PENDLETON — New Umatilla County Commissioner Dan Dorran kicked off his first meeting with a bang.
In a move highlighting what he called an “unprecedented and unbalanced period of leadership,” Dorran made a motion to oppose the election of commissioners George Murdock and John Shafer to the positions of board officers in his first board of commissioners meeting since he was sworn in as the county’s new commissioner on Monday, Jan. 4.
The move — which Dorran said was focused on the integrity of the county’s charter and highlighted an unequal representation of leadership geographically — ultimately failed. The commissioners voted 2-1 against Dorran on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
Murdock and Shafer each said that they were offended on behalf of Umatilla County residents and that Dorran’s move put them off to a rocky start.
“I do think we got off on the wrong foot,” Murdock said in an interview after the meeting. “I was very disappointed. The commissioners do not serve geographically, we serve the county. We’re at-large.”
Dorran said that he believes the board of commissioners “blew up” the county’s charter — a document that dictates how Umatilla County government operates — by approving the election. He claims that the charter says commissioners should technically rotate into chair positions, rather than be elected, and that he should therefore have been appointed vice chair of the board.
“If this proposal passes, there is no limitation or guidelines left in either document that would prevent these two commissioners from using these harmful shenanigans to continue their commissioner-to-officer rotation indefinitely until they leave office,” Dorran said during the meeting. “Leaving perception and motive out of the equation, today is a sad day for the long, proud history of Umatilla County.”
Shafer said that he believed no part of the county’s charter was disregarded with the approval.
“I felt offended for the citizens of Umatilla County,” Shafer said after the meeting. “To me, the board chair represents every citizen in Umatilla County, not just their neighbors. Regardless of where the board chair lives, they should be paying attention to all parts of the county.”
Dorran made repeated references at the meeting to the lack of leadership coming from the west part of the county. He said that no commissioner from the west part of the county had been elected in six years.
Dorran said that most board chair members have hailed from the east in places like Pendleton — even though Shafer was elected to county commissioner while living in Athena.
“Although I have noticed specific regional disenfranchisement,” Dorran said, “the manipulation of officer rotation directly affects all of the county, and once again it causes a division of the populace that many of us have tried to cure for many years.”
Murdock said that Dorran’s effort only furthered division. He added that upon his election, in 2013, there had in fact been few commissioners who hailed from Pendleton.
“It concerns me that it’s been suggested that because two of us are now living in Pendleton we have somehow dispossessed the remainder of the county,” Murdock said in the meeting. “I find this both divisive and I also find it offensive.”
Shafer and Murdock each say that historically, freshman commissioners have not held board chair positions due to the immense responsibility that the position entails. They said that nowhere in the charter is there a reference to geographical representation, and that county commissioners should work on behalf of all county residents, rather than those from the communities where they reside.
In his response, Murdock highlighted a variety of efforts that leaders in the east portion of the county have made to help those in the west.
In the meeting, Dorran referenced the fact that commissioner Shafer had been appointed to the position of vice chair in his freshman year as commissioner. However, Murdock and Shafer responded that the only reason Shafer took his position was because commissioner Bill Elfering, who was board chair at the time, stepped down from his position due to medical issues.
Shafer and Murdock added that although they may disagree, they are confident the commissioners will continue to have a good working relationship.
“I have all the respect for both the commissioners,” Dorran said. “Obviously, this isn’t going to be the last time we disagree, by any means.”