Commission candidates discuss jail, salary issues

Editor's note: This is the second of two parts examining commissioner candidates' positions on issues important to Jackson County. The first part ran in Wednesday's paper. Ballots for the primary election go out Friday and are due back to the Elections Office by 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15. For information on the candidates, see

What can the county do to alleviate the number of forced releases at the jail because of overcrowding?

John Beatty (D): It comes down to money. The problem isn't just that we are at maximum capacity; we would also need additional staff to handle any extra beds we might create. Staffing and capacity increases aren't free. This would be a perfect example of where we should temporarily use a portion of the rainy-day fund until we find a long-term solution to the funding, or if jail-able offenses decrease enough to match the current capacity.

Jeff Scroggin (D): I support the remodel of the jail and its increased capacity. Simply put, we have had no substantive increase in releases. State budgetary cutbacks have forced the releases to take place at a different point in the process. Two additional staff would allow the county to process the workload while facilitating additional capacity. Added capacity can be rented to the federal government or other local governments, thereby adding revenue to the county budget.

Mark Soderstrom (D): Build a 400-plus-bed jail. Form a public information campaign similar to what we did on the library bond issue to inform the public of the need for jail space. Get the new Medicaid/mandatory private pay policies to pay for prisoner health care, then use the savings to pay for the additional jail space and a mental health holding facility. Use income from solar power production with limited prisoner labor to pay for a new jail.

Doug Breidenthal (R): As your next commissioner, I will work closely with our district attorney and sheriff to ensure adequate funding to maintain a safe and secure community. Together we will work on low-cost criminal sentencing that will hold criminals accountable.

Kay Harrison (R): The commissioners need to work with the district attorney and law enforcement to use the bed space for the worst offenders. People need to be held accountable for their actions — jail time is not the only solution.

Joel Ockunzzi (R): I support the county corrections department's recommendations to release "least threat" offenders and retain the more dangerous Measure 11 offenders. This recommendation will not immediately solve the larger problem, which is to be able to fully enforce current state public safety statutes. As the son of a police officer and the father of a Portland police officer, law enforcement is an extremely high priority of mine. I fully intend to work vigorously for the resolution.

Colleen Roberts (R): I believe that the county is already pro-active in this area with the planned remodel of the basement of the jail, adding 62 prisoner beds. The commissioners must have open channels of communication with both the sheriff's and community justice departments to support monitoring systems for the number of releases and returns and the effectiveness of the programs designed to transition inmates successfully into society, thereby minimizing the return of released inmates.

What's your feeling about the salary structure for commissioners?

Breidenthal (R): The commissioners' salary structure should be reviewed with consideration of private sector comparability. It is my belief there is room for adjustments, and I am prepared to make the tough decisions that are necessary to ensure we are not frivolously spending the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.

Harrison (R): We are getting more bang for a buck with the two newest commissioners, but my position has not changed from two years ago: The salary is too high. The high salaries railroaded any discussion we could have on increasing the Board of Commissioners from three seats to five. I believe the county interests would be better served by cutting the salaries in half and having five commissioners. Each commissioner would represent a ward/district.

Ockunzzi (R): Executive level compensation is a measure of value based on management experience. It is designed to attract proven leadership for best results. It raises the bar on qualifications for those who should be considered for the position. The budget committee's cost/benefit analysis was thorough and there is no basis in fact to alter that analysis.

Roberts (R): I have stated in public meetings, editorials and to the commissioners themselves: The salary and structure are both excessive and unrepresentative of the people they serve. The connotation of "public servant" loses meaning when the average citizen's wage (if they are still working) is nearly a third of their salary. In this economy, their salary structure, as I heard one patron state, is "disrespectful." I call it obscene!

Beatty (D): It has been determined that the position of commissioner and its associated responsibilities are worth the current salary, especially when compared to the private sector. I also believe that you should get what you pay for. I strongly urge the voters to elect a candidate worthy of this salary. Demand that the commissioner represent you and your tax dollars.

Scroggin (D): The commissioners' salary is determined by the lay citizens who sit on the Jackson County Budget Committee. I take the recommendation of this deliberative body seriously and would be open to a change should members request one.

Soderstrom (D): It needs to be compared to the salary structure for the administration at Providence Medford Medical Center and Rogue Valley Medical Center. We may be paying as much as $700 million per year too much for health care in Jackson County. What we are spending for health care is a huge part of the high cost of doing business in Jackson County. Remember, it costs $1 billion more to build a chip plant here than overseas.

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