Board accused of 'back-door' appointment

The appointment of a Jackson County assessor appears to be a done deal, with a county employee getting "a head nod" even before the Board of Commissioners votes on it Wednesday.

"From what I can tell it is being done behind closed doors," said Roy Wright, an appraiser who ran for the assessor position in the 2008 election and intends to run again in May.

Wright said he expressed interest in being considered for the position, but learned the commissioners already had settled on Joshua Gibson, who works in the Assessor's Office.

Gibson would replace Dan Ross, who stepped down in September, citing a hostile work environment while also facing personnel complaints.

Commissioners said they were not making closed-door decisions in selecting Gibson, but were merely looking for the most qualified candidate to fill an interim position until the election.

But their decision to appoint Gibson came without notice to the public and without any convening of a public meeting, both of which are required by Oregon's public meetings laws before deliberating toward a decision.

The assessor's job is an elected position, but because Ross left office before his term was up, it falls on the commissioners to make the appointment. The nonpartisan position will be on the ballot in May. If one candidate draws more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she will be elected assessor. If not, the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election.

The commissioners indicated they plan to select Gibson to fill the position at their 9:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting.

The commissioners put three measures before voters earlier this year to make the assessor, the surveyor and the clerk appointed positions rather than elected, but the voters rejected all three by wide margins.

Wright acknowledged Gibson has experience working at the Assessor's Office, but said it came under difficult circumstances.

"No matter how good this kid is, his training took place in a dysfunctional environment," he said. "People in that office have been under a lot of stress for the past two years. They need a breath of fresh air in the office."

Since the commissioners failed to get voters to approve the appointing of the assessor, Wright said, they are trying a back-door method of achieving the same end.

He described the selection of someone within the ranks of Assessor's Office as "bureaucratic incest."

All three commissioners said the matter had been discussed and the likely candidate is Gibson.

"We've already given a head nod," Commissioner Don Skundrick said.

He said Gibson is the best choice as the interim assessor because he has had experience working in the office, and would provide continuity for the county before a new assessor takes over in January 2013.

Skundrick said he didn't think the selection of Gibson could be interpreted as automatic support for his candidacy, nor that the commissioners are trying to appoint an insider.

"I don't know where one can even go with that," he said. "It's almost comical. Maybe it's just naive of me, but I don't see anything wrong with it."

Commissioner C.W. Smith said he was under the impression that the selection of Gibson was essentially accomplished, though he thought it still might require some kind of formal action.

"The board has made a decision to make Joshua Gibson the assessor," he said. "We wanted to try to make sure that it was a transition that was orderly. We wanted someone to hit the ground running with that office."

Smith said he wasn't even aware that Wright was interested in the interim assessor's position. Wright said he had contacted the county to let them know of his interest.

Smith said the fact that Gibson would be considered the incumbent in an election shouldn't give him that much of an edge in May.

"I am sure that Roy Wright can mount a formidable campaign," he said. "There's going to be other folks, and I think that's great."

Commissioner John Rachor said each commissioner separately had discussed the possible appointment with staff and also with Gibson, but not in an open meeting.

"We haven't talked about this in a meeting," he said.

Rachor said Roy Wright also had spoken with him.

The only other possible candidate for assessor so far who has filed pre-qualification papers is Gerald James Nordahl, who runs Equitable Appraisal Service in Medford.

Nordahl said he wasn't even aware the commissioners were planning to fill the assessor's position on an interim basis.

He said he's considering making a run for the office in the May election, but hadn't made up his mind yet.

Jack Orchard, a Portland attorney who represents the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said the commissioners should have made every effort to make the selection of an assessor a public process, particularly because the position is normally an elected one.

"It increases the obligation of the commissioners to be as transparent as possible and to open up the process as much as possible," he said.

The process used to select the new assessor is an important undertaking for the not only county officials, but the voters as well, Orchard said.

"They (applicants) need to demonstrate the decision-making process to the public, not just the county commissioners," he said.

He said commissioners could discuss various candidates for the position, but can't indicate who they've chosen until after deliberations.

"They don't have any business discussing whether this person is the chosen one," Orchard said

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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