COUNTY APPEAL OF REDISTRICTING PLAN DELAYED

September 05, 2001 12:00 am

GOLD BEACH ? The Curry County commissioners were asked Tuesday to take the lead on petitioning the Oregon Supreme Court to overturn the redistricting plan of Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.

The request was made by representatives from the Port of Brookings Harbor and the City of Brookings, who attended the commissioners? regular meeting.

The commissioners, however, asked County Counsel Jerry Herbage to review the matter first to see what can legally be done. They continued the meeting to 11 a.m. today (Sept. 5).

Commissioners Marlyn Schafer and Rachelle Schaaf said they would move forward to take some action against the redistricting, though exactly what would depend on Herbage?s report.

Schaaf and Schafer wrote a three-page letter to Chief Justice Wallace Carson outlining why the redistricting plan does not fit the criteria defined in the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).

It said, in part, ?Separating Curry County from the Coos Bay/North Bend areas and placing Curry County in a Senate district with the Roseburg area ignores geographic and political boundaries.?

The letter said that violates ORS 188.010, subsection 1c. It also said subsection 1d was violated because, ?The final redistricting plan does, in fact, divide communities of interest.?

The letter said subsection 1e was violated because the district would not be connected by a good transportation link.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said she has not decided whether she likes Bradbury?s plan or not, or whether she will support a challenge to it or not.

She said she had concerns about the letter, however, and about Sen. Ken Messerle and Rep. Wayne Krieger recommending at the Aug. 29 meeting on redistricting that people write to the Supreme Court justices.

?It raised red flags,? she said. She said she contacted the attorney for the Supreme Court.

If the justices received the letters, said La Bont, it would constitute ex parte contact, and the justices would have to claim they had such contact in the case.

She said secretaries in the judges? offices review letters and store them if they could constitute ex parte contact. If so, the letters are stored and the judges are informed of them only after the case is over.

La Bont said the judges? spouses intercept letters at home.

She said Krieger also erred when he said the court would redraw the map if it found in favor of the petition.

According to the state constitution, said La Bont, if a petition is filed and succeeds, the court would instruct Bradbury to go out for more public comment. He would then redraw the district and send it to the court for approval.

La Bont said she was first given a copy of the letter to the court a few minutes before the Tuesday meeting began.

She said she?d had no chance to study it, but was not prepared to send letters to the Supreme Court justices.

She said the Port of Brookings Harbor had prepared to petition the court, which is the proper way to do it.

La Bont said she?d heard from citizens in Curry County who didn?t want the county commissioners involved in the petition.

She said a Coos County commissioner told her some citizens there feel the same way.

La Bont called the redistricting ?a pretty partisan issue.?

She said Republican legislators drew up the original plan, which so angered the Democrats that they walked out for a week. She said the governor then said he would veto the Republican plan.

La Bont said she was anxious to hear what Herbage would find. She asked if other counties were filing petitions.

She also said she has established a good working relationship with Bradbury and didn?t want to endanger that.

Finally, La Bont said that she spoke with former state representative Walt Schroeder and that he agreed the county should not take a position on the issue.

Schafer said that is not what Schroeder told her.

She said he had merely indicated that he understood La Bont?s position and explained to her why her opposition was not a good idea.

Schaaf said depending on what Herbage finds, the letter might not be the most appropriate way of addressing the issue, but she said it expresses the county?s concerns.

?Partisanship was not mentioned once in the letter,? she said. ?This is not a partisan issue.?

She said as a Democrat, she is getting tired of hearing the petition is a partisan ?slam? at Bradbury.

Schaaf said the concerns of some districts were heard by Bradbury, but not those of Curry County. ?The letter takes a stand,? she said. ?We want those items considered.?

Schaaf asked La Bont why the county should not be involved in the issue.

La Bont said she was hurt that she wasn?t included when the letter was composed, and also hurt at the Aug. 29 meeting.

She said she?d known and worked with many in the room for years.

?None of you bothered to come and talk with me,? she said. ?Why was Walt (Schroeder) the only one to talk with me??

Olive Wooldridge, one of the three candidates for the seat Schaaf was appointed to, said the letter ?came as a complete surprise to me.?

?I?m totally with Lucie,? she said. ?It?s inappropriate for the county commissioners to take a stand on this issue.?

Schaaf said if the county has an opportunity for appeal, it should do it.

Wooldridge said the redistricting is being made into a partisan issue.

Schaaf said the letter is not partisan. ?I don?t feel that the interests of Curry County will be represented by someone from inland Douglas County.?

Ed Gray, port commissioner of the Port of Brookings Harbor, said, ?It is political, it will be political and it has to be political. There are two parties.?

That, however, was the only time he agreed with Wooldridge. Speaking as a private citizen, not as a port commissioner, he said he was ?quite alarmed? to find the commissioners fragmented on the issue.

?You are supposed to represent the citizens of this community,? he said.

Gray said eight ?tightly bonded? ports on the Oregon coast are being split up by Bradbury?s plan.

He asked for an itemized list of benefits of the plan from either Bradbury or La Bont.

He said that at the North Bend meeting on redistricting, and at the Aug. 29 meeting in Gold Beach, elected officials and businessmen came out against the plan.

?And now you wonder whether to back up the people who elected you,? Gray said to La Bont. ?What will be improved by this division??

Mike Nielsen, manager of the Port of Gold Beach, said his commissioners haven?t taken an official position on the issue yet, but will work in concert with the Port of Brookings Harbor.

He said his port would support the initiative of the Port of Brookings Harbor ?in lockstep.?

He asked, ?Are we an anomaly or are other entities planning to petition the court?? He also wanted to know the position of the Association of Oregon Counties.

Bob Hagbom, mayor of Brookings, said he was authorized to speak for the city council.

He said he stated his position at the North Bend meeting that he was totally against fragmenting the district.

He said he?d worked closely with Messerle and had known Krieger a long time.

?They are both well-respected at the state level,? said Hagbom. ?They have fought battles for us when and where we asked.?

He said the city would support the port?s position. ?We will do whatever we can to keep the configuration together. We will not sit idle with regard to redistricting.?

?I don?t see it as a political issue,? said Hagbom. ?A Democrat and a Republican on the county commission support it.?

He said he was disturbed that the public comments made in North Bend were not listened to by Bradbury.

La Bont asked if Brookings was ready to file a petition.

Hagbom said it is, in his opinion, but he can?t answer until he goes back to his council.

?If you do nothing,? he said to the commissioners, ?I will ask our council to appeal to the court.?

Russ Crabtree, manager of the Port of Brookings Harbor, said the commissioners? letter was ?well-done? but he wasn?t sure if it should be sent to the justices.

?We?re looking to the county for leadership,? he said. ?We should approach this issue with unity. It should be under the banner of the county. All three ports are here.?

?We need to go forward as a county and three communities speaking with one voice,? he said.

?Listen carefully when you do your defense,? said La Bont, ?because we do have connections with Douglas County and the plan was approved by the justice department.?

Brookings City Councilor Larry Curry spoke as a private citizen. He said of the city council, though, ?We?re fairly much in agreement something should be done. I agree with the ports, mayor and the people here.?

?It was made clear we were not happy with the plan,? said Curry, ?and then he (Bradbury) made it worse.?

?If we don?t do something before the fact,? he said, ?after the fact will be too late.?

Wooldridge asked if the commissioners would allow more public testimony Wednesday.

?It?s pretty clear we have decided we will go forward as to what we?re going to do,? said Schafer.

?We haven?t made the decision to go forward yet,? said La Bont.

Schafer said they hadn?t. She said she meant she wasn?t sure how much more testimony to take.

?I?d like to adopt the points in the letter as our collective stand,? said Schaaf, ?whether we send it to the justices or by passenger pigeon.?

La Bont said since Schaaf and Schafer hadn?t shared the letter with her until the morning of the meeting, she wanted to make a decision the next day.

Schafer said, ?I stand behind everything in the letter.? She also said Herbage had cautioned against making any motions yet.

?I will call for a decision tomorrow,? said Schaaf.