Press "Enter" to skip to content

On Balancing the Public Interest

The hot topic politically right now in Coos County is the recent unanimous decision by the Board of Commissioners to close all county owned forest property to motorized vehicles. This issue has been in discussion for some time and has become heated on both aides of the argument. Exacerbating the issue, is the fact that newly-elected Commissioner Rod Taylor campaigned on NOT closing the forest. I want to discuss this as objectively as possible, showing the arguments of both sides. To do this, I will start by laying out the purpose of “public property”.

Public Property is just that, property that is controlled by our elected government but owned by the people. Why do we have public property? For many reasons. The U.S. Constitution lays out very specifically the property that may be owned by the federal government…

“To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings”

U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 17)

Since the Twelfth Amendment says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” that leaves the States able to own all kinds of land that the federal government is not. Let’s talk about what I view as the two primary uses for land owned by the States.

First is, of course, any use that “the people” want it for, which is usually recreation or hunting. This includes hiking, biking, camping, swimming, shooting, hunting for food, hunting for sport or about 1000 other things.

Second is to generate revenue to fund the government. This could be through charging fees to do the recreational activities above or through things like logging or temporarily leasing the land to private corporations.

This brings us to the million dollar question currently plaguing Coos County. What happens when the first is at conflict with the second? Traditionally, our county has received a large part of its funding through timber sales. Unfortunately, the federal and state governments have nearly destroyed that industry through over-regulation. Our timber proceeds are a shell of what they used to be. At the same time, the county has also lost other revenue streams to the point that it is almost completely dependent on state and federal grants to keep its services running. This is a recipe for complete loss of our local autonomy.

A lot of people don’t know, but the county government is broken up into individual departments, some of which are funded by state/federal grants and some whose budgets come out of the county “general fund”. In my opinion, the three absolute most important county departments are the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and the Roads Department, followed closely by the County Clerk. Guess which departments the state and feds are more than willing to give us money for? Not any of those I’ll tell you that. Coos Health and Wellness for example receives a crazy amount of outside funding while the Sheriff pretty much receives none.

So, the state/feds destroy our funding sources. Then they offer to give us grants, but only to the lesser important departments. The other departments are left to fight over the scraps from the general fund. This brings us back to the conflict between use of county lands by individual citizens and use of it for revenue generation. All that county land needs to be patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department to make sure that bad citizens don’t destroy it for all the good citizens. It needs to be patrolled to prevent arson and look out for natural fires. It needs to be patrolled so scumbags don’t steal timber that would have been sold to increase the amount in the general fund.

Currently, we don’t even have the staffing to keep more than one jail pod (48 beds) open. This was partly due to mismanagement, but more so because of the insane state/federal response to COVID-19. Our county already paid our deputies less than many others. After the lockdowns, masks and crazy loosening of unemployment regulations, many people decided they just didn’t want to work anymore. When Coos County officially “reopened” after many restrictions were lifted, we still had two jail pods open (96 beds). That dropped to one pod fairly quickly after they began to lose deputies. If we can’t even keep the jail open, that definitely doesn’t bode well for patrol deputies.

Another aspect of this is that the homeless population increased during COVID-19. Some due to losing their jobs, some due to quitting their jobs, some simply because they saw society unraveling and didn’t give a crap. We already had a problem in Coos County with scumbags dumping trash in the forest and along remote roads. Add to that a bunch of homeless people, many of whom moved into the woods, and you have recipe for more trash and more fire.

Thus, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision that our County Commissioners were left with. Leave the roads open to vehicles and you end up with a mess you couldn’t possibly pay to clean up, along with the increased risk of fire wiping out your main source of revenue. Or, close the roads to all but foot/bike/horse traffic and piss a bunch of citizens off.

Now, specifically in regards to Commissioner Taylor, he messed up when he made a campaign promise not to shut the roads. He didn’t have enough information and made a bad call. He’s admitted this publicly several times. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am the first person to call out one of our representatives when they lie, do something immoral or violate their oath to the Constitution. I would gladly throw Mr. Taylor to the wolves if he did this. The simple fact is HE DIDN’T. Neither did either of the other Commissioners.

Do I like the fact they closed the forest roads? Nope. Do I expect them to reopen them at the earliest possible chance? Yes I do. Am I going to call them corrupt or traitors cause I don’t like the impossible decision they made? Absolutely not. I’m no fan of government in general, but electing someone to represent you, then immediately turning on them cause of a decision like this is about the most unreasonable response I can think of.

The Board of Commissioners is elected to represent ALL OF US. This includes the guy who wants to go off-roading in his pickup on county forest roads, but it also includes anyone who might call the Sheriff’s Office for assistance. Let’s do a little hypothetical to end this. Let’s say the guy who wants to go off-roading is pissed off the roads are closed so he publicly attacks the Commissioners for closing them. He gets his friends to attack them as well and eventually the Commissioners cave and reopen the roads. A year later, the same guy needs to call the Sheriff for an emergency. It takes 45 minutes for a deputy to arrive and by that time something horrible has happened. Why did it take so long? Well, because some scumbag set a forest fire and burned a huge amount of the timber that they would have sold to fund extra patrol deputies.

Everything is a balancing act, deal with it.

Matt Wilbanks / Editor @

Comments are closed.

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.