County commissioner: Jim Olney, C.W. Smith best choices

All three Democrats seeking a seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners bring a sincere desire to change the county's direction and to make county government more responsive and accountable to the public. Of the three, we think Jim Olney is most capable if making that happen.

Whoever wins likely will have his work cut out for him in taking on incumbent Commissioner Dennis C.W. Smith, who we believe is clearly the best choice on the Republican side.

In the Democratic race, Scott Keith, 44, manager of the McKenzie Outfitters outdoor store in Medford, is a Colestin Valley resident who has lived in the county 10 years. He has no experience in government, which is his biggest drawback as a candidate.

John Morrison, 63, is Ashland's mayor. His term ends this year. He says his deep roots in the valley — he's a Phoenix High School graduate — give him important perspective on the challenges facing the county.

Morrison correctly points to progress in Ashland during his 31/2 years as mayor. The city-operated Ashland Fiber Network, which was losing $1.5 million a year when he took office, has stopped leaking red ink. The City Council, which earned some notoriety for personality clashes between council members and other dysfunctional behavior, cleaned up its act after Morrison pushed for training sessions paid for out of the council's budget.

Morrison says his connections with community leaders around the county would give him a head start as a commissioner. He is, by his own admission, running a "low-key" campaign in the primary, banking on those connections and his name familiarity to win the nomination and saving his resources for a general election campaign against Smith. We suggest he not underestimate Jim Olney.

Olney, 55, has lived in Jackson County for only four years, but first came to Oregon in 1976, at which time he worked for the Legislative Research Office of the state Legislature, conducting performance audits of state agencies. Later he was executive director and lobbyist for a construction industry association. He holds a master's degree in public administration.

Olney is now executive director of the nonprofit Jackson County Library Foundation, which gave him a first-hand look at the county's handling of the library funding crisis. He is understandably critical of that process, saying it was a mistake for the county to put the same library levy before the voters twice rather than scaling back the request the second time.

Olney also offers some concrete proposals designed to open up county government and make it more accessible. He says the minutes of county meetings should be available online as they are in other counties in the state, and the commissioners should meet in the evening when the public can more easily attend.

Olney is running a visible campaign, knocking on doors throughout the county and calling for a change in leadership. He is showing the kind of energy it will take if a Democratic challenger is to have a chance in a county that tilts Republican.

We recommend that Democratic voters give Olney the nomination.

On the Republican side, incumbent Commissioner Smith is popular and well known in the community as the former county sheriff, police chief in Talent and commissioner since 2004. He is challenged in the primary by Morris "Bub" Saltekoff of Gold Hill, who ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Jack Walker in 2006 because he said Walker wouldn't help him with a problem involving a property deed.

Saltokoff's chief proposal in that race was placing water wheels in irrigation canals as a way to generate electricity. Walker defeated him with nearly 85 percent of the vote.

We recommend Republicans vote for Smith.

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