Morrow County Commissioners Give Port Leaders Deadline on Vacancy

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From left are Port of Morrow Commissioners John Murray, Joe Taylor, Rick Stokoe and Kelly Doherty attending a board meeting in Boardman on Sept. 13, 2023. The commissioners at their Wednesday, Oct. 11, meeting deadlocked on two candidates to fill a vacancy on the commission. (Travis Snell/Hermiston Herald)

The Morrow County Board of Commissioners is giving the Port of Morrow Commission until Thursday, Oct. 26, to fill a PMC vacancy before it steps in and declares an impasse and looks to fill the open seat.

County commissioners passed a motion at their Wednesday, Oct. 18, meeting instructing County Counsel Justin Nelson to inform the PMC to convene a special meeting to fill the vacancy or declare an impasse on two remaining candidates.

According to the motion, if the PMC does not fill the open seat or declare an impasse by Oct. 26 then county commissioners will meet Friday, Oct. 27, to declare the PMC is deadlocked regarding the vacancy and will look to fill the seat with one of the two finalists the PMC chose.

“So if we give them a date specific that we want, and if there’s not an action taken at that point then we will interpret that as an impasse,” Morrow County Commissioner Roy Drago Jr. said.

The county commissioners are also requesting from the PMC recorded interviews and any written documents regarding the two finalists, according to the motion.

The PMC, which is set up for five commissioners, has had a vacancy since Aug. 8 when former Commissioner Jerry Healey resigned after nearly three decades with the commission. The four remaining commissioners are President Joe Taylor, Vice President John Murray, Secretary/Treasurer Rick Stokoe and Commissioner Kelly Doherty.

To find Healey’s replacement, the PMC sought applications from eligible local residents. Those interested had until Sept. 11 to apply. The commission narrowed down the applicants from eight candidates to five before deciding upon two finalists.

Port of Morrow Executive Director Lisa Mittelsdorf said the two finalists were Jerry Rietmann, of Ione, and Brian Thompson, of Heppner. However, after reaching an impasse on the finalists at their Oct. 11 meeting, Mittelsdorf said, Taylor passed the vacancy decision to the county commissioners, per Oregon Revised Statute 198.320.

According to the statute, “a vacancy in an elected office in the membership of the governing body of a district shall be filled by appointment by a majority of the remaining members of the governing body. If a majority of the membership of the governing body is vacant or if a majority cannot agree, the vacancies shall be filled promptly by the county court of the county in which the administrative office of the district is located.”

Because the PMC deadlocked 2-2 on the two finalists at its Oct. 11 meeting, Taylor sent a letter to the county commissioners stating the PMC was at an impasse and it was up to the county to fill the vacancy. However, also in a letter to the county, Doherty and Murray disagreed with Taylor’s assessment that the PMC was at an impasse regarding the vacancy and that he sent the letter on his own.

“When they can’t make a decision on selecting somebody…they can’t even make a decision on whether or not that they can’t make a decision, I would say that they are in impasse,” Jeff Wenholz, board vice chairman, said.

County commissioners said if they have to fill the vacancy then they wanted to choose from the two finalists because of promptness. They said the PMC did its due diligence narrowing the finalists down to two candidates from the eight who applied and the matter should move quickly because the PMC has been without a fifth member since Aug. 8.

“It helps with the promptness part of it if you already have your process in front of you, and then if it comes to fruition then we’re ready to go at that point because that will be more prompt rather than waiting until he (Nelson) says ‘OK, it is in front of you, now how are you going to do it?’ and then we have to debate on that,” Drago said. “So getting a position in there to where they can actually do business, to me, is important because if every decision made, if there is impasse, then they don’t go forward, and I think the promptness is there.”

Mittelsdorf said Wednesday afternoon that she was contacting commissioners to see what day and time they wanted to convene the special meeting so they could meet the county’s deadline.

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