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Jacksonville stings Bee City measure again

Bee City USA supporters were left without official recognition by the city of Jacksonville for a second time when City Council decided last week to seek a legal opinion before becoming a "bee city."

Bee City USA is a national organization that promotes preservation and enhancement of pollinator habitat. Cities across the country, including four in the Rogue Valley, have joined the effort by adopting a Bee City resolution that includes having the Bee City contingent work with a new or existing committee managed by a local government.

Pollinator advocates were rebuffed in their first attempt in February over concerns the effort might burden city staff, but were told to come back in six months for reconsideration. In the interim, the supporters formed a Jacksonville Bee City Committee, held a pollinator fundraising event and gathered information on how Bee City designations impacted other local municipalities.

“We thought we had addressed all the questions the council had given us,” said Shawn Kerr, who spoke for the group. “Five cities (in Oregon) … have figured out how to do it without any sort of issue, and yet here we are. It’s hard not to be a little bitter.”

Councilor Criss Garcia had offered to serve as liaison to the committee, which includes 14 members. The group would have functioned under the city's Parks, Recreation, Visitors and Services Committee. Kerr told the council the group would pay for its efforts through fundraising.

On Oct. 17, Mayor Paul Becker sided with councilors Garcia, Ken Gregg and Jim Lewis in passing a motion that called for the city to consult with legal council and the League of Oregon Cities on the issue.

“It doesn’t hurt to ask questions,” said Becker after casting the tie-breaking vote.

Councilors Steve Casaleggio, Brad Bennington and David Jesser voted against the measure. All three had expressed sentiments about limiting what government gets involved with.

“Government can't do everything,” said Bennington. “I don't want to put the city in the place of having costs accrue and taking up committee time and council time.”

Casaleggio had been the most vocal opponent of a Bee City resolution in February, saying it would burden city staff with another task at a time when the city faces a number of challenges and demands.

“You have done very well in arousing interest and raising money but, that said, once you perhaps become a committee of the city … you fall under Oregon laws that effect a price,” said Casaleggio. He said the city recorder would have to spend three hours after each of the committee’s monthly meetings.

“You would be well served to proceed on your own,” said Casaleggio. “Oregon is very explicit on record keeping and how things are done in committees.”

Data gathered by the group showed that city involvement was about nine hours per quarter in Ashland, five to 10 hours per quarter in Phoenix, and about one hour per month in Talent. Annual financial expenses were approximately $1,000 per year in Ashland and $600 per year in Phoenix and Talent.

Jacksonville Bee City Committee has already raised $2,200 and netted $1,800 after a pollinator event. More than 30 businesses have signed on to sponsor the effort, and Kerr told the council the organization plans to continue fundraising so the city will not need to expend funds.

Becker said he was willing to issue a proclamation but had questions about passing a resolution due to potential legal ramifications.

“Part of the reason (for a resolution) is to prevent pollinator decline,” said Gregg. “It makes it more credible when it is a resolution from the city.”

“I absolutely think this is not an insurmountable barrier. I’d like to get through some of these issues,” said Garcia. “There’s nothing to prevent the parks committee from hearing reports on activities.”

Members of Jacksonville Bee City Committee will meet in a couple weeks to determine their next step, Kendra Swartz, who brought the original proposal in March, wrote in a statement.

“The most egregious offense was that after our team worked diligently to overcome council’s initials objections, we were met with a new set of hurdles,” Swartz wrote.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Jacksonville stings Bee City measure again