CANYON CITY - Requests concerning hours and office space for criminal-justice employees hint at big changes in the future at the Grant County Courthouse.

Ultimately, Justice of the Peace Terry Farrell is on the docket to take up residence next to the Grant County Circuit Court on the third floor of the courthouse. For now, pending a renovation of the third floor, Farrell's staff will remain in the basement. Justice Court will share one of its offices with the district attorney's office to accommodate growth in that department.

On Feb. 19, the Grant County Court approved temporary use of a Justice Court office to house a new deputy district attorney. It was more than two years ago, on Dec. 27, 2000, that then-Grant County District Attorney Nancy Nickel notified the County Court that she was pursuing a Violence Against Woman Act federal grant to pay for hiring a deputy district attorney and a part-time victim intervention specialist. Nickel envisioned these personnel helping to handle juvenile cases and abuse cases.

Now, with the funding in place, the DA's office plans to fill those two positions. With courthouse space limited, there will be a ripple effect. Alice West, who works part-time for both the Justice Court and county clerk's office, will give up her office next to Justice Court and squeeze into the two-room courtroom unit with Farrell and clerk Jennifer Mooney. In the future, the DA's office staff will find room for the victim's assistance employee, who will work as an assistant to Karen Johnston.

The County Court learned details of the shuffling of personnel from Johnston and Farrell. Relocation of the deputy DA to an outside office is not merely a question of convenience; confidentiality concerns affect location of this employee, officials noted.

The job of deputy DA is being advertised, Johnston informed the County Court. Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds said the County Court wanted to be involved in the hiring process. The job, paying $29,247, is a county position so the County Court should be involved, Reynolds said.

Another issue related to personnel was left unresolved last week. Farrell asked the County Court to grant an exception to the county's benefit policy and allow Mooney to work 32 hours a week but receive prorated benefits in proportion to her hours. The current policy specifies that employees who work between 20 and 40 hours accrue benefits such as sick leave and vacation at half the rate of full-time staff. Johnston questioned the fairness of this policy and urged the County Court to review it. Farrell proposed that Mooney be allowed to receive benefits at an accrual rate of 80 percent, not 50 percent, as part of her request to work fewer hours to save the county money.

"The primary motivation was to save the county some money," Farrell said, explaining Mooney's proposal to cut her hours but allow a compromise on benefits.

The County Court agreed to consider the request. Commissioner Boyd Britton voiced reservations, noting that making exceptions could backfire.

"I could see where it potentially could become something of a nightmare," he said.

In other business:

• The County Court reviewed a proposed advertisement to fill the vacant economic development coordinator position. Eric Walstrom, the first person to hold this job, left the county in November.

• The County Court reviewed a notice for public comment from the Oregon Division of State Lands about a project by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The notice concerns a waterway project permit request by the tribally owned Oxbow Ranch near Bates. Managers of the Oxbow Ranch, 1,022 acres of upland and river lands along the Middle Fork John Day River, and partners want to remove fish passage barriers on Beaver and Ruby creeks and construct a rock weir fish ladder and culvert replacement next to an irrigation diversion point, according to the permit application form. A letter regarding project consultation states that the Bonneville Power Administration plans to fund the work as part of the John Day Watershed Restoration Program. The purpose is to benefit bull trout and other fish populations.

• Job placement on the wage scale for the positions of bioterrorism health nurse and public health administrator received county approval from the local government personnel institute.

• Directional signage was approved for parking areas around the courthouse to avoid collisions and clarify traffic flow.

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