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Elimination of North Marion Justice Court has consequences

Marion County rural communities will suffer a devastating loss of local control and locally elected representation over the next few months. A loss that will cut deeply into their ability to provide public safety and bring justice to both victims and offenders. Marion County Commissioners Janet Carlson and Sam Brentano recently acted to abolish the East Marion Justice of the Peace District, which closes the Stayton and Lancaster Road Justice Courts. Their action also terminates Judge Steve Summers’ position before his term ends.

Their action also modifies the North Marion Justice of the Peace District creating a new Marion County Justice of the Peace District. The Justice Court on Highway 99E will close. A new court, described as a traffic court only, will likely be located on Portland Road in Salem. All these changes take place effective July 1, 2014.

My primary concern with these justice court closures has been and will continue to be meeting citizens’ expectations of public safety and delivering swift justice — justice for all, equally and fairly throughout Marion County, regardless of where a victim or perpetrator lives. If a crime happens in Marion County, it is our responsibility is to provide justice for all.

I am also concerned about the unintended consequences that are unfolding as a result of this dramatic change to our Marion County public safety system. For example, the Stayton and Lancaster Road court closures have people worried that cases going “downtown” to circuit court in Salem will get lost in an already stringent set of standardized protocols and priorities. Circuit court downtown can be intimidating and impersonal compared to a local justice court that reflects the community’s values. The best government is the government closest to the people and that’s especially true in local community courts.

Another concern is the huge financial burden the closure of the Stayton court puts on the city of Stayton. Stayton is considering opening a municipal court to pick up the work the abolished East Marion Justice Court has been doing for the past 24 years. Initial estimates of yearly operating costs for Stayton are approximately $200,000. Software startup is estimated at more than $26,000. None of this is in the city’s budget.

Additionally, this bold action by two Marion County commissioners to terminate an independent, locally elected judge has raised people’s eyebrows. Now that one elected official has been removed, who’s next?

While it would be very complicated to remove other elected positions, this is indeed a dangerous precedent that has been set. In fact there are those who would prefer more appointed officials and fewer elected officials. Elected officials represent the people and are held accountable by the voters, by the constituents they serve. On the contrary, appointed officials work for the bureaucracy and are not accountable to the voters. Appointed officials can make decisions in the back room and don’t have to take responsibility for any decisions. They are shielded from both the will of the people and the voice of the people. This move to centralize decision making and chip away at our representative form of government is a slippery slope I hate to see happening in Marion County.

I disagree with these actions and therefore voted no. It all began with a proposal to save money. I doubt it will. But all of this has come at a huge cost to good will, trust and the county’s integrity. However, I will continue to do all I can to support our rural communities, especially Stayton in this issue. I will also continue to work to provide information to citizens and encourage public forums for discussion and sharing of information. And, I will continue to work with other elected and community public safety officials in the development and implementation of the new justice of the peace district.

Please call me with any questions or ideas at 503-588-5212.