Out of thin air

Jackson County commissioners seem taken aback by criticism of their behind-the-scenes approach to appointing an interim county assessor. They shouldn't be surprised. They should be embarrassed.

The troubled Jackson County Assessor's Office finds itself without a leader after the resignation of longtime Assessor Dan Ross. Ross stepped down in September after considerable criticism over personnel and management issues.

That left the commissioners with the responsibility to appoint a successor to Ross until the position could be placed on the ballot at the next election in May. On Monday, having held no public meeting regarding the vacancy, they indicated they planned to appoint Assessor's Office employee Joshua Gibson during their regular weekly agenda meeting at 9:30 this morning.

It's important to stress that, despite vocal objections by local property appraiser Roy Wright, who wants the job himself, there is nothing wrong with the commissioners' choosing Gibson to fill the post until the election. It only makes sense to appoint someone familiar with how the office operates, and the commissioners could be rightly criticized if they brought someone in from outside to be the interim assessor, especially if that person intended to run for election to the post in May.

It's not the choice, it's the process — or, more accurately, the lack of any public process whatsoever.

In fairness, county commissioners have to be more careful about public meetings requirements than any other elected body because there are only three of them. If two of them discuss any decision outside of a public meeting, that's not only a quorum of the board, it's a majority, and they just broke the public meetings law.

But they all know this very well. Which makes it incomprehensible that they would think they could make a decision like this ahead of time.

Oregon public meetings law says elected bodies may hold a closed-door executive session to discuss appointing a hired executive, but not when filling a vacancy in an elective office. In this case, the commissioners didn't try that, but they couldn't have done it legally even if they had wanted to.

Instead, they apparently met individually with Gibson, then somehow agreed among themselves that he should be appointed without notifying the public that they were doing so or offering the opportunity for any public comment. In other words, they broke the law.

The commissioners should put off voting today, schedule a public hearing to take comments on the appointment — and brace themselves for a public scolding.

Share This Story