The Wallowa County Board of Commissioners, on a unanimous vote, terminated Jennifer Ballard's seat on the Wallowa County Planning Commission Tuesday afternoon. Her position was terminated for inappropriate comments made at the Feb. 24 planning commission meeting.
Commissioner Dan DeBoie said that he twice listened to tapes of the meeting and found her comments, among other things, of a racist nature.
"By the time I was done listening to the tapes I found a lot of comments I deemed inappropriate," he said. He noted negative comments about Indians, Blacks and gays and was especially offended about a comment paralleling Indians with the plight of gays in San Francisco.
Commissioner Ben Boswell agreed that the comments went beyond the scope of a planning commission meeting.
Before attending the Feb. 24 meeting, on the same evening, Ballard, also a city councilor for the city of Joseph, made comments at a city council meeting which prompted a special council meeting Feb. 27 to address her deportmanship.
DeBoie said that he listened to tapes of the Feb. 24 city council meeting and attended the Feb. 27 meeting which Ballard described Tuesday as "a lynching" and "a public flogging for voicing my opinion."
Tuesday's meeting was posted as an executive meeting session but was opened the to the public to the public at the request of Ballard.
Only the media, Ballard, county administrator Gail Tally and the commissioners attended.
Ballard opened the session with a two-page, single-spaced statement which began as a public apology and ended as a strong criticism of fellow planning commissioner Tim Nitz.
Commission Chairman Mike Hayward and Boswell initially proposed that Ballard be allowed to retain her seat on the planning commission if she apologized in writing to the planning commission and to the public, but DeBoie took the stance that Ballard should be removed from office. After more discussion, the other two commissioners eventually came to agree with DeBoie.
The likelihood of any letter of apology to the planning commission being unanimously accepted, a stipulation the commissioners agreed to, did not seem likely causing Boswell to change his vote. Hayward expressed concern that any future decision passed by the planning commission might be appealed on the grounds of a bias created by the actions of Ballard.
On more than one occasion DeBoie stated that Ballard's comments were not appropriate for the time, place and context in which they were delivered. Hayward said the comments would have possibly been appropriate for a talk radio show, but not for a planning commission meeting.
"As public officials we are held to a higher standard," said Hayward.
Ballard has been on the planning commission since Aug. 31, 1999. Members are appointed by the board of commissioners. With the removal of Ballard, there are now two vacancies on the planning commission. The term of Rob Lamb expired at the end of 2003 and his position has not yet been filled.