COQUILLE -- To their supporters, they're heroes ushering in a new age of fiscal responsibility. To their critics, they're agitators who lack a basic understanding of American governance.
This year, a pair of retired Fairview women have led a cavalry charge for changes to Coos County government. Their plan, a measure on November's ballot that would alter nearly every aspect of county operation, has ignited a seething debate about the make up of local democracy.
Relatively little is known about Jaye Bell and Ronnie Herne. The couple declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.
In an interview in April, when Bell and Herne began collecting signatures in support of their ballot measure, the pair said they moved to Coos County from San Francisco about 15 years ago.
They quickly took an interest in county government, but were dismayed by the decisions of the commissioners.
In Sept. 2011, frustration reached a boiling point and the couple took matters into their own hands. They formed a group, Americans for Responsive Responsible Representative Government.
Over the next five months, Herne, Bell, a Salem lawyer and an unknown group of other backers began a project that was unprecedented in Coos County: They wrote their own constitution.
Rewriting the rule of law
In Oregon, a county can make sweeping changes to its governance rules by enacting a home rule charter.
Nine of Oregon's 36 counties have adopted charters, all of which required a public vote of approval. The traditional path to adoption is for the county to form a committee that invites public feedback about the charter. The other, less conventional way, is to write a charter and put it on the ballot.
Bell and Herne's group took the latter option. Their final product is 40 pages and sets scores of new rules for Coos County. Its central theme is public voting. Voters must approve certain contracts, property transfers and salary raises for elected officials.
Other sections read like a wish list of solutions to pet peeves. All county departments must be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the charter says, including the lunch hour.
Herne and Bell say they were forced to write strict rules.
'We shouldn't have to do this," Herne said. 'There are many things in here that I can't believe we had to do."
To help them get the charter on the ballot, Oregon election records show that Herne and Bell spent $6,800 on a signature gathering company, which helped volunteers get the charter on the November ballot.
What drives them?
On legal fees, advertising and signature gatherers, Bell and Herne have spent $25,000 of their own money on their campaign -- more than any other donor in this year's Coos County election.
Don Chance, a local activist who isn't involved in the charter campaign, says that's the kind of passion he admires about the couple.
'They are honest people," he said. 'They are passionate about their beliefs and they have a lot of love for this country."
Mary Geddry, a Coquille-based blogger who writes about county government, says she is proud of the pair.
Geddry has problems with the charter. She says its rules would create too many unintended consequences. But, like Chance, she admires their passion and considers them friends.
'We agree that we disagree, and we don't have that many problems in that regard," she said. 'They are libertarian -- I guess that's a term you could use to describe their politics -- and I'm as far left of center as you can get."
Rob Taylor, a charter advocate, says he had a different impression of the couple when he first met them five years ago.
'At first I thought they were insane," he said. 'But once I realized why they were asking the questions they were asking, it made sense."