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Election 2018: Five vie for county commissioner

Colbeth, Elliott, Larson, Osburn and Palmer explain why they’re running.

By Richard Hanners

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on April 17, 2018 5:54PM

Richie Colbeth

Richie Colbeth

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Tanner Elliott

Tanner Elliott

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Gordon Larson

Gordon Larson

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Archie Osburn

Archie Osburn

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Sam Palmer

Sam Palmer

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Editor’s note: This link contains all five articles about each of the candidates for Grant County commissioner in alphabetical order. Links to the individual articles are also available at the end. Candidate Dave Rose withdrew from the election.

Colbeth wants to keep costs down, will bring eclectic experience to the table

Commissioner candidate Richie Colbeth, 79, John Day, grew up in New Jersey and retired from the Air Force as a non-commissioned officer in charge of administration and personal affairs after 20 years in the service. He’s worked as a school bus trainer, a union representative, an airport security screener and a paralegal.

Colbeth moved to John Day about 10 years ago and currently owns and operates John Day Taxi. He has degrees in administration, electronics and theology and hosted the “Cowboy Chapel Chaplain Richie” radio show on KJDY for seven years.

He’s served on numerous boards and committees, including the John Day Budget Committee, Republican Precinct Committee, Senior Citizen Advisory Board and a local ministerial association. He’s volunteered at the Grant County Historical Museum, the Grant County Ranch and Rodeo Museum, Grant County Hospice and the Grant County Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve been a very busy boy,” he said.

One of Colbeth’s top concerns is the kind of proposals coming from John Day City Manager Nick Green. He wanted to know who will pick the vegetables in the city’s “greenhouse on a swamp.”

Providing broadband internet to the county is not an important issue, he said. He said he’s happy with the fiber optic cable Ortelco ran to his house on Seventh Street.

When asked about whether 911 dispatch should be kept local or outsourced to Frontier Regional 911, Colbeth replied, “Send it to Condon.” Maintaining dispatchers with local knowledge is not important, but keeping costs down is, he said.

Colbeth opposed the idea of establishing a natural resource adviser position to advise the Grant County Court. In addition to costing money, the position would likely become political.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “Environmentalists would end up steering it.”

His vision for the future is to grow the timber industry, which would benefit the entire economy and help reduce fire dangers.

“Let the loggers loose,” he said.

He also opposes legalizing marijuana, which alters people’s minds, and he wants more security at school entrances, but no armed guards inside.

“I’m the most qualified because I have the most eclectic experience,” he said.

Elliott says economy is No. 1 issue, offers ‘youth, idealism and fresh ideas’

Commissioner candidate Tanner Elliott, 18, John Day, is a junior at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School and serves on the county’s Planning Commission and 4-H Advisory Council.

He was elected freshman and sophomore class presidents and is the current vice president of the high school’s Associate Student Body. He is a 4-H county ambassador and member of the Future Business Leaders of America program. He has worked in lawn maintenance and as a lifeguard.

The big issue facing Grant County is the economy, Elliott said.

“We’re going the wrong direction and lack leadership,” he said. “While the U.S. economy is booming, ours is shutting down.”

The county needs more job diversity and a better education system. When people consider moving to Grant County, they look at schools, health care, opportunities for work and cultural or recreational amenities, he said.

Elliott said he opposes a government-owned broadband network because it will lead to higher prices and poorer service. He cited similar networks that failed in Burlington, Vermont, and Provo, Utah. Private companies should provide broadband, if at all, he said.

“We don’t have the economy here to support broadband,” Elliott said. “We don’t need it to survive. It’s not a top priority.”

Elliott said he’d prefer to keep 911 dispatch local, but if the county can’t afford to do that, then it should accept the offer from Frontier Regional 911 for contracted services. He also said he’d like to see the county’s natural resource adviser position filled.

“It would be good to have an expert to advise the county court on minerals, timber, grazing and water,” he said.

Elliott didn’t believe the position was a political issue.

“We have a ton of natural resources here, and we need to put them to use,” he said, adding that he wanted to see them used properly.

Elliott’s vision for the county is to bring back another timber mill, which would lead to bigger schools, more jobs and more competition between existing businesses. He said he supports the Initiative 12-71 to legalize recreational marijuana in Grant County because it will create jobs and provide tax revenue to the local community.

He believes he can be an asset to the county court.

“I have youth, idealism and fresh ideas,” he said. “I’m self-funded and not owned by anyone. And I have no self-interest conflicts.”

Larson wants economy restored to past heights, offers lengthy experience in government

Commissioner candidate Gordon Larson, 54, Canyon City, grew up on a dairy farm in Scappoose. He was in the National Guard when he was recruited by the Oregon State Police in 1987.

Larson retired from OSP in 2014 after serving on a gang strike force and a multi-state drug task force, as the outpost commander in John Day and as a regional commander based in La Grande.

He served on the Grant School District 3 board for 12 years, 10 years as chairman. He now runs a ranch south of Canyon City.

The foremost issue facing the county is economic decline, but positive trends can be found in recent state statistics, he said. The divided community is also a major issue.

“It’s been slow to heal following the Canyon Creek Complex fire,” he said. “Neighbors no longer wave to neighbors. People view each other through a political prism rather than if they are good neighbors.”

Larson supports the county court’s decision to join the Grant County Digital Network Coalition, which is one piece in a larger solution to an ailing economy. As for the government’s role in the broadband project, he compared it to the Pony Express, interstate highways and rural electrification.

Noting his lengthy experience with emergency dispatch, Larson said he supports keeping 911 dispatch local and not outsourcing it to Frontier Regional 911.

“Seconds matter,” he said. “It’s critical to have local dispatchers providing this service.”

He was optimistic that the dedicated first responders at a recent 911 User Board meeting, which he attended, will resolve the dispatch question.

Larson sees merit in creating a natural resource adviser position with the county, comparing it to the county court providing funding for a federal animal damage control agent. He said it’s critical the adviser does not make policy or speak for the court, but he saw benefits coming from a well-trained and well-educated person in the position.

Larson said he’d like to see the local economy restored to its 1950 level, with more than 8,000 residents and a diversified economy that was more resistant to downturns. He wants to explore the options, including providing broadband to attract telecommuters.

He said he offers more than 20 years with executive-level leadership experience. He’s served on numerous boards and committees and has testified in the legislature and helped write legislation.

“I want to capitalize on these experiences,” Larson said. “My heart is in Grant County.”

Osburn wants diversified economy, opposes natural resource adviser position

Commissioner candidate Archie Osburn, 61, Monument, has been working on his family’s ranch for most of his life. He graduated from Monument High School with honors and attended Blue Mountain Community College for a time before returning to the ranch.

“I’ve had the same address since 1967,” he said.

Osburn’s ranch employs eight people. He also operates a wildfire support business and an agricultural trucking service.

He was elected and served for several terms on the boards for Monument School and the Monument Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s also served on the Farm Service Agency since the 1980s, which handles disaster relief funds for fires and floods, and loans for conservation projects, student education and 4-H projects.

“Through my ranch and firefighting business and my work on the Farm Service Agency, I’ve brought several million dollars into Grant County,” Osburn said. “No other commissioner candidate can say that.”

The biggest issue facing Grant County is jobs, he said.

“We need employees who are qualified to do the jobs that already exist here, and we need to diversify the local economy to attract skilled workers,” he said.

It’s important that Grant County holds onto the skilled workers who live here now, but there is a lack of opportunities. Bringing broadband internet here is one thing that will help achieve that goal, he said.

“Broadband access is necessary — it’s our new highway,” Osburn said, adding he believes access will eventually branch out from John Day to the rest of the county.

“Lack of good internet access has stopped economic development in Monument,” he said.

Osburn also supports creating a countywide special district for 911 dispatch in Grant County to protect existing dispatcher jobs and to ensure calls are handled by people who are knowledgeable about local geography and people.

He strongly opposes the creation of a natural resource adviser position for the county. He said he leases large tracts of land in two counties from the Bureau of Land Management, and he didn’t want anyone interfering in his relationship with the agency.

“I’ve put my whole life into working with them,” he said.

Osburn said his 45 years of business experience would be an asset for the county court.

“I don’t feel like any other candidate has that kind of experience,” he said.

Palmer sees negative impacts from unemployment, says suicide and child abuse rates far too high

Commissioner candidate Sam Palmer, 53, John Day, was born and raised in John Day and is a graduate of Grant Union High School and Blue Mountain Community College.

He’s been a registered nurse for 30 years and worked locally and around the U.S. in “frontier medicine,” including a stint as a flight nurse in Las Vegas. He works three days a week in Burns and will retire in about a year.

Palmer sees three main issues facing Grant County — a lack of jobs, a high suicide rate and a high child abuse rate. They’re interrelated, he said, noting that Grant County and Harney County have been No. 1 or No. 2 in unemployment among Oregon counties for 35 to 40 years.

“Now they have the highest suicide and child abuse rates,” he said. “Those are my issues because I care. I’ve done well here, and I want to give back.”

Palmer said he has some concerns about the current proposal to bring broadband to Grant County — hanging a main fiber optic cable on power poles doesn’t seem secure, and evolving technology could make the proposal soon obsolete.

“Grant County needs something,” he said, noting that his new home on Marysville Road doesn’t have good internet access and he’s trying to take classes online. Wireless might be the solution, he suggested.

Palmer said he favors keeping 911 dispatch local in order to protect jobs, but as a team leader on the county’s Search and Rescue team with extensive experience in the forests, he doesn’t believe the argument that local dispatchers are needed to help first responders locate incident sites.

At a public meeting, he proposed putting 911 dispatch under the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and then contracting service with local cities and users.

Palmer strongly supports the idea of establishing a natural resource adviser position with the county. He said it’s not a question of whether to establish the position but how to fund it. The adviser would help bridge the gap between county, state and federal governments, he said.

Palmer’s vision for the economy is growth. Burning down forests and locking up forest roads will not lead to prosperity, he said. Instead, he’d like to see biomass-powered generating plants in Long Creek, the John Day Valley and around Seneca to power new industry.

“I bring open-mindedness,” he said. “I listen to all sides before making a decision. As a trauma and emergency nurse, I dealt daily with conflict resolution. I want to be a servant of the people. I’m not in it for personal gain.”

Rose withdraws from commissioner race

Dave Rose, Canyon City, has withdrawn from the Grant County commissioner race. He cited unexpected circumstances for his decision.


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