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Don't overlook importance of Jackson County commissioners race

 Jackson County commissioners have a very complex job.  Counties are complex organizations, with dozens of distinct functions, and overseen by commissioners who act as the executive, legislative and, sometimes, the judicial branch of government.

The county commissioners are policy makers, determining the mission and goals for county government.  To realize those goals they must oversee multiple departments, multiple budgets, and multiple personnel.  They are the supervisors of county management, making sure county departments are managed so that their function and personnel provide the best service to all citizens.

 As the executive branch of local government, commissioners levy local taxes, administer county services such as public works, public health, land use, building codes, the airport, water rights and more.  Other duties may include contract negotiations with labor unions and vendors, managing major projects, selecting service organizations and relationships with state and federal governments.  They must also work cooperatively with 13 incorporated cities in the county, each very different from the others.

 Jackson County citizens have an opportunity this November to elect a majority of their commissioners.  Incumbents Don Skundrick and John Rachor are ending their terms of service.  Six candidates are running to fill those two seats, all of them commissioner hopefuls who have never before held the office.

For Position 1 there are four candidates.  Curt Ankenberg, Curt Chancler, Rick Dyer and Tonia Moro are all campaigning to get the job.  All of them except Ankenberg have campaign web sites (curtchancler.com and usobserver.com; electrickdyer.com; votefortonia.com) and can be found on Facebook.  All four candidates have statements in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

The two candidates for Position 3 also have websites and statements in the Voters’ Pamphlet.  Colleen Roberts (colleenroberts.net) and Kevin Talbert (kevintalbertforcommissioner.com) face off in a traditional two-way race. 

 Most people know that the county commissioners determine the annual budget for all county departments, as well as determining the county’s portion of partnerships with state and federal programs.  Jackson County has done well financially by county commissioners with experience in managing multiple budgets, an administration that has advised them well and department heads who are encouraged to make the most of their dollars.  Each year commissioners must not only determine how to allocate available funds, but how to use those monies in county operations as an investment for the future.  It is a complex balancing act, requiring a thorough understanding of the situation today, and a reasoned and informed perspective on what is likely to happen tomorrow.

 In selecting the new majority for our county commissioners, we must consider who is best qualified to take on such issues as increasing stress on our water resources, updating our infrastructure for transportation, communication, economic development and community health.  They are our voice in dealing with the state and federal government, from highways to air quality, from public resources to national interests.  We must choose the people who can best represent those issues for the county’s future.

Regardless of political affiliation, we have the chance this November to influence the course of our county for this century.  It is critically important that we be thorough in our review of the candidates, practical in our view of the county’s function, and very honest with ourselves about what’s best for the entire community.  Thanks to digital communications, we have an opportunity to get a very close look at the candidates, their histories, their qualifications, their views and their statements.  We can evaluate them in detail so we can learn who is going to be the best person to improve the quality of life in Jackson County.

Too many people will vote without doing this necessary homework, which is the responsibility of living in a democracy.  Many will not even vote.  As a veteran I feel great sorrow when I hear that only 30 or 40 percent of eligible voters have cast a ballot.  The May primary saw a high turnout, yet far too many people are not voting, a relatively easy process with Oregon’s vote-by-mail.

The United States set the standard for democracy worldwide, yet we do a poor job of practicing it.  The founding principles of this country hold that everyone who can vote should be eligible and that everyone who is eligible will vote.  Let’s see how much of that we can make happen in November.

 Jack Duggan lives in the Applegate.