Board Disagrees with County Counsel

COMMENTARY | Near the end of last Thursday’s Admin meeting (starting about minute 50), Commissioner Reedy brought forth a video policy that he said was drafted by County Legal Counsel Steve Rich. Reedy wants to keep cameras out of the seating area and have them turned off during breaks or after adjournment, “to protect the privacy of the public.” He said that he got “complaint after complaint after complaint of people shoving a camera in somebody’s face when they are at the podium, from the seating area.”

Commissioner Haugen expressed doubts about the idea that video cameras should be restricted during Board meetings in the Anne Basker. Commissioner Hare could not believe that it would be legal to restrict cameras apart from keeping tripods from blocking aisles and doors. He saw no way that a handheld camera can be restricted in a public venue, especially since the County doesn’t ask anyone’s permission to tape one. Commissioner Haugen pointed out that people were using cell phones to record part of the presentation the day before.

The Board has discovered that it can’t take the word of County Legal Counsel that any action is legal. Neither Haugen nor Hare could believe that the order he drafted is legal. This calls all of his legal advice into question.

A public meeting is a public venue, and no one has a right to privacy from cameras therein. Commissioners Hare and Haugen know this.

Our County Legal Counsel probably knows it, doesn’t care. He has been in office so long and feels so safe in his job that his legal philosophy seems to be, “Do what you want until a higher power says you can’t.” That may be what happened when the Board eliminated the Mental Health Department right after a strike.

The Josephine County Legal Counsel is an elected office unique to this County that no other lawyer has run for, likely because the pay is too low, so low that Mr. Rich also works for various cities to subsidize his income from the County, while hiring staff to do county work. He can’t be fired by the Board; he’s hired by the people. But he doesn’t work for the people; he says that he works for the Board. He tells the Board what they want to hear, not what they need to know.

It’s time for the people to fire him, not by recall, but by repealing his elective office and going back to appointment by the Board, so the Board can have counsel in whom they have confidence, and fire him when they no longer have it.

After the meeting, Commissioner Haugen pointed out that Mr. Rich advised against eliminating Mental Health; the Board temporarily hired another lawyer who told them otherwise. See supporting links for cases that better prove the point of this speech.

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