A proposal by Grant County Undersheriff Zach Mobley to create a part-time position for a forest patrol deputy under the sheriff’s office came as a surprise to some local officials — especially Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steven Beverlin.
“The first I heard about this was when I saw it on the Grant County Court agenda,” Beverlin told the court during its Nov. 22 meeting.
Beverlin read excerpts from letters sent by Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer to the Forest Service in 2011 and 2014 indicating the sheriff’s office was unwilling to enforce certain Forest Service regulations.
“What’s changed?” Beverlin asked the court.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers told the Eagle that for many years the county had an agreement with the Forest Service to patrol campgrounds on National Forest lands during busy holiday weekends, such as Magone Lake on Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends. But beginning in 2011, Sheriff Palmer refused to sign the agreements until the Rainbow Gathering in 2017, Myers said.
Beverlin later told the Eagle he wasn’t entirely opposed to Mobley’s proposal, but he wanted to sit down face to face with Palmer to discuss the idea.
“I have to put my signature on any agreement,” he said.
Beverlin told the Eagle he wasn’t concerned about a county deputy enforcing laws that weren’t on the books but whether the deputy would enforce laws that are on the books — such as illegal motorized vehicle use on closed Forest Service roads and illegal firewood cutting.
“I want assurance that the sheriff will comply with the agreement,” Beverlin told the court.
Whereas the sheriff’s office has some latitude in deciding how to spend its budget, the creation of a new job position in any department must be approved by the county court, Myers told the Eagle.
According to Mobley’s request, the part-time forest patrol deputy position would be 20 hours per week and funded with $15,000 already budgeted by the sheriff’s office for forest patrol, $5,000 from an Oregon State Snowmobile Association grant and $7,000 from the Forest Service for forest patrols.
That last figure was not correct, Beverlin told the Eagle. The Forest Service had agreed to provide $6,000 to the sheriff’s office for assisting with the Rainbow Gathering this past summer.
Myers told the Eagle that after the meeting Mobley spoke to Capt. Bob Field, a Forest Service law enforcement official based in Pendleton, and was told that the $6,000 in funding for the Rainbow Gathering still existed and was earmarked for Grant County.
But Beverlin also told the court that the Forest Service contract with the sheriff’s office terminates at the end of the year.
“There’s been no talk about extending the contract because the Rainbow event is over,” he told the court.
Beverlin told the Eagle that finding Forest Service funding for a Grant County forest patrol deputy may not be easy, especially in the near term because budgets have already been completed.
“We’re already working on our fiscal year 2019 budget,” he said.
Mobley told the court the forest patrol deputy also would serve as the search and rescue coordinator, a position he currently holds. The part-time deputy would be responsible for handling reimbursements as well as all search and rescue training and documentation, he said.
The sheriff’s office would initially advertise the position in-house, Mobley said, and the person hired to fill the position would undergo the same level of training expected of a full-time deputy.
Mobley, who’s served as undersheriff for about two years, didn’t respond to the issues raised by Beverlin.
“I can’t speak to things that happened before I came on,” he said.
Commissioner Boyd Britton thanked Mobley for “trying to bridge a big gap” but suggested approval of the request would be “premature now.”
Myers and Commissioner Jim Hamsher also thanked Mobley for his request.
“Kudos to Zach for getting Sheriff Palmer to agree on this,” Myers said.
Frances Preston asked the court to disregard any politics brought up at the meeting and focus on the request as proposed by Mobley.
Billy Jo George called some of the comments about Sheriff Palmer “overly harsh.”
“To say that he does not participate with the Forest Service is a stretch,” she said.
Jim Sproul told the court that Mobley represented the sheriff’s office and politics should not be introduced into this discussion.
Beverlin said he appreciated Mobley’s working with Field and hoped that the foundation of this interagency cooperation would grow.
Myers agreed with Britton that a decision on the matter would be premature, and the court unanimously tabled Mobley’s request.