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Candidates vie for Jackson County Commission seat

Jackson County government has played a key role in responding to local fires and COVID-19, and that will continue for whoever wins a seat on the Board of Commissioners being vacated by Bob Strosser.

With Strosser retiring, Republican Dave Dotterrer and Democrat Terrie Martin are vying for Position 2 on the three-member board during the Nov. 3 election.

Dotterrer is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and disaster preparedness consultant.

Martin is a writer and one of five co-owners of D&S Harley-Davidson, a Phoenix business destroyed by the Almeda fire. She was previously a reporter for the Mail Tribune.

Dotterrer wants the county to streamline planning and building regulations for temporary housing. He also wants to see if the process can be streamlined for the rebuilding of permanent homes.

A past member of the Ashland Planning Commission, Dotterrer said the regular process is far too slow to fit the needs of the thousands of people who lost their homes to the Almeda and South Obenchain fires in September.

“We can’t afford to go through that laborious process,” he said.

The Rogue Valley’s chronic shortage of affordable housing has been made even worse by the Almeda fire, which wiped out apartment complexes and manufactured home parks along with single-family houses.

Martin said the community will have to identify temporary places for RVs for displaced residents. But she’s wary of ideas to bring utilities to vacant parcels of land for temporary trailer parks.

“There’s a rush by developers to open up outside temporary locations for housing,” Martin said. “That is problematic in many ways. If you put in sewer and water, it won’t go back to agricultural land. The county will need to take a leadership role.”

A local group of builders, architects, engineers and local government officials have identified parcels of vacant land next to Talent and Phoenix neighborhoods that could be used for temporary trailer parks. The parcels include county-owned land next to Phoenix, and builder Laz Ayala has offered to donate use of land he owns.

The group doesn’t know yet if the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to put in temporary utilities and FEMA trailers. They hope to move ahead if FEMA doesn’t offer that aid, or fill in the gaps to help those who don’t get FEMA housing, such as undocumented immigrant families.

Whatever temporary housing ends up looking like, Dotterrer and Martin said it’s critical.

“The risk is people move away if they can’t afford housing,” Martin said.

She said many who lost their homes represent the workforce for the Ashland tourism industry, the Harry & David specialty food company, pear and wine growers, and other sectors.

Dotterrer said the Almeda fire destroyed businesses along with the homes of workers.

“These are people we don’t want to lose. They are key to the economic vitality of our community,” he said.

Martin said one of the contributors to the local fires was climate change. She said Jackson County hasn’t taken the issue of climate change seriously over the years. It should look at opportunities for improving its buildings and fleets of vehicles, as well as chances to incorporate renewable energy like solar panels when new homes and businesses are built.

On the COVID-19 front, Martin said Jackson County Public Health workers have done a good job warning people about the dangers of the virus, encouraging people to wear masks and contact tracing those who’ve been exposed. But she said the work of staff members has been undercut by elected officials.

She faulted commissioners for not enforcing the state’s mask-wearing mandate after they resumed in-person meetings.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts, who runs meetings as chair of the board this year, did not stop a group of anti-mask activists from repeatedly attending in-person meetings without masks or social distancing. Commissioners later canceled in-person meetings and went back to internet-only meetings.

Martin said Commissioner Rick Dyer shouldn’t have been an advocate for letting students resume sports.

“County commissioners didn’t necessarily listen to science first,” she said.

Dotterrer said people should follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on masks.

“Follow the science. There are times you absolutely should be wearing a mask,” he said.

Dotterrer said one of the primary roles for commissioners is to advise Gov. Kate Brown on the situation in Jackson County and what COVID-19 safety regulations should apply here.

Brown has faced both criticism and praise for statewide mandates.

On issues of mental health, addiction and homelessness, Dotterrer said he’s spent time talking to social services agencies, addiction treatment providers, law enforcement, judges and others.

“I am firmly convinced we have many of the pieces necessary to address this issue already in place in the county. The pieces don’t fit together as they should,” he said.

Dotterrer said everyone needs to work together to solve often-interrelated problems.

He pointed to successful efforts to get veterans off the streets and into transitional housing, where they can receive support and services to address underlying issues such as substance abuse and mental health problems.

Martin said homelessness is often symbolized by homeless people living along the Bear Creek Greenway.

“Those are only the ones we can see. That’s only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

Martin said homeless people include women in abusive relationships who bounce between their abusers and couch-surfing, homeless college students living in cars or sheds, and the high number of homeless school students.

Each person’s circumstances must be considered individually to address unique underlying problems, she said.

Martin said she is an advocate for creating a local version of the Crisis Assistance Helping Out in the Streets program in Eugene.

Mobile crisis teams of medics and mental health workers are sent out 24 hours a day to deal with a wide range of mental health crises. They can get help from police if needed, but they’re usually able to diffuse situations themselves and provide aid — lightening the load on police and providing more appropriate care.

“That would be incredibly helpful. We can’t keep taking people to jail and putting them in solitary,” Martin said.

Jackson County Mental Health provides mental health workers to aid police, but the program isn’t as robust as the effort in Eugene.

Asked how she would handle the frustration and criticism from residents during a trying time, Martin said she has reached out to people and asked them to tell her their stories, especially regarding the Almeda fire that broke out in Ashland Sept. 8 and forced the evacuation of residents as far as south Medford.

Like many, Martin didn’t receive an evacuation alert from the reverse 9-1-1 system that is supposed to send out calls, texts and emails about emergencies.

“The lack of alerts was a colossal failure that night,” she said.

Both Martin and Dotterrer want a thorough review of what went wrong and what went right during the entire response effort to local fires. Jackson County is in the process of hiring an outside contractor to conduct a review.

Martin said people who’ve lost homes are traumatized, and so are the people who fled from their homes, then spent the night huddled in their vehicles without information.

“I’ve run a business for 29 years,” she said. “When you make a mistake, you face it immediately and say, ‘I’m sorry. I ordered the wrong part. Let’s make this better.’ You have to be open, direct and admit when you made a mistake,” Martin said.

Dotterrer said it’s routine in the military to conduct post-operation reviews to see what lessons can be learned and applied to the future.

He said county commissioners will have to listen with compassion and respect during what is bound to be an often-frustrating rebuilding process.

“Whether you happen to agree or not is not the point. You need to respect their beliefs and address their feelings, even if it seems you’re being attacked personally,” Dotterrer said. “People have very deep-seated and heartfelt feelings, and you need to respect and address those. It comes with the territory. One of the roles of a leader is to listen and respond to those frustrations.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.