COQUILLE — Coquille Mayor Matt Rowe has fired a shot across the bow of Coos County officials as he ramps up his campaign to become the county's next treasurer.
Less than two months before the filing deadline, Rowe's bid is currently unopposed, but as he has started laying out his platform, he's become increasingly critical of the leadership at the top of the county.
“We need to make our top fundamental priority of government public safety funding,” Rowe said. “I don't believe that is the top priority of the county at this time. I also think you need somebody with the skill sets to bring the stakeholders together.”
Describing the county's $2 million shortfall, Rowe said the county can't handle the budgetary crisis alone, which is why part of his plan is to pursue policies and reforms to encourage administrative consolidation and intergovernmental partnerships.
Pointing to the jail, which he said falls in the urban renewal zone in Coquille, Rowe said he requested that the commissioners put together a proposal to get urban renewal funding.
“As a mayor, I've tried to work with the county to find ways to get city revenue to prop up the jail,” Rowe said. “I've been frustrated in that effort, to be perfectly honest, because I don't believe the commissioners are operating in good faith in wanting to solve the problem. John Sweet has been on the record saying things need to get worse before voters will approve a tax increase, so I don't know if that's why they don't want to work.”
As alternative and creative revenue streams are sought, there must be cost cutting, which is why he intends to create a commission to evaluate governmental redundancies and inefficiencies.
“I want to put together a committee, much like the structure committee was a few years ago except that it was politically motivated, and I want to bring in business people, former union staff and people who have been in politics to see where we have administrative redundancies,” Rowe said. “Where do we have the waste?”
What also frustrates Rowe is how opaque he said the county's budget is and the number of wasteful actions he perceives the board of commissioners has taken.
“It's hard to go through the budget to see x, y and z,” Rowe said. “Part of it is going to be getting a more transparent budget process. Your budget is the most important document and if it's completely mangled and the people can't even read it, that's something we can get fixed right from the start.”
The highly criticized strategic plan sits at the top of his list of questionable expenditures.
“They paid a gal named Vanessa Becker $21,000 to write a 10 page report telling them 'We're broke,'” Rowe said. “I can't think of a better example of how wasteful the leadership at the county is. Our current county leadership seems incapable of having the political courage or leadership ability to make those tough decisions.
“That may sound critical, but they've had their chance to lead. It's clear they're not leading and so that's part of the message of what this campaign is about.”
As he launches his website in a few weeks, Rowe said his detailed vision and examples of wasteful spending will be readily available for all to see, but one main difference voters will notice is his intent to have a more forceful presence in the county.
“Treasurer (Mary) Barton has done a good job, but she almost acts as if she works for the board,” Rowe said. “The intent of the law is to be a guardian of the treasury and provide oversight and checks and balances for the board.”
Included in his push for greater involvement, Rowe will be holding town hall meetings throughout the county, beginning on Feb. 4 in Coquille at the Sawdust Theatre.
It's Rowe's intent to continue these meetings, should he be elected, to keep the electorate informed of policies and connected to county government.
While he has his fair share of detractors, Rowe has taken his campaign door-to-door, knocking on nearly 1,000 doors, raising more than $5,000 and racking up a slew of endorsements from local politicians.
“I'm going to make the same case whether I have an opponent or not about what my qualifications are, my vision for the office and what the county needs to be doing better,” Rowe said. “So whether you're running against nobody or four or five opponents, it's the same campaign. I believe I have a strong message, and I'm taking it to the doors early.”