners to disband the county's committee.
   "They were having a lot of problems on this committee and not getting much done anyway," Cusick said.
   Some residents bordering the proposed park said their concerns were blatantly ignored and they were excluded from public committee meetings. They said their requests for meeting minutes were denied and their letters of interest to fill a vacant spot on the committee were intentionally ignored.
   Nine Crooked River Ranch residents asked the commission to remove the committee's chairwoman, Terri Ludwig, from the advisory group.
   Commission chair Mike Ahern said disbanding the committee was a more appropriate move. "We don't want to drive any wedges out there," he said.
   The commissioners indicated that money earmarked for the Crooked River Ranch park wouldn't be directed elsewhere in the meantime while the association's Parks and Recreation Committee goes back to the drawing board.
   "Basically, we're in search of a consensus, not a fight," Ahern said. "The two committees fought like crazy and we're trying to get one group together. They need, as a community, to decide where that park's going to be and we'll build it."
   Jefferson County currently administers two parks: the Juniper Hills Park just east of Madras and an RV park next to the fairgrounds.
   Crooked River Ranch Board President Vern Bowers said the ranch association's park committee was being reorganized to include residents who claimed they had been shut out of the decision-making process.
   "There were some difficulties with some neighbors on how the committee was working and the siting process," Bowers said. "In an effort to serve our members and neutralize a difficult situation, the board chose to reorganize the committee."
   A new chairperson will be appointed on Feb. 11.