Grant County Public Forest Commission members will meet tonight to discuss the future of the commission, after the recent circuit court ruling nullifying the citizen initiative that created the commission.
The commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the Squeeze In to decide whether or not to disband or to appeal Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr.’s nullification of Grant County’s Measure 12-39 which disbanded the commission. The meeting is open to the public.
Members of the forest commission expressed frustration and dismay during the Grant County Court meeting Wednesday, Oct. 19. They repeatedly questioned the county court for more information on Cramer’s decision, but members of the county court explained little information was available.
Cramer ruled Sept. 14 the measure creating the Public Forest Commission that was approved by county voters in 2002 “conflicts with paramount law in both the State of Oregon and federally” in a brief opinion letter to the county, whose attorney defended the measure, and Mark Webb, who challenged it.
Cramer said he issued the abbreviated opinion to inform the county clerk, who was preparing ballots for the upcoming election that would have included Public Forest Commission candidates, the initiative creating the commission had been nullified. He said he planned to issue a full opinion, but as of Oct. 19, that document has yet to appear in court records.
Public Forest Commission members also complained they had not been notified of the state circuit court proceedings, where county counsel Ron Yockim and Mark Webb appeared before the judge.
County Judge Scott Myers said the circuit court proceedings had been public and had been posted.
Commission member Jim Sproul called the disbandment of the commission a “travesty of justice,” stating it went against the opinions of an overwhelming majority of county citizens. He expressed interest in appealing Cramer’s ruling.
Myers said he agreed with Cramer’s decision that the initiative to create the commission should never have made it to the ballot as it violated state and federal law. Commissioner Boyd Britton said an appeal would be frivolous and costly, and Commissioner Chris Labhart said he would wait to see Cramer’s explanation of the decision before he made up his mind about an appeal.
Webb argued in his petition for judicial review that the measure conflicted with state law by authorizing the commission to manage land currently managed by state agencies, such as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. He argued it conflicted with federal law by authorizing the commission to manage Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land.
On behalf of the county and the forest commission, Yockim argued voters intended to create a commission to manage public lands, if and when the land was legally transferred from federal or state control to the county.