Accusations fly during contentious meeting
Ponsford asks Zemke to resign seat on commission
Philosophical differences in how to handle Ballot Measure 37 issues have caused deep divisions in the Jefferson County Commission, as its members struggle to reach agreement on waiver claims.
The conflict spilled out into a public confrontation June 14, when Chairman Walt Ponsford asked Commissioner Mary Zemke to resign, partly as a result of a memorandum she sent to Ponsford and Commissioner Bill Bellamy.
"Mary, I think, because of this letter, you've declared political war on this county," he said, adding that with the memorandum, "you're guilty of breaking Oregon's public meeting law."
For three-person governing bodies, the law requires that the public have access to any meeting of a quorum -- two or more members.
County Attorney Jacki Haggerty pointed out that the law states that any communication between two members of the commission -- even written communications -- requires public notification.
"Mary, in the past, because of your actions, you have cost this county over $120,000," Ponsford continued, referring to the controversial termination of former County Mental Health Director Dave White, who eventually settled out of court with the county.
Saying she would not resign, Zemke called Ponsford's charges "ludicrous," and said commissioners have always communicated with memos. "You're grasping at straws," she said.
Bellamy disagreed with Zemke's claim in a letter to the citizens of the county that applicants "have endured many hours of nonproductive meetings with the county commissioners, have written amendments and proposals which were discarded by the county, have been treated disrespectfully by Commissioner Ponsford, and have been frustrated at every turn with more bureaucracy."
"Mary, you need to go back and reflect," Bellamy said. "We made significant changes based on their deals."
Following the commissioners' comments, several county residents spoke. Longtime Madras resident Steve Hillis, a retired schoolteacher, said he is very concerned about Measure 37.
The statewide measure, passed by voters in 2004, allows property owners to ask state or local government for compensation if land-use laws passed after they acquired their property reduce the value of their property. The county has opted to waive land-use laws, rather than paying compensation.
"I've got a feeling the only people who have been talking with the commission want to use 37 for their own personal gain," he said. Addressing Mary, Hillis said, "My commission should be representing all of us," adding that he and his children and grandchildren are also constituents whose views should be represented.
"There are people like me who are concerned about the future," he said. "I want my community to grow reasonably, with sense. I don't want my taxes to grow to subsidize development."
Longtime resident and realtor Jim Waldorf, who has a Measure 37 claim, said he resents the implication that claimants are not community-minded people.
"Sixty-four percent of the people passed this and you'd better adhere to this law, Walt," Waldorf said. "The only way to change you is to take you out of office, and I don't care what your opinion is."
"A good lobbyist understands and appreciates both sides of an issue," said Ponsford. "A poor lobbyist does not consider other people's needs. Some people are asking the commission to treat others in a manner that is totally unfair."
"If I lose my office because of my stand, that's OK," said Ponsford, who will be running against Republican nominee John Hatfield of Madras in November. "Measure 37 passed because things were unfair."
Jerry Ramsey, who grew up in Madras on his family's ranch, and returned here after his retirement, said he supports Hillis' statements. "What I'm hearing is an incessant attack on the rules that govern this county."
Noting that courts have not yet ruled of parts of Measure 37, Ramsey commented, "Until we know where we stand legally, we cannot move on as a county unilaterally. I implore Bellamy and Ponsford to hold the line. If that line is not held, the county is in great legal jeopardy."
Culver farmer and rancher Mike Alley, who has a Measure 37 claim, suggested that the commission follow some sort of order in its discussion. "If we could be here deciding on health and safety, we wouldn't have to have the county at risk in some lawsuit," he said, referring to the fact that the county hasn't yet agreed on what constitues health and safety issues -- which cannot be waived under Measure 37.
Farmer Bill Towery, who has a Measure 37 claim, noted, "Two gentlemen apparently don't believe in property rights," referring to Hillis and Ramsey. "Some people do not want to obey the law, even though they proclaim loudly that they follow the law."
Ponsford asked the Measure 37 claimants who spoke whether or not they felt that they should follow today's standards for their subdivisions. Most felt it should be voluntary, and they shouldn't have to pay current rates for such things as surveys.
The County Subdivision Committee will hold a public information session on the current subdivision process in Jefferson County at 5:30 p.m. today, June 21, at the courthouse annex.
The commission will deliberate on proposed changes to the subdivision process for Measure 37 claims at its next meeting June 28 at 1:30 p.m.
Ponsford will hold a public information session to gather public input and comment on his efforts to deal with Measure 37 claims Thursday, June 22, at 7 p.m. in the Rodriguez Annex of the Jefferson County Library.