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Pot garden spat grows into a stink for council

GOLD HILL — A city councilwoman says she will propose banning medical marijuana gardens within 1,000 feet of a school or park following a dispute with a neighbor who is a cardholder and grows her own supply.

The dispute has escalated to the point where Jennifer Mehta plans to launch a recall effort against her neighbor, Councilwoman Christine Alford.

It began when Alford filed complaints as a citizen in mid-September alleging that Mehta, with whom she shares an alleyway between Highway 99 and North Second Avenue, had erected a wooden privacy fence and had been growing a large marijuana crop in the city right of way.

Mehta said the fence was pre-existing and that, aside from holding a medical marijuana card and growing six small plants, she had only grown vegetables in her 10 planter boxes and a small greenhouse this summer.

Alford voiced concerns about neighborhood children being exposed to the kind of traffic the grow site might draw. "At Monday's meeting, I will ask the City Council to consider adding marijuana operations to the category of things that can't be 1,000 feet from a park or school or any other area the community wants to have cordoned off for drug-free families," she said.

City Recorder Mary Goddard said Mehta's garden had been verified with local authorities as a legal grow site.

Public Works Director Mike Edwards, after conducting an investigation requested by Mayor Bucky Steffen, determined Mehta's fence was located on public property, blocking access to a water main and meter box.

Mehta removed the gate and a portion of fencing within days of being asked to do so but said the complaints were unfair. She said they targeted only her home when other neighbors overlapped public property as well.

"I'm being singled out because it's a personal vendetta," she said.

"My fence had to come down. But what about (Alford's) garage that's several feet over the right of way? That's apparently a gray area."

In a counter complaint, Mehta accused Alford of "gross abuse of public power." Mehta said Alford had "personally threatened me with her power as an official and used racial slurs against me."

Mehta claimed Alford also texted and threatened her grown son and was using "her city position to harass my family."

Alford said Mehta's charges against her had varied from week to week and that Alford's complaint was focused on the right-of-way violation and marijuana crop.

"Everything in my complaint is accurate. It was a citizen's complaint and I never once prefaced anything I said with anything to do with my position on the council," said Alford.

"Essentially, my objection was to Mrs. Mehta setting up a marijuana operation in a residential neighborhood."

Goddard said the city closed the case and referred Mehta to direct concerns to either the Jackson County District Attorney's Office or, for issues related to Alford's council position, to the Oregon Ethics Commission.

Steffen did not return calls seeking comment.

Goddard confirmed Mehta had taken out paperwork for filing a recall petition.

A recall election would cost the city about $600 and require Mehta to collect 65-plus voter signatures.

Monday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. at 420 Sixth Ave.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.