County elected leaders issue letter of protest over governor’s Covid mandates

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce said Wednesday voters in the county should be able to make their own choice when it comes to Covid vaccinations. Joyce, along with the rest of the Malheur County Court signed a letter of protest to Gov. Kate Brown. (The Enterprise/FILE).

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VALE – The Malheur County Court Wednesday added its voice to the chorus of lawmakers and residents who want Gov. Kate Brown to revoke Covid directives for health care workers, teachers and first responders.

“The impacts of these state government mandates are severely detrimental and far reaching to our public safety agencies, employers and the public,” the court wrote in a letter to the governor.

The letter from the court – the three-member governing body for the county – arrives in the wake of a similar missive issued by state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane and state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, earlier this month.

In the joint letter from Owens and Findley, the lawmakers asserted Brown’s Covid mandates go too far, forcing teachers, health workers and public employees to choose between what should be a personal medical decision and their jobs.

Brown’s office said in an Aug. 25 interview with the Enterprise that “elected officials should be calling on their constituents to wear masks and get vaccinated.”

The court, including Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Don Hodge and Ron Jacobs, issued its letter the same day Malheur County recorded the worst day for new cases since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

The letter from the county court challenged the Covid mandate on constitutional grounds.

“We are U.S. citizens under the protection of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the great state of Oregon and should retain our right to individual choice. In particular, the choices of our medical treatment,” the court wrote.

The letter from the court said “our people should not be subject to a mandate that requires them to choose between a career, providing for their families or a vaccination. We can’t afford to lose these critical workforces that are so crucial to our community.”

The court said that “we find our local front line workers to be more qualified to move us forward and address the dangers and reality of COVID-19 in a way that allows for private choice and in the best interest of students and employers.”

“We implore you to address the concerns in this correspondence, remove the mandates and allow the professional people in our local counties to (do) their jobs,” the court wrote.

In the letter, the court singled out Vale Fire & Ambulance Chief Jess Tolman and Jordan Valley School District Superintendent Rusty Bengoa as two people who warned the state mandates will lead to a “loss of personnel.”

“I think people need a choice. They ought to be able to make their own choice,” said Joyce.

Joyce said the Covid mandate issue is “very serious” and he worries the governor’s requirement regarding vaccination of health care professionals will severely impact the county.

“So if you get rid of them (employees) what do you do to replace them? We are not getting the applications,” said Joyce.

In an exclusive interview with the Enterprise last week, Brown said she was focused on “solving a public health crisis.”

The governor said she had no intention of rescinding her mandate that health care workers, school employees and state workers get vaccinated.

Brown said she was aware the mandates could trigger job losses.

“There’s no question that there will be some people leaving,” she said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

County court approves resolution to limit local gatherings

Malheur County teeters on the edge of a major crisis as virus spreads

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