The Crook County Court held their annual meeting at Paulina Elementary School

by: JASON CHANEY - Sunnie Phillips with Crook County Search and Rescue addresses the crowd at the Crook County Court meeting held in Paulina.

On one side of the Paulina Elementary School gymnasium, a folding table was covered with an assortment of cookies and three coffee pots.

In the middle of the room, people sat in rows of folding chairs — more than a dozen of which were occupied by sixth through eighth-grade students.

Up front, Crook County Judge Mike McCabe stood, microphone in hand, flanked by fellow Crook County Commissioners Ken Fahlgren and Seth Crawford.

“The secret is out,” he began. “This is our favorite meeting of the whole year.”

On Wednesday morning, the Crook County Court hosted their annual Paulina meeting. The crowd fluctuated, as Paulina students attended then returned to class, reaching as many as 50 people at times.

McCabe didn’t hesitate to interact with the students, and continually tried to elicit laughter from the crowd.

“Did you get some cookies yet?” he asked the children. “Our Colleen (Ferguson, County Court Secretary) got you cookies. Now, she’s got you two different kinds of cookies. She’s got the good ones for the kids, and you guys (adults) have to eat the rest of them.”

Later, as McCabe was launching into the meeting agenda, he joked that it was “August 48,” instead of Sept. 18. The audience didn’t give him the response he had hoped for.

“You people are gonna have to start working with me,” he quipped, with a chuckle. “I’m dyin’ up here.”

Amidst the light-hearted atmosphere, the commissioners delved into several topics involving ongoing local issues. They discussed a recently-awarded wolf depredation grant that will be used to fund the clean-up of livestock bone piles on local ranches. Because the piles are believed to attract more wolves, the hope is the clean-up will lower the number of wolves that come to Crook County.

The commissioners later approved a 96-acre urban growth boundary expansion for the City of Prineville, and considered a request from Paulina resident Jodie Fleck regarding funds for new medical equipment. The emergency medical technician with Rager Emergency Services asked the commissioners for $24,000 to purchase a Zoll ECG Defibrillator so they can better respond to emergencies in the Paulina area.

In addition, road master Penny Keller spoke on the need to upgrade Millican Road to support heavy truck traffic. She explained that the county needs another $5 million to fund the improvements, and if they can’t find the money, they would have to restrict truck traffic on the road.

“That’s a decision and a directive that we will need to be making here in the very near future,” she said.

The most controversial meeting topic involved an ongoing discussion regarding the termination of term limits for county planning commission chairs.

In 2009, the County approved an ordinance that limited the chair to two one-year terms. At the recommendation of the planning commission, the County Court is considering a reversal of the requirement.

During a public hearing, several audience members gave opinions on the proposal. Central Oregon Patriots member Gordon Aggers read a letter that not only asked the commissioners to retain the term limits, but extend them to all other county boards.

He went on to suggest that the term limits were enacted to end the tenure of a chairperson, while the reversal is intended to “promote the tenure of a friend of the court.”

Prineville resident Darlene Harpster spoke in favor of term limits as did Tyler Groo of Paulina.

“I don’t have any particular concerns about the conspiracy theories or what all has gone on in the past or the present,” Groo said. “I believe a chairperson typically does influence the way an organization or a board operates. I do believe that rotating the leadership of those kinds of bodies is important.”

Another Paulina resident, Susan Hermreck, disagreed

“I have served in a previous state on many political boards,” she said. “I have served as a chairperson before and actually, when you have a board where you appoint your representatives, I feel term limits are an unnecessary thing.”

The meeting concluded with updates on the Prineville/Crook County Airport, the Crook County Fairgrounds, Veteran Services, and the Sheriff's Office.

During his update, Sheriff Jim Hensley invited members of the Search and Rescue K-9 team and their dogs inside the gymnasium to the delight of the children in the audience.

After the meeting adjourned, county staff and officials took time to mingle with the audience before joining the Paulina students for lunch in the school cafeteria.

“It was good meeting. I was glad to see the participation,” McCabe said after the event. “It gives us a chance to stay in touch with that part of the county.”

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