Judge Grasty says Bundy is ‘not a nice guy’
“It was with great sadness that I drove up to the courthouse this morning,” Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said during the regular meeting of the Harney County Court on Jan. 6. “Walking in here, I was almost in tears.”
Grasty explained that he was reacting to the increased security measures that have been taken around the courthouse in response to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Individuals wishing to enter the courthouse have been screened by law enforcement officers and required to pass through a metal detector.
“I am angry about how [the courthouse] looks, and my anger is pointed in one direction only — Mr. Bundy and his friends,” Grasty said.
Following a peaceful rally and march on Saturday, Jan. 2, a splinter group of militia members, including Ammon Bundy, occupied refuge headquarters south of Burns. The occupation is part of a protest by Bundy and others regarding the resentencing in October 2015 for Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. Bundy is now calling for federal lands to be given to the people of Harney County.
Harney County Commissioners Dan Nichols and Pete Runnels said they agree with some of Bundy’s sentiments, but they don’t agree with his methods. They added that they do not have a problem with federal agencies or their employees.
“The federal government is not always the problem,” Nichols said, adding that agencies are being forced to respond to conservation groups.
He also discussed the financial repercussions of turning federal land over to the county.
“Putting that expense and burden on counties may not be as advantageous as everyone thinks,” he said.
Nichols added that he went out to the refuge and spoke with Bundy in person.
“I commend you for going out there and seeing for yourself,” Forrest Keady said, adding that he and his wife, Jen, took their children out the refuge so they could learn more about the situation.
Keady said his wife has since received a lot of backlash from the community, and some have called for a boycott of her optometry business.
“She’s a great eye doctor, and she doesn’t deserve that,” Keady said. “We didn’t go out there and say, ‘We are bringing our guns and standing with you.’”
“Your wife is a nice person, and she doesn’t deserve that,” Grasty replied.
However, he added that there is a reason for the increased law enforcement presence in the community.
“They are here for a reason, not because Bundy is a nice guy. He’s not a nice guy. I’ve had an experience with him that was nothing like the one you had,” Grasty said. “There are people who have left this community because they are fearful.”
He added that other groups have been drawn to the occupation movement.
Runnels said, “Those that tag on to the situation, that have a whole different purpose, that’s the scary part.”
The court thanked the law enforcement officers who have come to assist Harney County.
Mark Owens complimented the court for how it has handled the situation.
Grasty introduced Laura Cleland, interim public information officer for Harney County.
Cleland recommended that official Facebook and Twitter accounts be set up for Harney County and the Harney County Sheriff’s Department, explaining that unofficial accounts had already been created for the county without its knowledge or consent.
Cleland also discussed the importance of establishing a social media policy, which would explain who is authorized to post on behalf of the county and describe the kind of content that can be posted. The policy would also give the county the authority to remove public comments containing offensive language.
The court agreed to adopt the Harney County Social Media Policy and authorize Cleland to create the official Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The court also discussed unofficial use of the county’s logo. Grasty suggested getting a copyright, so the county can control how it’s used.
Tony Svejcar, a research leader and rangeland scientist, attended to provide an update on Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center programs and scientific research projects.
Svejcar said he’s retired from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, but he still has an appointment with Oregon State University.
Svejcar said the center aims to “get the science into the hands of the people who can use it.” For example, researchers provide information to agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Park Service, to inform their long-term planning efforts. Svejcar added that researchers have devoted a lot of time to formulating a sage grouse plan that is workable for people on the land. He said researchers are also currently working to provide large-scale data on the progress of sage grouse habitat.
“We need science to get credibility, and you guys fill that gap over and over, not only for us, but in some respects nation wide,” Nichols said.
Svejcar said ranchers have asked the center to bring in more environmental groups to participate, and the center has been able to obtain grants through its collaboration with The Nature Conservancy.
According to its website, “The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.”
Nichols said, “Everybody and everything working together has made the efforts of this county nationally known. There are benefits in working together. This community has reaped huge benefits from it.”
Grasty thanked Svejcar for his contributions, stating, “You’ve been an amazing advocate and resource to this county.”
Harney County Planning Director Brandon McMullen discussed Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) Goal 5 planning.
Goal 5 and related Oregon Administrative Rules describe how cities and counties are to plan and zone land to conserve resources listed in the goal.
The court urged McMullen to list Harney County’s people as a significant resource in the goal.
“That concept hasn’t been lost in these discussions,” McMullen replied.
He added that public outreach, involvement, and education will be integral to the Goal 5 planning process.
The court received a letter from DLCD director Jim Rue regarding a recent revision to the sage grouse administrative rule that was adopted by the Land Conservation and Development Commission in July 2015.
Rue explained that the seven Oregon counties with sage grouse populations participated in a rule revision establishing the baseline for human disturbance, and the commission adopted the revision Dec. 3, 2015.
“Oregon’s sage grouse counties now have a starting point to begin considering development proposals and are free to use this information without fear of legal challenge. The baseline calculations have benefited from local input, and we appreciate how sensitive this subject matter is,” Rue stated.
DLCD will work with the counties, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, BLM, and USFWS to maintain a central registry, tracking human disturbance from the baseline and all new development affecting core areas (mapped sagebrush types or other habitats that meet all life history needs necessary to conserve 90 percent of Oregon’s sage grouse population).
Grasty said Harney County put forward “a ton of effort” to ensure that the established baseline is correct. However, he expressed concern regarding language in the amendment, which states, “If better information becomes available, the commission may revise the baseline subject to a rule amendment that is coordinated with the counties identified in section 5 and other interested parties.”
Grasty said he expressed his concerns to Rue who has been “very good to work with.”
Regarding the amendment, Grasty said, “I don’t think it’s perfect, but I think it will protect us.”
In other business, the court:
• was addressed by Herb Vloedman regarding its position on the proposed minimum wage legislation. Grasty said the court has yet to discuss the matter, but he’d appreciate Vloedman’s input;
• appointed Grasty to be the official budget officer for Harney County for the year 2016;
• appointed Vicky J. Clemens, John Lamborn, and Matthew R. Fine to serve as justices of the peace pro tempore for Harney County Justice Court for the 2016 calendar year;
• designated the Burns Times-Herald to be the official newspaper for publication of county matters for Harney County for the year 2016;
• received a review of the Harney County Home Health and Hospice Quality Assurance Performance Improvements data for 2015 from director Julie Burri;
• received a draft agenda for the Western Juniper Alliance stakeholder meeting. Nichols reiterated that, from the beginning, Harney County’s goal has been to secure funding for juniper utilization;
• appointed Wayne Evans to the Harney County Fair Board;
• postponed its executive session to consult with legal counsel concerning settlement negotiations on the Transportation Management Plan.
The next Harney County Court meeting will be held Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.