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Accustions fly in Gold Hill pot-patch brouhaha

GOLD HILL — A heated City Council meeting left one resident focused on a recall attempt, the councilwoman in question promising an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana inside the city and a usually quiet mayor fed up with the negativity.

Resident Jennifer Mehta, who recently filed a complaint after city officials ordered she remove a privacy fence overlapping a public right of way, attended Monday's council meeting with plans to address the council.

Mehta removed her fence after complaints by her neighbor, Councilwoman Christine Alford, who said Mehta was growing marijuana on city property and that her privacy fence blocked public utility access.

Alford said she filed a complaint as a citizen concerned about safety issues posed to neighborhood children by marijuana operations.

Mehta, who city officials say has a legal grow site under state law, has vowed to remove Alford and other city officials from office.

Alford said she will focus on protecting families from dealing with the "acknowledged side effects of marijuana operations."

Mehta approached the council Monday night just as Mayor Bucky Steffen pounded the gavel to adjourn. While the agenda allowed for public comment, Mehta had not signed in to speak. When refused permission, and as council members stood to leave, Mehta announced to the council chambers that Alford was "a racist" and a "menace to society."

Councilwoman Donna Silva directed Mehta to the city's complaint process. Mehta told Silva that a complaint she filed in response to Alford's action was closed by city officials, who referred her to approach either the Oregon Ethics Commission or the Jackson County District Attorney's office.

"I've made a harassment complaint and your council said it wasn't their business," said Mehta, whose parents were from India.

Mayor Bucky Steffen questioned whether Alford acted as a citizen or council member to which Mehta insisted Alford used the city's public works director, Mike Edwards, "as a pawn" to harass her with city regulations.

She told Alford, "Due to a personal vendetta, Christine Alford, because you are a racist, you will rue the day you are on the City Council."

Alford said she had acted as a concerned citizen.

"I have every right to file a complaint as a citizen," Alford said. "Just because we're on the council we don't lose our rights."

"The real issue is that is a shared alley was the play place of five children. We either have to get our kids out of there or accept that there's a certain mix of people going in and out because there's a marijuana operation."

Alford said she was awaiting direction from the city attorney about options for municipalities regarding marijuana regulations, then planned to "propose a zone change to the council for marijuana operations."

"There's a reason you get to zone alcohol and strip clubs," Alford said, "because there are acknowledged secondary effects."

Mayor Bucky Steffen, who typically declines to comment on city issues, said he was unable to comment on the issue between Alford and Mehta.

Steffen admitted frustration over "negative politics."

"What I will say is that I'm fed up with it!" Steffen said. "Fed up with all the trivial, personal-agenda junk that's going on in this city. I promised myself this time around I wouldn't let that happen and I'm pretty sure I hit the gavel a couple times on this and they just kept going on and on and on."

Steffen said the city had no decision to make regarding Mehta until a recall is presented or evidence is presented to prove that Alford abused her position as a council member.

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