Jim Olney – The Race For Jackson County Commissioner

1. What does the Jackson county commissioner do?

If you look at the responsibilities, the list includes water supply issues, forest planning, air quality, emergency management, economic development and on and on. But the real impact of the County Commission is how it affects every family in the county. The County Commission has responsibility to see that the roads you drive to work and take the kids to the park are safe, to make sure the air you and your family breathe is clean and that every building in the county is built according to code so when your family goes in the building, they are not in danger. The Commission spends a $290 million budget and part of it is your property tax payments. Do we really know how that money is being spent? Your readers should be asking the Commissioners to be more accountable. As a Commissioner, I will be accountable.

2. Jim, can you give me an example of a change you would implement if elected in as the new Jackson County Commissioner?

It is tough to make immediate changes because I would be only 1 of 3 Commissioners, but one of the first things I would like to do is change the meeting time and place of Commission meetings from every Wednesday morning at 9:30 am in Medford to evening hours around the county. I would like to see much more participation from all the communities in Jackson County and we can’t do that by requiring people to come into Medford during working hours to speak to the County Commission. We need to have evening meetings in Eagle Point, in Rogue River, in Jacksonville and Central Point and other cities and to get communities involved in county discussions. The County Commission should be going to the people, not requiring the people to come to them.

3. One of the most important issues I see facing the county is how to develop its economy so that people are making a livable wage. What are some ways to grow opportunity for this to occur both immediately and long range.

The first thing we have to do is develop and enhance our local workforce. While we try to attract new business and information technology businesses to the county we have to produce the technology trained workforce to supply the new business needs. We are building the infrastructure needed such as the airport expansion but we have to prepare the needed workforce as well and that means the county has to link with school districts and training programs. The changing economy also shows a need to look at our railroad resources to move people and goods. The county needs to be a major player in addressing alternative transportation and energy solutions, such as wind, solar and rail.

4. The County Commissioners recently voted themselves a 26% salary increase, then changed their minds. What is your view on this?

I have been walking door-to-door in the county because I think voters want to be able to meet and talk to local candidates before they vote for or against them. What I hear the most from voters is their anger at the County Commissions giving themselves a 26% salary increase while the county is seeing higher costs and rising unemployment. You just don’t give yourself a raise when everyone else is suffering.  Two Commissioners, including my opponent, said they would not take the increase “this year”. Which means, of course, the day after the election, if my opponent wins, he can change his mind and take the increase. There was no vote taken so he has not rejected the increase. This is political chicanery.

5. Give me one example in your past history of how you were able to join up as part of an existing organization and bring about a significant change?

When I became Executive Director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, the Foundation was supporting many library programs but hadn’t taken the lead in a needed area, which is early literacy. My background included early literacy work in another county where I directed a School Readiness program which coordinated programs to prepare children from birth to 5 to be ready to begin kindergarten. So, working with the library staff, the Foundation secured a three-year grant to conduct Babies in the Library, a program to teach new parents the skills to read to their pre-walking babies. The program has been a huge success after the first year and we will see the results in four more years when those babies begin kindergarten. If they have been prepared by this early literacy program they will be ready for school and will succeed in school and will become a valuable part of our future workforce.

6. How do you build bridges between the communities in the valley? What exists already and what can be strengthened?

Our county is huge, over 2,800 square miles and almost 200,000 people. Over the years we have built more barriers between communities than bridges. It is my view that the County Commission has the responsibility to find common ground for all communities to build on, and should be the governmental body to start the discussions.  We all have some common needs, such as taking care of our communities, taking care of our children and fostering accountability and openness.  The County needs to work with all the Chambers of Commerce, the countywide development groups such as SOREDI and RVCOG.  It will take time, it will take energy and it will take patience to build the bridges and that’s where I want to begin.

7. How do you build connection and link up with the large financial power base in Medford?  What are their underlying interests and how can you meet this while serving the community?

Again, you first have to find the common ground. Medford is our county seat and our largest city. But so much of the Medford business community relies on the success of other business aspects in the county. The attendees at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland have an impact on Medford and other communities, the people who come to run the Rogue have an impact of Medford and other communities. If you are in business, you have to see that your business success is a shared business success. No one stands alone. That should be the role of the County Commission, to bring all the financial interests to the same table and make decisions that benefit all. In Jackson County, small business is large business because that is the foundation of our economy. We have to connect them all.

8. Any last thoughts or comments?

I appreciate the chance to talk with you about my vision for the future of Jackson County. It is a future where there is open government, a sustainable economy, a strong education system and a safe, healthy environment. All those things require some changes in the way we conduct business. We have been doing business the same old way for many years, what is called the “good ol boy” network. The “good ol boy” network hasn’t succeeded, we see that in rising costs and rising unemployment, so the “good ol boy” network has to go.

To really start a discussion as a last thought, I would like to see the current County Commission system changed to a five member Board and for them to run non-partisan. I think we should be voting for the most qualified person regardless of party affiliation and I would hope we change our Home Rule Charter soon to accomplish that.

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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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