Measure 17-116

Frequently Asked Questions

If the Charter is approved and takes effect in 30 days as specified, what happens to the primary vote for the two Commissioners in the same May election?


What we understand from the County Clerk is that those elections will be deemed null and void. All 4 Commissioners will be elected in November 2024 in their districts.

What happens if one candidate gets 51% of the vote in the May Primary. In past elections, that candidate "won" and did not appear on the November ballot.

Under election law with non-partisan candidates (that's what our commissioner post is), the top two vote-getters go to the November election, unless one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Then that candidate is elected. 


This is to be determined by the Secretary of State with our County Clerk. Stay tuned.

If the Charter is approved, does that mean the current Commissioners can hire a County Manager before the district Commissioners are elected?


Actually, according to our current Charter, there is nothing stopping the current Commissioners from establishing a County Manager position and filling it today.

The difference with the new Charter is that there are qualifications and a hiring process spelled out to prevent hiring an unqualified person. 

What is a Charter?


Every governmental body has some sort of document which defines the type of structure, the power and limits of officials, and the ability of citizens to affect change.  For the United States, we have the constitution, and the state of Oregon has its own constitution.  Oregon gives counties and cities two options.  One, to be governed under a standard set of rules set by the state, or two, to be a home rule county and adopt their own governing document which is a charter.  A charter gives the citizens of Josephine County more flexibility and a larger voice in how their local government is run.

Can Josephine County's Charter override state law or even federal law?


The answer to that question is not straightforward. According to the Dillon Rule, which is a legal principle that originated in the United States, local governments are subordinate to state governments and can only exercise powers granted to them by the state 


However, some states, including Oregon, have adopted home rule charters that allow local governments to exercise more autonomy over local affairs.


In general, home rule charters can override state law as long as they do not conflict with federal law or the state constitution. In general, state laws can preempt any local law as long as they are pursuant to "substantive social, economic, or other regulatory objectives" regarding civil law. 

Regarding criminal law, state preemptions are applied differently due to this in the Oregon Constitution: "The legal voters of every city and town are hereby granted power to enact and amend their municipal charter, subject to the Constitution and criminal laws of the State of Oregon".

In short, anything in any charter that can conflict with state or federal law or constitutions can be taken to court and struck down. 

Want to read more? Check out a very detailed analysis in the Oregon Municipal Handbook.

Why 5 Commissioners instead of 3?

  1. The Josephine County Board of Commissioners needs to expand to 5 commissioners to insure adequate representation for our rural, urban, and unincorporated areas.
  2. Five commissioners would contribute to a more robust discussion of issues when a larger discussion group is present.
  3. It would allow commissioners to attend relevant meetings or take a “sick day” without depleting the commission.
  4. Two commissioners could conceivably have a non-meeting discussion if two were not a majority of the Board. These discussions can be to work on an issue and/or with constituents.
  5. Having votes requiring three rather than two commissioners will be made more difficult when making decisions for the future of the county.

Why Districts?

  • Insure adequate representation for our rural, urban, and unincorporated areas.
  • Did you know that only 1 Commissioner over the past 20 years did not live in Grants Pass area?
  • Running for office would be less costly for the candidate since they would be campaigning in the district rather than the entire county.
  • Four district-oriented commissioners would lessen the possibility of “stacking” the Board with one area of the county.

Why do we need a "County Manager"?

  1. A manager is trained to operate a municipality/county. They are professionals in the same way that company executives are professionals.
  2. A manager is trained and most likely has advanced degrees in public administration with training in budgeting, finance, personnel, labor relations, intergovernmental affairs, public works, community and economic development, and public safety.
  3. A manager is committed to municipal administration as a career.
  4. Managers are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the County. It is their responsibility to bring coordination to the provision of services.
  5. Managers work to build a team of department heads and other employees.
  6. Managers establish and enforce policies in the areas of personnel, purchasing, cash management risk management, planning and employee development in order to provide more efficient and effective government.
  7. Having a manager provides more direct accountability to the Board for proper operation of services.

Would the Board of Commissions benefit by having a County Manager?

  • Those elected can spend more of their valuable time focusing on policy issues, community goals, and major projects rather than on administrative details.
  • An elected official sets policy. An manager takes those policies and administers them in a coherent, logical way. 
  • Those elected can get better and more comprehensive information and analysis from the manager who is in a staff role enabling more informed decisions.
  • The changing role of the board may encourage more people to run for elected office.
  • The manager can provide continuity when new persons are elected.

But how can we afford 2 more Commissioners and a County Manager?


First, let’s not pretend commissioners are operational managers with operational management salaries. They are our representatives. Let's construct this so they can do that job better.

The County Manager will be largely assuming the administrative activities currently done by the Commissioners. This allows the Commissioners to focus on policy that impacts business and residents climate. In recognition of the Commissioners' changed role, their compensation also changes from salary and benefits to a stipend. 

The stipend is based on the Circuit Court judge salary and roughly calculates out to $24,000 per year (no benefits, which they could "buy" from the County if desired). So let's look at the change:

Salary Tax+Benefits Total
102,005 22,932 124,937
92,087 54,071 146,158
95,771 36,938 132,709
  TOTAL 403,804

$24,000 * 5 = $120,000

A Savings of $283,804 that can be used for a
County Manager's Salary/Benefits

The stipend amount seems really low. How could a commissioner live on that amount?


Regarding the stipend of approximately $24,000…. Currently the commissioners set policy and provide direct administration of all departments and their services. This charter requires a County Manager, who would largely assume the administration responsibilities. Commissioners would be part-time with the main responsibility of setting policy. The County Manager would work reporting to the Commissioners; Department Heads would report to the County Manager.  As our City Counselors, in both GP and CJ, are in public service for the public good; the stipend is public appreciation for their service. Most likely commissioner meetings would be moving to evenings, rather than 9AM to allow them to have other jobs – and allowing working folk to participate in the meetings. This is modeled after other counties, one of which gives a stipend of $200/month rather than $1200.

Keep in mind that the average per capita income in Josephine County according to the US Census Bureau is just over $29,000.

Partisan or non-partisan?


This question didn’t come up much until the last 30 or 40 years.  Almost all people were registered democrat or republican, so almost all people got to vote in the primaries.  Recently, however, there has been a groundswell of people becoming nonaffiliated voters, which is now the largest voting block in Josephine County.  Under a partisan system, these people are not allowed to vote in the primaries for candidates in offices that are designated partisan.  Allowing offices to be nonpartisan ensures that all legal voters in Josephine County have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Why should legal counsel be appointed instead of elected?


The duties of legal counsel are very clear, very specialized, and require certain licensing.  While we have many fine attorneys in Josephine County, very few are experts in municipal law.  An elected legal counsel would have to be a resident of Josephine County not only at the time of their election, but for a designated time before and during the entire duration of their term.  This severely limits the pool of qualified candidates. Having an appointed legal counsel allows the county to search as wide as necessary to find the best person for the position.  When presented with complex legal issues, the attorney should be the best available, not the most popular.

Please explain how a transition from three to five commissioners would be done gracefully.


With the vote for this Charter on the May 2024 ballot, the transition needs to be clarified. We know that as the charter specifies, 2 District and the At-Large Commissioners would be elected in November Presidential  years. And 2 District Commissioners would be elected in the non-Presidential November election.

Currently, the County Clerk is researching in coordination with the Oregon Secretary of State and our County's Legal Council how the transition would occur in 2024.

Stay tuned!