Sparks fly between county leaders, candidates

Commissioners Skundrick and Smith endorse Ockunzzi, saying claims by Republicans Breidenthal, Roberts are wrong

A drumbeat of Republican attacks against fellow Republicans is partly responsible for two Jackson County commissioners taking the unusual step of endorsing a candidate in the primary election.

"I wanted to stay neutral on this," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "But, the comments are so out of line among some of the candidates — way out of line."

Smith and Commissioner Don Skundrick are supporting Joel Ockunzzi, a Planning Commission member, in the May 15 primary. Commissioner John Rachor said he would endorse a candidate only after the primary is over.

Smith, who is not running for re-election, said it was particularly disappointing to have Republican candidates criticizing the three Republican commissioners, and, in his view, stretching the truth to make their points.

Republican candidates for the Board of Commissioners — specifically Doug Breidenthal and Colleen Roberts — have attacked the commissioners on their salaries, their stance on land-use issues and on their handling of public meetings.

In turn, Smith, Skundrick and Rachor specifically criticized Breidenthal for taking credit for issues that were already in the works. Breidenthal is chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee.

At an April 3 forum, Breidenthal said he had developed a policy that requires different government agencies to coordinate on public projects such as dam removal or creation of wilderness areas.

"I was the guy who brought coordination planning to Jackson County," he said during the forum.

Breidenthal later said that he had discussed the issue of coordination planning with County Administrator Danny Jordan when Breidenthal ran for commissioner in 2010. "He told me nothing was in the works," Breidenthal said.


Jordan said he doesn't recall discussing the issue with Breidenthal, but said Smith already had been actively involved in gathering facts and information for years on the issue of coordination planning.

Breidenthal said he disagreed with Jordan's recollection of their meeting.

The commissioners also questioned Breidenthal's assertions about his involvement with Measure 37, a property rights initiative first passed by voters in 2004 and then overturned in 2007 in a second vote. Breidenthal has referred to himself as being part of a cadre of "four musketeers" who led the charge against the county in the courts over Measure 37, which relaxed development rules.

However, the three main plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the county were Dave Smith and attorneys Bob Robertson and Jack Swift. Breidenthal's name is not mentioned in the lawsuit.

At one point, Breidenthal did make a presentation before commissioners asking that they take a stand to recognize the rights of property owners who had filed Measure 37 claims prior to it being overturned by voters.

Breidenthal said, "I haven't stretched the truth in any shape or form."

He said commissioners are coming after him because he supports ballot measures 15-110 and 15-111, which propose to reinstate Measure 37 in Jackson County and provide more local control over land-use laws.

All three commissioners have opposed the measures, saying they would be struck down in the courts after racking up additional legal expenses for the county.

Breidenthal said the ballot measures would survive a court test, in part because they have a provision that would strike any portion of the measure if it is declared unconstitutional.


He said he supports any measure that attempts to provide relief to property owners who have been blocked in their development efforts by state and federal land-use rules.

Breidenthal's Republican opponent, Kay Harrison, said it was welcome news to her that the commissioners are supporting Ockunzzi because of his land-use experience.

"I am really glad they have done that," she said. "I would have preferred it was me, but I understand why they went with Joel."

She said that given some of the comments made during the campaign, it's no surprise that the commissioners made the endorsement, though she declined to elaborate.

"I don't kick sand in the sandbox and other people do," she said.

Skundrick said he decided to endorse Ockunzzi because he thought he had the best grasp of land-use issues.

"I told Doug that I wouldn't endorse him," he said.

Ockunzzi said in previous interviews that he would "vigorously defend private property rights" if he's elected, but believes the ballot measures are futile exercises that would create an unfunded liability for the county as well as an expensive legal bill for taxpayers.

Skundrick, who regards himself as a centrist Republican, said he has been heavily criticized by some Republicans during the campaign.


"Hey, that's politics," he said. "Nobody likes to be attacked, and I was the target of most of that."

Skundrick has been criticized by Roberts, who took the commissioners to task for asking voters last year to make the positions of assessor, clerk and surveyor appointed rather than elected.

"I argued with Mr. Skundrick personally, and he assured me that we just had a difference of opinion, and he was just trying to streamline government," she said.

Roberts also criticizes the commissioners for their salaries, which start at $93,308.

"I'm opposed to their high salaries," she said.

Roberts said commissioners use the public meeting laws to exclude the public from fully commenting on issues, particularly land-use issues.

"They (the commissioners) are there to constrain the government, not the people," she said.

She said the commissioners have in turn criticized her for being uninformed about public meeting rules.

Ockunzzi said he welcomed the commissioners' endorsements, but didn't want to comment on any of Breidenthal's campaign claims.


"It is not uncommon for candidates to polish, as highly as they possibly can, their abilities or capabilities," he said.

Rachor said he questioned some of Breidenthal's claims, but said he doesn't think it's a good idea for the commissioners to endorse anyone at this point.

"I don't want the public to think we're an old-boys group," he said. "I will work with whoever is getting elected."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.



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