The idea emerged after the county court began discussing removal of planning commission chairperson term limits

After imposing a chairperson term limit on the Crook County Planning Commission four years ago, county commissioners are currently deciding whether to remove the restriction.

The planning commission made the recommendation on the basis that no other county board is bound by such a restriction, and they want to be treated like everyone else.

The Central Oregon Patriots see things differently, and made their feelings known at a recent county court meeting. Not only do they feel that the planning commission term limits should stay, they want to add the same restriction to all other county boards.

“The principle that they wanted to get across is that what we see going on throughout the country, whether you are talking locally or nationally, there are certain groups of people who remain in place and once they are there, it seems that they are there in perpetuity,” said Patriots Chairman Craig Brookhart.

He explained that the chair position may not officially carry any special privileges beyond running a meeting or preparing the agenda, but they still set the tone and influence the actions of a governing body.

Brookhart said that chairperson term limits help generate new ideas and create an atmosphere of where people are grown and empowered to take on a leadership role.

Currently, the planning commission chairperson is limited to two one-year terms, but since the county implemented the restriction in 2009, Bill Gowen has chaired the board. In 2011, when his tenure as chair was set to end, then-Crook County Counsel Dave Gordon cited a “rule of necessity” that kept Gowen as chair.

“In broad form, what that means is if somebody is not allowed to make a decision under normal circumstances, but that person is needed for a decision to be made, then that person can make the decision notwithstanding that normally they wouldn’t be able to,” said Eric Blaine, assistant county counsel. “So, Dave Gordon’s opinion was that Bill Gowen could continue as planning commission chair because at that time, there weren’t any other planning commissioners who were interested in serving as chair.”

Brookhart contends that the rule of necessity and the current attempt to remove the term limits should not be necessary.

“During that two-year period (2009-2011), rather than grooming someone or growing someone — bringing in people who might assume a leadership role, that didn’t happen,” he said, adding that they failed to groom a leader in the subsequent two years that followed the rule of necessity.

At this time, it does not appear that commissioners intend to impose term limits on all county boards as the Patriots have suggested. Crook County Judge Mike McCabe said that he typically tries to honor the decisions the board makes regarding its structure and bylaws. He is considering the removal of planning commission term limits because they asked for the change. So, unless a board requests chairperson term limits, the county court will not likely require them.

As it turns out, the county may not have the authority to impose term limits on all 28 county boards. Blaine explained that some of governing bodies, such as the Crook County Parks and Recreation District board, are their own separate legal entity and do not fall under the county's purview.

“Other agencies are under the auspices of the county. They are either not separate legal entities or they are separate legal entities, but they answer to the county,” Blaine explained. “If they (the Patriots) are advocating that all boards need to be have term limits, each individual board would have to be examined separately.”

County commissioners will hold another public hearing on the planning commission chairperson matter at their next regularly-scheduled meeting Wednesday, Oct. 4, and will likely reach a decision during that session.

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