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Lane County leaders discuss safety, public comment after threat pushed meeting online

The Lane County District Attorney said her office will no longer prosecute certain crimes, including most misdemeanors.
Nathan Wilk
Lane County Commissioners held a meeting online instead of in-person earlier this month after concerns were raised about a man who had threatened county employees in the past attending the meeting.

Lane County leaders are reassessing their safety policies and how they should interact with the public after a threat earlier this month led the commissioners to hold a meeting online.

On April 2, Lane County Commissioners were supposed to meet in-person. They unexpectedly changed plans after a man with a history of harassing and threatening county employees informed them he planned to show up to their meeting.

During that online meeting, County Commissioner Heather Buch said Commissioner David Loveall encouraged the man to attend despite clear indications he was a threat to employees.

“I've received correspondence that indicates a sitting commissioner has encouraged an individual with a public safety threat background to come in and target some of our staff, and put others in danger,” she said. “For me, this is absolutely unbecoming of a commissioner.”

During a work session Wednesday, Loveall told fellow commissioners that he emailed the individual the same generic advice - how to participate in public comment - that he’s sent to many constituents. He said no one told him that the individual had a history of threatening staff.

“What matters here mostly is that a citizen wanted to air a grievance about somebody, or some form of government in front of their government,” he said. “That is their constitutional right.”

During that meeting, Lane County’s Administrator Steve Mokrohisky said threats against county workers have accelerated over the last few years, including a suspicious package to Lane County election workers in November.

Board of Commissioners chair Laurie Trieger argued the situation was not a simple matter of public comment, and that the email Loveall replied to was an inflammatory message targeting a specific county employee.

“No one is denying someone their right to come speak before us by not encouraging them to do so,” she said. “There is nothing that requires us to provide a public comment period, but we all agree that it's a valuable part of our meeting, so we do it.”

Commissioners agreed to work with a third party facilitator to address the situation.

According to a statement provided by the county, the facilitator and the commissioners will develop a protocol to improve safety at county meetings and allow all members of the public to participate.

Rebecca Hansen-White joined the KLCC News Department in November, 2023. Her journalism career has included stops at Spokane Public Radio, The Spokesman-Review, and The Columbia Basin Herald.