Relaford joins race for county commissioner seat

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 12, 2014 09:17 am

Port Commissioner Jim Relaford is running for the Curry County Board of Commissioners Position 1 seat, on a platform of rebuilding the county from the foundation up.

“I’ve been thinking about the problems with the county for some time,” he said. “But the thing that got me going was … the response I got from the (Curry Coastal Pilot) Forum piece I wrote. People from all levels — county government, city government, employees — said that made the most sense to them.”

What made sense, they said, was his statement that there isn’t a crisis that cannot be managed.

“I don’t believe there is a financial crisis in the county,” he said. “There’s a management crisis in the county. Part of that is structural: The county as it’s made up with three independent commissioners who do administrative duties but have no single point of focus is a structure bound for failure.

“You can cover a lot of structural sins when you’re prosperous,” he continued. “But it starts to reveal itself is when you’re broke.”

His platform is to operate the county’s budget with the funds it has today, cutting services and adding them as voters agree to pay for things they notice are missing. In the early days of county budget discussions, this option was referred to as the “Let It Burn” school of thought.

Relaford says, “So be it.”

He’s seen — and been a part of — an entity that faced much of what the county does now: the Port of Brookings Harbor. He added that, if elected, he will continue to hold his port board position and evaluate that decision in about a month.

“When I came on (May 2007), the port was broke,” he said. “There was talk of the state taking it over. At one point, we had difficulty making payroll; we had to ask employees to hold their checks. We were broke.”

What got them out of that situation — the port has received three years of clean audits and has had two years in the budgetary red this decade — was the board recognizing its role in setting policy and direction and hiring a strong executive to make that happen, Relaford said. He added that he has no one in mind, but knows what he wants in an administrator.

“We’ve proven that works very well,” he said. “Just give him direction and get out of the way.”

He supports the home rule initiative on the May 20 ballot.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “That’s very much part of my platform. Home rule is essential. Once home rule is adopted, commissioners will have to recognize the voters have given them a pot of money and that is what they have. The commissioners have not done a good job explaining to the community (the services we’d have) and how deteriorated they will be. That’s what they need to attack. There needs to be severe cutting. Services will be severely cut.”

He cited as an example the day he drove to Gold Beach to file his candidacy — and the clerk’s office was closed.

“The office closed at 4,” he said with a laugh. “It could be it’s only open for two hours a day if we have to live within the budget the voters have given us. That’s what we have to do. We don’t need to come up with a package of services and try to sell it to the community. It doesn’t work. I don’t see it working at all.

“The community has told us what they want,” he continued. “We need to take the amount of money we have and prioritize services and cut to live within that. It’s clear the county can’t come to any conclusion how to do that.”

The only exception, he said, is for law enforcement.

But even there, Relaford said, there are “a lot of economies that could be gained within the Sheriff’s Office. Outsource the jail; I don’t believe it’s too expensive. Our jail needs an investment we can’t make. We’re not prepared to make the capital investment.”

Relaford said he’s not much for holding continuous meetings, but prefers to get things done.

“All they (voters) see (now) is the formation of another group; we don’t need to talk about it any more. The second thing they see is, ‘We need to raise taxes.’ The voters have spoken. We‘d be remiss if we tried to go back to voters right now.”

Once county services are cut to what there is to fund them, voters will begin complaining, Relaford said.

“They’ll make their demands known very well,” he said. “If it takes them 10 weeks to get a building permit, someone’s going to cry and scream. That’s the time to ask for a tax increase. Start off with a plate and add services. If the voters want more, they decide.”

He’s none too perturbed about the slash in pay he’d have to take — from $60,000 to $10,000 to be a commissioner under the home rule charter being offered to voters.

“There’s something in the water in Gold Beach that gets all these people to say all these great things,” he said. “They get elected, they get used to that paycheck, they get used to that PERS, they expense account and an election rolls around and it’s, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to not lose it!’ I’m willing to lose it. A $10,000 stipend is more than generous. It’s not a full-time job.”

Other beliefs Relaford holds is that House Bill 3453 will not be implemented in a community with $33 million in its road fund, and that O&C timber problems need to be addressed at the federal level.

“The current commission showed its colors when the Citizens Committee came back with its 19 recommendations, and not one has even been addressed,” he said. “That was a big waste of time. The big (public safety) summit? I haven’t heard any concrete suggestions that came out of that, other than, ‘Well, we need to get back together for another study group’ — I don’t have the patience for that.”

And Relaford thinks the solutions can be quickly attained, as well.

“We can solve this — certainly before June,” he said. “They may not like the level of services we can afford with the tax level we have now, but the job of a commissioner is to fashion the service level to face the facts. I think this county could be turned around fairly quickly into a financially stable county.”

And long term, he thinks a sound structure will serve as the foundation for a good county.

“If we get a good, efficient administrator and have commissioners that can set some strategy, this could be turned around fairly quickly,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”