By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
Julie Schmelzer's nearly 18-month tenure as Josephine County's community and economic development director has been dominated by the marijuana issue.
"Pretty much all I've done is work on marijuana regulations," she said last month.
Charged by her bosses with developing land-use regulations over the growing industry, she has become a target of that industry for the rules she is shepherding through a hearings-and-workshop process to become law.
With just a few weeks remaining until the county Board of Commissioners is due to adopt those rules, possibly at a Nov. 29 hearing, critics are continuing to take aim at her.
The latest criticism follows an article in a Brookings newspaper, the Curry Coastal Pilot, that quotes Schmelzer and reports she wrote to that county's board of commissioners, urging them to adopt regulations.
One county bureaucrat urging a neighboring county's elected officials to take action?
The interaction caught the attention of Oregon SunGrowers Guild President Peter Gendron, a marijuana grower association leader who didn't find fault so much with the email Schmelzer sent in July as much as what she said in it. He also challenged what she told Curry County commissioners in an Oct. 18 conference call that included Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan.
"Some of the statements were bizarre at best," Gendron said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "When the local planning director accuses me of dosing my dogs with methamphetamine to make them more vicious, it kind of takes the narrative to a more personal level.
"She didn't say me specifically," he added.
Gendron also questioned Schmelzer's assertion about 5,000 illegal marijuana grow sites in Josephine County, in addition to about 3,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites and another 100-plus sites growing marijuana for the recreational market.
"That really begs the question, if you have 3,000 registered grow sites and 5,000 illegal sites, how the hell do you know?" Gendron said. "Why go after 3,000?"
In reply, Schmelzer said she received reports of dogs on meth and a report from a state agency that the county had an estimated 8,000 grow sites. She didn't name the agency.
Morgan said in reply to Gendron that a dog shot by a county animal control officer tested positive for meth, but she didn't know if the dog was associated with a marijuana farm. Morgan said she hadn't seen the email that Schmelzer sent in July to Curry County commissioners.
"That's not necessarily our doing or business, so long as it doesn't discredit the county," Morgan said, adding that she'd have to check county personnel rules.
County rules say employees may express their personal political views while off the job, but that willfully falsifying information is prohibited.
Gendron wasn't the only person to criticize both Schmelzer and Morgan. Illinois Valley marijuana advocate Christopher Hall sent an email to a network of marijuana industry associates faulting Schmelzer for bias. The email included criticism from Gendron.
"Julie Schmelzer has lost all credibility as an objective county planner," Hall wrote. "She has demonstrated her bias and prejudice and has way overstepped the bounds for an official whose duty is to be professional, even-handed and just."
Hall called for Schmelzer to be removed from any involvement in marijuana. He also called Morgan a liar, mentioning in particular the 5,000 illegal grows contention, and called for her to recuse herself from marijuana-related issues.
Morgan, who repeated the 5,000 number to Curry County commissioners, said she found nothing that was untruthful in what was presented to the Curry County officials.
She said Schmelzer was acting on behalf of commissioners and that those commissioners are legislators with opinions.
"He's under the impression we have to be unbiased in our roles," she said.
• • •
The Pilot wrote two articles. The first, on Oct. 17, was headlined "Regional pot crime sparks concerns ... Spike in marijuana woes in adjacent county prompts local warnings, advice." Its opening paragraph mentioned killings in Josephine County and businesses leaving there. Marijuana-linked killings, as reported by the Daily Courier in the last few years, are true enough.
The Pilot reported that Schmelzer wrote Curry County commissioners to warn them that new regulations in Josephine County possibly could result in growers moving to the coast. She suggested they develop their own rules.
And she ticked off a number of horror stories, according to the newspaper story.
The article came out one day before that county's board of commissioners discussed marijuana issues and possible regulations. Curry County Commissioner Court Boice invited Schmelzer and Morgan to speak at the meeting, which they did, via conference call.
"This is becoming a huge issue," Boice told his fellow commissioners, according to an online recording of the meeting. "You're trying to hold things together in Josephine County and sleepy Curry County has got some time to hopefully respond in a wise way.
"This thing has happened so fast. It's gone from medical to recreational to commercial and now industrial. Thank you for hanging in there and demonstrating real boldness."
"I have stories and stories I could share," Schmelzer told the board. "I don't want to scare you."
Schmelzer, who is a former Curry County director of administration and economic development, then went on to say state medical marijuana regulators were slow to conduct inspections, that some new businesses didn't want to be anywhere near marijuana enterprises and that growers had moved to Josephine County "because we didn't have any rules in place." Jackson County prohibits agriculture in its rural residential zones.
In the meeting, Morgan talked about an outpouring of citizen complaints about marijuana farms and a lack of state enforcement on medical marijuana grow sites. She also talked about getting a complaint a few weeks earlier from someone who had been out walking a dog only to have an armed guard shine a spotlight on them from a watchtower at a grow site.
"Like a prison," Morgan said.
The Pilot wrote a story recapping the meeting, prompting another round of emails from Hall and Gendron.
• • •
Schmelzer provided the Daily Courier with a copy of the email she sent in July, after Curry County officials didn't respond to a request for a copy. It mentions thefts, fecal-tainted water, shootings, car fires and even a beheading. Asked about that last item, she said that came from an official in the Illinois Valley.
"It was not sent in my professional capacity," she said. "It was from my Hotmail account, on my own time. As someone who leases over there, and is preparing to make a big investment there, I have a right to be concerned.
"A good government employee realizes we don't live in a vacuum, and we must look beyond our borders," she continued. "I, others in Josephine County and other counties work together on many issues to improve Southwest Oregon and the state. Why would we not communicate and work together on a critical issue like this as well?
"No one told them to 'ban marijuana,' she said. "Rather, I asked they get rules in place and be prepared."
Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.