Both the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville have sent letters to the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners asking it to withdraw its Feb. 12 decision approving the preliminary plat for the Marr Ranch Subdivision near the foot of Wallowa Lake.
The commission plans to discuss the requests at its regular meeting on Monday, April 5.
The letters request that the board remand the matter to the county planning commission "with instructions to reconsider the matter in a fair and unbiased way" and state that such action by the commissioners "is necessary for the obvious bias of former Planning Commissioner Jennifer Ballard, as expressed in her remarks regarding the LUBA appeal by the tribes."
The letters were sent by the attorneys for the two reservations, which have both appealed the Marr Ranch approval to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). The City of Joseph has also appealed the county's decision.
Both tribes also expressed appreciation for the board's "swift action" in removing Ballard from her appointive position after holding a hearing concerning comments she made at a planning commission hearing. "It shows decisive and appropriate leadership on your part in response to remarks that go beyond the pale not only of objectivity, but of, we think, basic human decency," said attorney Stephen Suagee of the Colville reservation.
Attorney Anthony D. Johnson of the Nez Perce Tribe quoted a couple of statements made by Ballard in his letter: "the gays in San Francisco and the Indians in Wallowa County were pushing their weight around to further their own agendas" and that "people who've been tolerant of them are growing impatient and are not going to put up with it."
Johnson praised the board for its action in regard to Ballard, and said it shows "Wallowa County does not tolerate racism and intolerance, especially on the part of its officials."
The tribes noted that the fact that the commissioners were apparently unaware of Ballard's "extreme bias" prior to her remarks at the Feb. 24 planning commission meeting didn't change the fact that she participated in the decision of the planning commission on Dec. 17 to approve the Marr subdivision plat.
It was pointed out that the board's subsequent appeals hearing was not de nova, but based on the commission's work of which Ballard was a part.
Johnson stated that he felt a remand back to the planning commissioners by the board of commissioners would eliminated a lengthy LUBA proceeding which would ultimately result in a LUBA-ordered remand.
The board of commissioners has also received a letter from Rebecca J. Knapp, associate attorney with D. Rahn Hostetter, legal representative for K & B Family Ltd. Partnership which owns the Marr Ranch subdivision property. She said that while under Oregon law the commissioners have the right to reconsider their decision, they have no right to remand it.
She also states that even if a member of the planning commission was "biased in the manner suggested by the Nez Perce Tribe, which she was not" the board's review of that decision "cured any such alleged impermissible bias."
"The parties ... were provided a full and fair hearing by an impartial tribunal," stated Knapp.
"Accordingly the board of commissioners' decision should not be reconsidered on that basis. I am confident LUBA would reject any similar assertions by the appellants, " she added.