February 26, 2024

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Public comment: Elect the county clerk, preserve the Springfield commissioner

6 min read
Morgan Munro and the Lane County Charter Review Committee heard three requests to preserve the Springfield commissioner district.

With the first of three public comments at the Lane County Charter Review Committee July 28:

Darlene Raisch: My name is Darlene Raisch and I am a resident of Springfield. And I’m here to testify for keeping the original boundaries of Lane County commissioner position that represents Springfield and remains separate from any part of Eugene.

[00:00:23] The issues that affect Springfield are unique to Springfield and should not be commingled with Eugene. How can Springfield be lumped in with people who refer to it as ‘Spring-tucky’?

[00:00:35] The proposed boundary changes were gerrymandered to ensure a more liberal board and maintain a certain liberal agenda for Lane County.

[00:00:46] It was done not to serve the people, but to serve the selfish self-interest of the majority of commissioners on the board, particularly Joe Berney and Heather Buch. The same party that was paid over $100,000 by Buch’s and Berney’s election campaigns was contracted to draw up the new boundaries.

[00:01:10] Fortunately for Springfield, their efforts were too late to change the boundaries in the last election. Springfield residents elected David Loveall, a Springfield businessman, who has grown up in Springfield and has the best interests.

[00:01:29] Paul Metzler: My name is Paul Metzler and I’d like to address two issues that are being considered: (1) Designating the county clerk as an elected office and (2) The commissioner district boundaries.

[00:01:40] Our entire country has tragically suffered from a collapse of public trust in our election system. The prestigious Rasmussen polling firm reports that 52% of likely voters say that cheating likely affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, 40% thought that was unlikely. This loss of confidence is a terrible blow to our democratic system.

[00:02:07] Administration of elections falls under the jurisdiction of the county clerk. The best way to support the public’s trust in our elections process is to include the county clerk as an elected position. Let the officeholder make their case to the voters. If the county clerk shows the public that Lane County elections are free and fair, they will be reelected easily.

[00:02:30] The same principles apply to the county surveyor or any other position with power over the populace. The heat and light of elections is the best way to enhance public confidence.

[00:02:43] For many years, the commission districts have been divided into north and south Eugene, Springfield, east and west counties. These boundaries fairly represent coherent communities of interest.

[00:02:57] Here’s some data from the IRS statistics of income tables which illustrate this. Consider the ZIP codes 97405, which is South Eugene, 97403, which is the South Eugene Laurel Hill neighborhood, and these areas are the ones that abut / are up against the Springfield 97477 ZIP code.

[00:03:22] In the 97405 ZIP code, 8.3% of tax filers and the 97403 ZIP code, 9.4% of the filers have adjusted gross incomes in excess of $200,000 annually. But in the 97477 ZIP code, only 1.6% of the tax filers have adjusted gross incomes over $200,000 annually.

[00:03:49] These statistics only serve to illustrate that in Lane County, there are very diverse communities with sharp differences. The present commission districts reflect this, so I urge that the charter remain unchanged with only minor corrections for population changes in those commissioner districts.

[00:04:10] Tammy Davis: I’m Tammy Davis, and I’m a Springfield resident…We built our house about three years ago in Springfield, and we chose Springfield over Eugene because of the differences. There are, and I know many of the residents that live there, live there because it’s Springfield and not Eugene and we would really like to maintain that difference. So please consider that when you’re considering the redistricting.

[00:04:41] John Q: After hearing public comment, the committee asked about changing county clerk to an elected position.

[00:04:49] County Clerk Dena Dawson: Dena Dawson. For the record, I have been the county clerk here in Lane County for a year and a week. And so, prior to joining Lane County as the county clerk, I’ve been an election administrator for 16 years in Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada. For that entire 16 years of my career prior to coming here, I have worked for an elected county clerk.

[00:05:16] The bulk of my experience has been there working for electeds and there are rules in, there are election rules promulgated by the Secretary of State in Colorado and in Colorado Revised Statute when a clerk is on the ballot, they’re, they can’t touch ballots. They can’t go into the rooms where ballots are being processed. So there are specific guidelines for that. In Nevada, it’s mostly a best practice that when a county clerk is on the ballot that they don’t participate in the ballot processing activities and don’t touch ballots.

[00:05:46] Here in Lane County, I’m the election administrator in addition to being the county clerk. So I’m basically in charge of all ballot processing, but I feel like we’ve put a lot of efforts into the radical transparency and our meaningful observation tools, to allow any person that has concerns to come and see.

[00:06:05] So even if we move to a clerk being elected, we’re already being radically transparent in all of our ballot processes here. So, any person would, hopefully, feel content to see what’s happening.

[00:06:18] I would be concerned if, since I am basically the election administrator here, if I was unable to be leading as hands-on as I am now.

[00:06:32] Charter Review Committee Chair Morgan Munro: So that might be something that would have to—we can’t predict the future—but that space of recognizing that that role might need to be split or dealt with differently, as it is in other places, if this was an elected position.

[00:06:46] County Clerk Dena Dawson: Yeah, we would definitely have to consider the thoughts of the voters if there were concerns with the voters, of the county clerk being the person that’s processing the ballots and needing a separation there. Then we definitely would have to consider, yes, a possible restructuring of the office or additional resources or additional staff.

[00:07:08] …In my experience, what I’ve observed in working for an elected clerk, that their decisions were made giving quite a bit of determination about what their decision would be based on the party that supported them and the support of their party and the risk of potentially not being elected if they maybe didn’t make the decision that the party that supported them would support.

[00:07:36] That being said, in the two states where I worked for elected county clerks, they were both supported by different parties, so two different scenarios there, but their decisions were always, in making their decisions, they would always consider if their party would support that decision.

[00:07:55] And I’ve been very glad in the one year of being here, although I work very closely with the parties—and recognize many of our folks giving public comment today because we work very closely with them—although I work very closely with the parties I’m not really considering the risk of not being elected when we’re working together.

[00:08:16] So there is a comfort level there, that I’m not at risk at losing my job as long as I’m doing the job that I was hired to do, which is to follow statute, conduct elections, and manage the deeds and records office there.

[00:08:29] So I do feel a level of comfort there that I’m not at risk of not being reelected if I made a decision that wasn’t something that either of the parties supported, although there’s not much room for decision making, you know. The job of a county clerk is highly led by statutory rules, regulations, and the Secretary of State’s office is the chief election official that provides directives and so there’s not really much room for decision making.

[00:08:58] But again, I actually work very closely with both parties to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can to be supportive and communicate and coordinate with both offices. So I really consider a county clerk’s position as a nonpartisan position. So I guess that would be my concern there.

[00:09:15] John Q: Public comment and a discussion about changing county clerk to an elected position.

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