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Jan 19

2023 Highlights in County Government from Commissioner Casey Miller

Posted on January 19, 2024 at 6:22 PM by Casey Miller

2023 Highlights in County Government – Perspectives from Commissioner Casey Miller

Commissioner Casey Miller

This review wraps up my first year serving as a Lincoln County commissioner chosen by you. Thus far, it has been a remarkable adventure, and I am looking forward to our ongoing expedition together to ensure county government provides essential public services in an efficient, effective, and respectful manner.  There is rarely a day I am not reminded that my effectiveness is bolstered by the wisdom of our community, a workforce of 500 employees and volunteers, and the expertise of my fellow elected officials. County government does not sleep. Thanks to all who show up and participate in the democratic process at the level of local government. We are stronger together.

We have a diverse community, with a broad range of interests. Let us find reverence for the political process and the needed decision making required of us.  Not all societies have the option to collaborate as we do. Our voices can be heard. Let’s also support those that remain unheard. Equity and inclusion can make our community stronger, safer, and more resilient. Seeking to understand by listening with intent is immeasurably valuable.  Responding instead of reacting, facing our vulnerabilities, looking inward and putting ourselves in others’ shoes can bear fruit and most often does.  

So, what then has been accomplished? Before I highlight several things – a little more context.  What is a county commissioner and what does one do? Our website’s job description is a good primer. Our county commissioners are three “CEOs” who make up the governing body of local government. Commissioners oversee and approve policies of the internal organization as well as exercising authority for the unincorporated areas of Lincoln County.

When you look at our government’s service profile, it’s likely the Board of Commissioners has had its hand in ensuring that these services are approved or supported at a financial or functional level. Public safety, ordinances, roads, transportation, land use, physical health, mental health & community health, environmental protections, emergency declarations, communications, short term rental regulation, property management, parks, veterans, sheltering . . . the list goes on.

Lincoln County commissioners are also paid. I am grateful for being able to support my family while in service to you. It provides me with the capability to show up each day to give you a return on your investment.

Commissioners are responsible for:

    The internal and structural management administration, finance and personnel of the organization that is county government.

    Commissioners are the bridge/conduit between the county government and its citizens and community. We are the voice and translator to our constituents about how their investments are manifested in government.

    We are the representatives of our county on regional and state committees, boards, and organizations.  

It’s important to emphasize that a commissioner exercises their authority most often through the collective action as the “Board of Commissioners.”  The board typically meets twice monthly to conduct public meetings which are essential to harness the totality of the board’s authority as a quorum. 

At least two commissioners are required to make official decisions vetted through the public meeting process. This minimum voting threshold is called a “quorum.” In 2023, the board signed 489 orders, 51 resolutions and 2 ordinances. In 2022, 353 orders were signed, showing an upward trend in overall activity. As these requests, proposals and contracts are signed the business of government commences.  

Our public meetings tell us what has happened and what is to come. It’s the unfolding of our public body. The community is encouraged and welcome to attend these meetings and provide feedback for our shared goals and objectives. Prior to each meeting an agenda is published online and shared with local media. This is both a courtesy and legal requirement. 

AOC_OGEC Meeting
Public meetings require a minimum of 24 hours’ notice to the community, unless there is an emergency. Meeting spaces must be physically accessible. Public bodies are now required to have an option for the public to watch and participate remotely. In 2024 meetings are required to be recorded and archived for public access. COVID necessitated virtual/remote accessibility and was ultimately important in establishing an improved era of transparency and accessibility, with the help of technology to ensure that citizens can engage with their public bodies wherever they are.  

With the assistance of federal COVID relief funds, Lincoln County has greatly improved its meeting technology and accessibility. Public meeting requirements defined by the State of Oregon’s public records and meeting laws are not limited to the county. They also apply to cities and special districts such as special road districts, fire districts, sanitation districts, etc.  

If you choose to attend a board meeting in person or online, we look forward to seeing you. Additionally, the Board of Commissioners has an open-door policy for your inquiries and questions about all aspects of county government and our community in general. We encourage you to reach out to us. 

My personal highlights from 2023:

2023 – New County Website*

Prior to taking office, I began looking for a new website vendor. As a commissioner it was gratifying to see and experience the deployment of our new website. We created “Lincoln 3.0” consisting of designated team members who spearheaded the design. Many are now tasked with managing our ongoing content. 

Communicating with the broadest population possible is vastly important.  Access for those with different abilities is essential. Additionally, cybersecurity is also a growing and ongoing challenge. Our new site has robust security that allows our community to engage us online with safety. We have modernized redundancy for emergency communications that fixes some problematic bugs that surfaced during the echo mountain fires. 

*These highlights and reference documents can be found online. We’re always looking for feedback regarding our communications.  If you see area that can use improvement, let us know? Reach each out to public information officer Kenneth Lipp in the Board of Commissioner’s office.  

Animal Shelter


2023 - Continued Progress Building a New Animal Shelter

At the beginning of the year, I replaced Commissioner Kaety Jacobson as our animal shelter team lead. This multi-disciplinary team consists of various department heads and staff. We are saving money by tapping our internal expertise. 

In December, the Lincoln County Animal Shelter Team requested a public hearing to be held to consider “a proposed alternative competitive process to solicit Construction Management/General Contractor services for the Lincoln County Animal Shelter at the Waldport site.” The commissioners approved this request, and we are now designated the Local Contract Review Board for the project. We’ll continue to act pursuant to federal, state and local public contracting rules to ensure fair and open competition for any subcontractors or subconsultants.

Time is of the essence. Our community has demonstrated time and time again that animal care services are greatly desired. Next up, finding a contractor that can help us move quickly and begin building a new facility. Kudos to County Administrator Tim Johnson for shaping this project team, the City of Waldport for embracing us, and many others.  

2023 – County Opens Community Shelter & Resource Center (CSRC)

The Community Shelter and Resource Center is a safe, affirming space for all, including pets. Open seven days a week, our shelter operates at 351 SW 7th Street in Newport. Check-in for the Newport Shelter is from 6pm - 7pm each night. The county also provides hotels rooms in Lincoln City, and free public transit tickets are available to transport people to the Newport shelter. Shelter rules are comprehensive and must be signed and acknowledged by all guests. It’s a safe and secure environment.

This project has faced occasional trepidation. Some members of the community do not feel that local government should be helping to save lives in such a manner. Many who have visited or volunteered at the facility have reported it to be an eye-opening experience. The aging demographic illustrates that today’s homelessness is perhaps altogether different than what we used to think of it. The Lincoln County Homeless Advisory Board’s strategic plan and data further paint a dire picture. Volunteers are needed. Visit the county’s website for more.

Advisory Board Quote

2023 - Lincoln County Homelessness Advisory Board Releases Strategic Plan

The Lincoln County Homelessness Advisory Board has produced a draft strategic plan. Skeptics and advocates have been wearying of “more reports.” Where are the boots-on-the-ground solutions? In the beginning I was uncertain. Now, however, we have local data that engaged jurisdictional partners, service delivery organizations and 103 anonymous unhoused and others with lived experience. This work and its plan are a true and gratifying example of “it takes a village.” 

These findings are affirming and concerning – affirming for those who have anecdotally sensed the growing dilemma, for those who live the reality, and for those actively delivering services to alleviate suffering often mistrusted by the NIMBYs and naysayers. 

Page 7 of the plan reads: “Homelessness is the tip of the iceberg with regard to poverty; it is the visible peak atop a submerged crisis of inequity. Without the security and stability provided by a home, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who experience homelessness each year also struggle to maintain access to healthcare, employment, education, healthy relationships, and other basic necessities in life.”

On page 8: “Lincoln County has seen a noticeable rise in the number of unhoused individuals. Specific areas, like the City of Newport and the City of Lincoln City, have experienced more pronounced challenges. Many of those affected are not chronically homeless but are individuals and families who have faced recent economic hardships or health crises. The unhoused community is larger than historical data reports; individuals have difficulty obtaining help.”

The plan estimates there are about 2,000 unhoused individuals in Lincoln County.

A chart showing the estimated number of homeless in Lincoln County

We can move this needle if we continue stand together and strive to “ensure that every member of our community has access to the resources they need, while also working to prevent the circumstances that lead to homelessness.” (Lincoln County Homelessness Advisory Board mission) 

2023 – The Approval of Ordinance #532 Relating to Fireworks 

This ordinance, adopted and approved on Jan. 3, 2024, prohibits the sale, possession, and use of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of Lincoln County. This does not affect the public display of fireworks shows many enjoy. 

Increasing and ongoing risks for wildfire due to dry conditions, historically limited staff on local fire districts, and the fact that unincorporated Lincoln County has more “fuel for the burning” prompted the need for a stronger ordinance.

There has been interjurisdictional concern regarding this issue. I've shared our policy developments with all seven unincorporated cities in Lincoln County and most have been particularly attentive and concerned that we move in unison where possible on this issue. 

Several years ago, the county’s Fire Defense Board sent an open letter to all jurisdictions encouraging them to consider the increased and ongoing risks of fireworks. Commissioners responded to that letter by adopting Ordinance 527, which allowed the board to prohibit sales and use by resolution “due to weather related events.”  Typically, retailers make their purchases and requests for sales permits to the State Fire Marshall’s Office at the first of the year. Now that the ordinance is passed, retailers have advance notice that this policy will remain for the foreseeable future.

Fireworks Prohibited_Cropped

2023 - Voters Approve Measure 21-220 Increasing Transient Lodging Tax (TRT) to 12%

Measure 21-220 passed by a wide margin during the November election. Voters selected “Yes” and enacted Ordinance #531 increasing the county transient lodging tax to 12% in an impressive recognition of our small boat launch/picnic areas, overnight camping, and day-use facilities. We’ll continue to see our parks evolve with functionality, efficiency, and rewilding. 

Lincoln County maintains 13 parks, including campgrounds and waysides. This TRT increase will be used to enhance and preserve parks, rivers, wetlands, trees, and other important natural features in park areas for the benefit of all park visitors, wildlife and more. 

ParksCollage

2023 – County Continues Support of Echo Mountain Fire Recovery

My stance on fireworks prohibitions is partially informed by the fact that are still recovering from the Echo Mountain Fire Complex in which 300 structures were destroyed in the Otis area of north Lincoln County. 

During that disaster, I was serving as public information officer in our emergency operations center. Officially, this was my second EOC activation in a wildfire incident. Little did I know we would still be managing different aspects of our community’s recovery in 2024. 

Thankfully, the passion and conviction of Commissioner Kaety Jacobson has been to keep a watchful eye on this community which she has fondly called “her people.” Her advocacy and grants administration has resulted in the ongoing management with Shanelle Burch to keep resources coming to our local fire survivors.

The county offers grants to low- and moderate-income wildfire survivors to purchase or build homes and pay infrastructure costs for properties temporarily or permanently occupied by wildfire survivors. Our partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County, Community Services Consortium, OSU Extension and nonprofit organizations is making limited homeownership and septic replacement opportunities available to individuals and families.Two photos of homes made available to wildfire survivors in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County


2023 - Forest Trust Lands Advisory Committee Deliberates on the Impacts of Forthcoming Habitat Conservation Plan

I began this year as our commission representative on the Forest Trust Lands Advisory Committee. This advisory group consists of county commissioners mandated by statute that advise the Board of Forestry and State Forester on matters related to state forestland. The counties who receive revenues from these forestlands are Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, and Washington.

Recently, I advocated for a habitat conservation plan with the highest protections possible. The state has a duty to both provide sustainable timber harvest revenues to counties where state forests are located while also protecting habitat used by threatened and endangered species. 

Thankfully, the impact of the habitat conservation plan on the dollars received from timber harvest revenues in Lincoln County is minimal in regard to our dependencies on those revenues to our General Fund. That’s not necessarily true for other counties who face larger impacts. I take that very seriously. Understanding how this system works, and what numbers really tell us has been a steep learning curve. No final decisions have been made regarding the proposed plans, and the governor has explored how her office can reduce the financial blow. The situation is ongoing.

2023 – Short Term Rentals Find a Better Balance

Days after taking office on Jan.. 11 our agenda included the item “Discussion of geographic boundaries, subareas, and licenses for the Short-Term Rental (STR) Licensing Program.” STRs no doubt impact the quality of life in neighborhoods. The volume of people, vehicles, parking, trash, and environmental impact hit a crescendo in our community in 2022 due to rapid growth. 

We approved seven geographic zones, and our caps in many zones eliminated the possibility for new licenses. Recently, YachatsNews reported that “Vacation rentals in unincorporated areas once numbered more than 600. Now there are 506, after the county prohibited the transfer of licenses to new owners and put a moratorium on issuing new ones in most unincorporated areas. Under the county’s latest ordinance, they are supposed to eventually drop to 181 in five designated areas outside of the seven cities in Lincoln County.” 

2023 – New County Administrator and Management Team Move in Positive Directions

Since taking office in 2023, I have witnessed the further unfolding of Ordinance 517, which established a county administrator position. This ordinance became effective in 2021. Prior to the authorization of 517, department heads (non-elected officials) reported directly to the Board of Commissioners. Previously, each year commissioners would divide administration and performance evaluations of the directors of planning, transit and other departments. Ordinance 517 officially created the position of administrator who is now the intermediary between the board and its department heads. 

County Administrator Tim Johnson, our first to serve in that position under Ordinance 517, has demonstrated needed ability and skill to execute capital improvements that have been long desired. We essentially built a new 4-H building. Our multidisciplinary team established by Johnson will build a new animal shelter. An improved county commons is gaining momentum. Finance, budget and auditing analysis, revenue forecasting and attention to details are all strengths he’s brought to the table. 

The position of administrator serves as focal point for our entire team. Regarding daily management, non-elected departments demonstrate a simpler relationship to the board.

MTEAM

Noteworthy, the County’s M-TEAM (management team) is comprised of both elected and non-elected officials.  Non-elected officials are supervised by our administrator. Elected department heads – the sheriff, district attorney, treasurer, clerk and assessor – are not subject to many aspects of the board’s authority. This does not exclude, however, matters such as the board’s final authority to authorize filling vacant personnel positions, approving or denying salary adjustments, entering into collective bargaining agreements and revising the county personnel rules and the classification and pay plans, among other things. Otherwise, many aspects of daily management for elected officials are hands off for the board. Previously, as the county’s public information officer and now as a commissioner, this is a point of clarification that’s been necessary for me to provide on many occasions. It’s understandable considering there is much nuance in these areas of governance. Yet, the board cannot dictate certain aspects of customer service that other elected officials engage in.

This is a fitting segue to the following highlight:

2023 – District Attorney Motion for Injunction Against County Commission Denied

In spring of last year, District Attorney Lanee Danforth challenged the Board of Commissioners in court. Danforth filed for a preliminary injunction seeking sole authority to reclassify roles of employees in her office after commissioners denied a request to promote a second chief deputy. Ultimately, Judge Norman Hill, a Polk County judge presiding as a guest judicial officer, denied that preliminary injunction and reaffirmed the authority of the commission that has been historical and routine. 

The Danforth challenge was a distraction both financially and administratively. I appreciate the clarity and affirmation of Judge Hill. The Danforth lawsuit illustrates the frustration elected officials might feel when collaborating on management objectives. A commissioner’s job description does indeed identify: “Direct and confer frequently with department heads on matters of policy.” It’s through people and their good work that we aspire to deliver county services as seamlessly as possible. 

There are many other accomplishments and successes in customer service worth noting that I did not review at length in this sitting. 

For example, we launched a new agenda management software and improved the audio/video capabilities of our board’s primary meeting room. These technologies work in unison so that our community can access our meetings effectively wherever they may be. An aerial spray operation was diverted after our request to the timber landowner was received with cooperation.  Many, many highlights that were not mentioned. 

Within the commissioners’ office much of our work is possible because of the immediate team that comprises central administration. I am grateful to share my adventure with Tim, Kristin, Kenneth, Geneva, Gina, Brian, Douglas, Skyler, Shanelle, and Kathleen to provide you with the essential public services you desire from county government.  

One of the intrinsically rewarding experiences about being a commissioner is problem solving and seizing opportunities that recognize all who participate; it’s not me saying “what you should do” it is all participants saying, “what kind of ‘doing’ should we be engaged in?” This fundamental approach is neither top down nor bottom up but a multiangle approach that aggregates each person’s knowledge and experience.  

We always appreciate when you take a moment to share your experiences and feedback. If county government can deliver better customer service, please let us know.  Find us online and located on the first floor of the Lincoln County Courthouse. 

Let’s make the best of 2024 and the coming years.  Thank you for your confidence and support. 

Regards, 

Casey Miller Signature

Casey Miller, Chair

Lincoln County Board of Commissioners