Rogue Valley News, Monday 3/25 – OSF Gets $5 Million Funding Over Next 3 Years From Oregon Community Foundation & Other Local and Statewide News…

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s

Monday,  March 25, 2024

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OSF Gets $5 Million Funding Over Next 3 Years From Oregon Community Foundation


With Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s official season starting next week, the world renowned nonprofit theater is celebrating its latest major contribution: A $5 million contribution from the Oregon Community Foundation, as part of a $52 million “love letter” to arts and culture organizations statewide announced Wednesday by OCF and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, each of which contributed $20 million to the statewide fund.

The contribution will be distributed over the next three years. The $5 million is part of a multimillion investment statewide. The total contribution to the arts provides flexible funding for arts and culture nonprofits across the entire state, according to a news release, including Bend’s High Desert Museum, which did not receive $2 million in funding it had expected the Oregon Legislature to approve in February.

The Miller Foundation contributed $2 million to OSF in 2023, and has been a donor to the organization since 2004.

Foundation program officers will advise potential grantees on further details of the three-year investment, according to the news release. This commitment is intended to inspire additional contributions from supporters across the state.

“We’re really happy about what this means for our future,” said Tyler Hokama, interim executive director at OSF, in a phone interview with Thursday.

Hokama attended the contribution announcement in Portland on Wednesday, a gathering held at Portland Center Stage. He said the funds will be distributed to general operating funds at OSF and “where we need it most,” this year through 2026.

“The broad investments across Oregon Community Foundation, the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, and the Oregon Legislature creates resiliency and stability not only for our current season, but also as a tailwind for our 2025 season-planning process,” Hokama said, in the OCF news release. “Next year, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival enters its 90th Anniversary Season, and we look forward to bringing an exciting lineup and experience to celebrate with our patrons and supporters.”

Hokama said the additional funding helps the 2024 season, but also gives organizers  confidence as they look ahead on the calendar.

The Oregon Legislature also approved a contribution of $2.56 million to OSF in February, pending approval from Gov. Tina Kotek.

“Between the Oregon Legislature and the two foundations coming together, that’s huge for us,” Hokama said. “It’s a pretty astounding statement of support for, really, arts and culture across the state — but for OSF specifically, it’s a great time for us as we really look at what we want to do for next year’s 90th anniversary because we want to make that a special season for longtime fans and new fans alike.”

Exhibitions, performances and other live art gatherings have seen seismic shifts in attendance levels since the pandemic, according to OCF. Arts leaders testified in Salem earlier this year that diminished ticket sales put at risk the significant economic impact of Oregon’s arts sector. (SOURCE)

Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team Undercover Operation Arrests Six Cyber Predators Throughout Oregon

B-roll of Operation Alliance:

Interview with SOCET Detective Steve Bohn:

JCSO Cases 24-0581, 24-0587, 24-0680, 24-0710, 24-0711, 24-1124

OREGON – A month long undercover operation to identify adults victimizing children online has led to arrests of six suspects throughout Oregon. The Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team (SOCET) joint inter-agency task force conducted the operation to identify and arrest dangerous cyber predators using the internet to meet with local children to have sex.

The SOCET led operation consisted of undercover law enforcement officers posing online as minors, waiting for suspects to proposition them into having sex. Even after the acknowledgement of the child’s age, suspects sent sexually explicit messages, photos, and detailed requests of sexual activities they wanted to perform with the undercover officer posing as a child.

This complex undercover operation involved dozens of law enforcement personnel including detectives, investigators, and support staff from Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Marshals Service, Oregon Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Oregon State Police (OSP), Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Medford Police Department (MPD), Central Point Police Department, and Milwaukie Police Department; as well as prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office. Due to the complexity of this operation and the dangers involved in the arrests, SOCET also enlisted assistance from other local police task forces including the Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team, Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Task Force, and Pacific Northwest Violent Offenders Task Force.

The first arrest came January 30th when Gabriel Julian Harrison-Swinden, 29, of White City, attempted to meet and have sex with a juvenile. Harrison-Swinden is charged with first and second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, luring a minor, and attempted using a child in the display of sexually explicit conduct. He was booked and lodged in the Jackson County Jail. Investigators have reason to believe Harrison-Swinden may have victimized children throughout Oregon and the United States. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-581.

The second arrest on January 30th was Kelly Patrick Ramsey, 57, of Central Point, when he attempted to meet with a juvenile to have sex. Ramsey is charged with two counts of first-degree online sexual corruption of a child, two counts of second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, two counts of luring a minor, and using a child in the display of sexually explicit conduct. Ramsey was booked and lodged at the Jackson County Jail. Investigators have reason to believe Ramsey may have victimized children throughout Oregon and the United States. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-587.

The third arrest came on February 3rd when Steven Eugene Fitzgerald Buckner, 33, of Tigard, Ore., traveled to Jackson County to meet with juveniles to have sex.  Buckner is charged federally with online coercion and enticement of a minor. Buckner was booked and lodged in the Jackson County Jail on a federal hold. Investigators have reason to believe Buckner may have victimized children throughout Oregon and the United States. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-680.

On February 27th, Cayden James Vasquez, 25, of Medford, was arrested attempting to meet with a juvenile to have sex. Vasquez is charged with first and second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, luring a minor, and attempted using a child in the display of sexually explicit conduct. He was booked and lodged in the Jackson County Jail. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-1124.

Last week, SOCET investigators traveled to Milwaukie, Ore. to arrest Andrew P Jones, 41, of Milwaukie. Milwaukie Police Department assisted with the March 12th arrest. Jones is charged with second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, and luring a minor. He was booked and lodged in the Clackamas County Jail awaiting transport to Jackson County. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-711.

The next day on March 13th, SOCET investigators traveled to Redmond, Ore. and arrested Steven Charles Newstrom, 66, of Redmond, as he attempted to meet with a juvenile to have sex. Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the arrest. Jones is charged with second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, and luring a minor. He was booked and lodged in the Deschutes County Jail awaiting transport to Jackson County. If you have any information, call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333 and reference case number 24-710.

Investigators have reason to believe the suspects pictured may have other victims. If anyone has additional information on these suspects, please call your local law enforcement agency or the JCSO tip line at (541) 774-8333. If you have any information on the suspects, you can also contact investigators through the Sheriff’s App “Submit a Tip” feature. Download the App here:

SOCET is a joint inter-agency task force that started in June of 2020 to combat child exploitation and human trafficking. The task force consists of investigators from JCSO and HSI with assistance from OSP and MPD; as well as prosecutors from our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in Jackson and Josephine County.


Efforts to Locate Glide Teacher Rachel Merchant-Ly Continue

𝐈𝐃𝐋𝐄𝐘𝐋𝐃 𝐏𝐀𝐑𝐊, 𝐎𝐫𝐞. – Search and Rescue efforts continue in the search for Rachel Merchant-Ly, a Glide Elementary kindergarten teacher whose vehicle was found crashed in the North Umpqua River.

Merchant-Ly was reported missing on Thursday, February 29th when she didn’t arrive at school. A Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy located signs of a motor vehicle crash near milepost 41 on Highway 138E.

On Friday, March 1, 2024, Merchant-Ly’s vehicle was recovered from the North Umpqua River, but she was not found inside.

Since that time, nearly 300 hours volunteer hours of searching has taken place. Douglas County Search and Rescue has been using various methods of searching to include drone, ground and K9. The Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol has conducted water searches as well. Volunteers have searched along the riverbank from the crash site to Idleyld Park Trading Post; approximately 21 miles.

“We all want to find Mrs. Merchant-Ly and return her to her family,” Sheriff John Hanlin said. “Our deputies are in constant communication with her family and providing them with updates as to our efforts. We will continue searching and using all means necessary to accomplish our mission,” Hanlin added.

In addition to the efforts of DCSO and Search and Rescue volunteers, several community members have been actively looking for Merchant-Ly.

“We are aware of rafting guides and groups of rafters who have been launching all in an attempt to assist in finding her. We have also been contacting community members who are walking along the North Umpqua Trail and the highway,” Hanlin said. “As always this community steps forward to care for each other.”

As the weather turns more springlike, the Sheriff’s Office encourages those recreating around the area to be aware Merchant-Ly is still missing and to report anything which may assist in concluding this missing person case.

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  • Thursday March 28th at the South Medford Mod Pizza to support the South Medford high school bowling team going to nationals! Mention the team at checkout or use code modgives25 on your online order. 25% of the proceeds will go to the team. Thank you!


ACCESS Opening New Food Pantry in Medford

ACCESS is opening a new food pantry on Thursday, Mar. 28 at the Roxy in Medford.May be an image of text that says 'ACCESS BUILDING COMMUNITY New Pantry Opening March 28 at The Roxy Every Thursday 1:30pm- 3:30pm Astro The Roxy 1015 South Riverside Avenue Medford, OR S Riverside rsideAve CentralAve 1015'

The pantry will be open Thursdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 1015 South Riverside Ave. in Medford. A full list of ACCESS food pantries can be found at this link.  — FOLLOW on FACEBOOK


Grants Pass Homeless Case Will Be Heard By Supreme Court April 22nd

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case out of Grants Pass regarding criminalizing sleeping in public spaces next month. The ruling ordered the City of Grants Pass to cease enforcing its ban on homeless people sleeping on public property. Now the Supreme Court will hear the case on April 22nd.

Grants Pass, like many cities, is also dealing with a housing shortage. Over the past two decades, as more people moved in, housing costs went up, forcing a growing number of people onto the streets. Grants Pass, like other cities, is dealing with a housing shortage. Over the past two decades, as more people moved in, housing costs went up, forcing a growing number of people onto the streets.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson in January and is set to hold oral arguments. The case is being led by the local government of Grants Pass, which was barred by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from enforcing its broad anti-camping ordinance when homeless people have no other place to go.

Martin v. Boise and Grants Pass v. Johnson have prevented cities from punishing people for sleeping in public spaces when they have nowhere else to go. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals denied a re-hearing of the case last year. This comes after the court ruled against the City of Grants Pass in 2022.

The Grants Pass case came to the Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city’s homeless residents. The appeals court ruled 2-1 that the city, which is about 250 miles south of Portland, can’t “enforce its anti-camping ordinances against homeless persons for the mere act of sleeping outside with rudimentary protection from the elements, or for sleeping in their car at night, when there is no other place in the city for them to go.” The decision applies only in situations in which homeless people “are engaging in conduct necessary to protect themselves from the elements when there is no shelter space available,” the court added.

The City of Grants Pass hopes the supreme court will issue a ruling in the summer of 2024. The City of San Diego has joined Grants Pass in the lawsuit.

Ed Johnson, the lead counsel for the respondents in the case, said it hinges on whether cities should be able to prioritize criminalization over solutions. Johnson said, “criminalization of our neighbors that have been forced to live outside, is not a solution. It’s very expensive, it wastes limited resources.”

Johnson said every court that has heard the case has ruled against Grants Pass so far. “Grants Pass wants to make it illegal on every inch of property, 24 hours a day,” Johnson said. “The problem is if that’s allowed, many cities will simply try to run all of the homeless people out of their community, and they have to go somewhere, so they’re going to go somewhere else, and they’re still going to have to live outside because of the affordable housing shortage.”

Johnson said that people are being punished for “simply existing” and that if more cities enact strict anti-camping ordinances like Grants Pass’, it could make the homelessness crisis worse.  “If we go down this line of spending money on criminalization and banishing people from their hometowns, we’re going to wake up in a year or two years or five years and we’re going to have twice as many of our neighbors living outside,” he said.

Options for Education —  Education Expo

WHEN: April 13, 2024 (rescheduled because of weather from March 2)
WHERE: Oregon Futbol Academy building @ 144 SW G St, Grants Pass, OR

Options for Education promotes school choice options for southern Oregon families through a variety of free services: Education Expo, Educational Entrepreneur Events for networking and training, referrals and individual support.

Approximately half of vendors at in this year’s Education Expo offer full course loads while the remaining are supplemental program: individual classes and workshops, tutoring, internships, clubs, art, music, athletics, field trips, or curriculum.

Some organizations, like Options for Education and the newly established Rogue Valley Independent Educators, PTA, serve the education community at large. “Every child deserves to learn in an environment where their values are respected,” said Shannon, “The goal of this event is that every parent find the right fit for their child OR is inspired to start their own!”

Photo opportunities: 3:20pm before, during and 6:30 after the event.

Options for Education was founded in 2019 by Brettani Shannon and established as a
5013(C) non-profit in 2022. 541.660.4054


.BODYCAM VIDEO: Sheriff’s Deputies Rescue Infant and Toddler Abandoned in Woods by Suspect On-the-Run; Grand Jury Indicts Today on All Charges

BODYCAM Available for Download Here:

JCSO Case 24-0935  —-   MEDFORD, Ore. – A Jackson County Grand Jury indicted a man today wanted on charges stemming from multiple incidents involving domestic violence and child endangerment. The suspect, Justin Ryan Trompeter, 24, of Trail is wanted for two counts of second-degree child neglect, felony fourth-degree domestic violence assault, third-degree robbery, first-degree theft, harassment, and two counts of reckless endangerment.

The suspect remains on-the-run with Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) deputies continuing their investigation. If you know of the suspect’s whereabouts, call ECSO Dispatch at (541) 776-7206. Trompeter is known to frequent Jacksonville, Shady Cove, Eagle Point, and Trail.

JCSO deputies were originally searching for Trompeter in connection with a February 7 domestic violence assault call where he fled the scene at a high rate of speed with the children. On Friday, February 16, JCSO deputies received information that Trompeter was hiding with the children, ages 6 months and 1.5 years, deep in the surrounding Jacksonville woods.

Deputies quickly located a vehicle at the top of Wagon Trail Drive around 1:30 p.m on Friday, February 16. JCSO deputies approached the car with caution, but Trompeter had fled the scene before deputies’ arrival. Deputies found the two young children abandoned and alone in the car. Deputies believe the children may have been left alone in the vehicle for up to two hours. Further investigations revealed suspected fentanyl and meth in the car with the children.

Mercy Flights medics checked the children on scene then turned them over to Department of Human Services (DHS) personnel. After the incident, the children were treated at a local hospital and remain in DHS care. This case is open and ongoing with deputies following additional leads. If you know of the suspect’s whereabouts, call ECSO Dispatch at (541) 776-7206.


Hearts with a Mission, a program to help local seniors who need assistance, is seeking volunteers.

The volunteer-based program — which started in January 2023 — has 90 volunteers ready to help, but more than 100 seniors who need assistance.

Stephanie Miller, the Hearts For Seniors Program Manager, said that it’s a heartwarming job and fulfilling volunteer work.  Residents can apply here.

David Grubbs’ Murder Investigation Remains Active

Community still looking for answers in violent 2011 murder of David Grubbs on Ashland, Oregon bike path

The Ashland Police Department’s investigation into the murder of David Grubbs on November 19, 2011 remains open and active. Recently two new detectives have been assigned to look into new leads that have come in.

This case remains important to David’s family, the community, and the Ashland Police Department. As detectives continue to pursue these new leads, anyone with additional information is encouraged to reach out to the Ashland Police Department at 541-488-2211.

The reward for information leading to an arrest on this case remains at over $21,000.


Fauna Frey, 45, disappeared in Oregon on a road trip, June 29, 2020, following her brother’s death  —

PART 2 – Newsweek Podcast Focusing on The Disappearance of Fauna Frey From Lane County

Here One Minute, Gone the Next —– PART 2 – Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel joins investigative journalist Alex Rogue to speak with Here One Minute, Gone the Next about the disappearance of Fauna Frey, the growing friction between citizen investigators and law enforcement, and the lack of resources in missing persons cases.

PART 1 – John Frey joins Newsweek to discuss exclusive details about the case of his missing daughter that until now have been unavailable to the general public.


If you have any information on the whereabouts of Fauna Frey, call the anonymous tip line at 541-539-5638 or email

Help Find Fauna Frey #FindFaunaFrey FACEBOOK GROUP

Oregon, 14 other states join high-profile federal antitrust lawsuit against Apple

The suit alleges that Apple, one of the richest companies in the world, has tried to corner the market, driving up prices and padding its bottom line

Oregon is among 15 states and the District of Columbia in a federal antitrust lawsuit against Apple, claiming the company has attempted to distort the high-tech market to maintain a monopoly.

The civil lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, points a finger at Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, indicating that the company’s monopolistic tendencies date to its beginning. The suit says that Apple has repeatedly tried to snuff competition by imposing restrictions on applications and service developers, making them reliant on Apple products.

“Rather than respond to competitive threats by offering lower smartphone prices to consumers or better monetization for developers, Apple would meet competitive threats by imposing a series of shapeshifting rules and restrictions in its App Store guidelines and developer agreements that would allow Apple to extract higher fees, thwart innovation, offer a less secure or degraded user experience and throttle competitive alternatives,” the complaint said.

The suit claims Apple has used the iPhone, one of the company’s most popular and lucrative products, to drive up its bottom line while making customers pay higher prices.

“For many years, Apple has built a dominant iPhone platform and ecosystem that has driven the company’s astronomical valuation,” the suit says. “At the same time, it has long understood that disruptive technologies and innovative apps, products and services threatened that dominance by making users less reliant on the iPhone or making it easier to switch to a non-Apple smartphone.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A company spokesman, Fred Sainz, said in a statement to the Washington Post that the suit was factually wrong and that the company would “vigorously defend against it.”

“This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets,” Sainz said. “If successful, it would hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple – where hardware, software, and services intersect.”

The suit comes amid mounting scrutiny of the California-based company, which was fined nearly $2 billion earlier this month by the European Union over allegations of abusing its music-streaming services.

Apple also came under scrutiny in Oregon during this year’s legislative session. It was the only company to oppose a “right to repair” bill to give consumers and independent shops the ability to repair their own phones, computers and other devices. Senate Bill 1596, which awaits Gov. Tina Kotek’s signature, would require manufacturers to provide the necessary parts, manuals and other material to enable individuals and shops to repair their devices.

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general, indicated in a release that Oregon joined the suit as a plaintiff to protect consumers.

“This action is about protecting consumers and the integrity of the marketplace. Big Tech companies must play by the same rules as everybody else, and Apple is no exception,” Rosenblum said.

Joining the lawsuit means that Oregon will contribute to discovery, motions and negotiations and assist at any trial, said Roy Kaufmann, the department’s spokesman. The state will also collaborate with the other attorneys general in the suit along with the District of Columbia.

The suit seeks a court order forcing Apple to stop its monopolistic practices. Rosenblum’s statement cited several examples:

  • Disrupting the growth of apps that would make it easier to switch to a competing smartphone platform.
  • Blocking the development of cloud-streaming apps and services that offer consumers high-quality video games and other cloud-based applications that don’t depend on expensive smartphone hardware.
  • Making cross-platform messaging difficult and less secure than iPhone messaging so customers stick with iPhones.
  • Limiting the functionality of third-party watches to deter customers who’ve purchased an Apple watch from switching.
  • Limiting third-party tap-to-pay options to inhibit the creation of cross-platform digital watches.

“If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

At stake, the complaint says, is not only the smartphone market but also related industries, and that Apple’s practices have a cascading effect on a wider market.

“Unless Apple’s anticompetitive and exclusionary conduct is stopped, it will likely extend and entrench its iPhone monopoly to other markets and parts of the economy,” the suit says. “For example, Apple is rapidly expanding its influence and growing its power in the automotive, content creation and entertainment and financial services industries – and often by doing so in exclusionary ways that further reinforce and deepen the competitive moat around the iPhone.”

The company is one of the richest in the world, with a market capitalization of $2.7 trillion, making it second after Microsoft’s $3.1 trillion, according to Forbes. And last year it netted $97 billion in income, more than any other company in the Fortune 500, according to a release by the Oregon attorney general’s office.

The other states joining the suit are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin. (SOURCE)

UO Study Looks At The Health Effects Of Homelessness In Oregon

Cities of all sizes are struggling with an increase in homelessness. A new study from the University of Oregon is now looking at the health effects of homelessness.

EUGENE, OR – Cities of all sizes are struggling with a rise in homelessness. In the Eugene-Springfield area, almost 3,000 people are without homes. About 74% of that population are unsheltered.

Associate Professor of Global Studies at the University of Oregon (UO) Jo Weaver says:

“At the last count by the Department of Urban Development, Lane County was at the top of per capita houselessness in the U.S.”

She says part of that is due to the size of the city. Jo says, “We’re a smaller city, we have a smaller tax base. So here is less wiggle room for us to start programs so we can address the root of this problem — which is lack of sufficient and affordable housing.”

Now, researchers from the UO want to figure out the health effects of people facing housing insecurity.

Jo says, “We’re not asking, ‘Is homelessness bad for health?’ we know it’s bad for health. That’s obvious. But what we’re asking is ‘How is homelessness bad for health?’.”

The study includes health tests, questionnaires, information about people’s life history and background to figure it out.

“We’re wondering, what are the sort of like of a better term pinch points where smallish but structured changes that could make a big difference in someone’s physical health, mental health, and overall well-being,” said Jo.

So far, the results provide a harsh reality of what many that are homeless face. “Everybody that’s experiencing houselessness is struggling with the stress and insecurity of not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night,” said Jo. “Not knowing if you’re going to be hassled at night, so a lot of sleep issues.”

Researchers from the UO say that also includes long-term health effects.

Jo says, “There’s a lot of people experiencing long-term effects of lack of health care, so folks that have ongoing medical conditions that may have predated housing insecurity fare — are having a hard time getting to the doctor.”

The hope is the study will spark change and more health equity for those facing housing insecurity. “One of the biggest challenges of this work is that many people that are in a position to do something about it — would rather not look at the frank brutality that people are dealing with,” said Jo.

The team from the UO is planning to do a presentation for local officials about the findings of the study.

Jo says they’re also planning to apply for larger grants that will allow them to do intervention work to help the homeless.

To learn more about the homeless crisis in Portland and other areas, you can check out this link: — (SOURCE)

Oregon’s First Lady gets new state-funded adviser amid departure of Kotek’s top aides

Oregon Department of Administrative Services staffer Meliah Masiba has been appointed adviser for the “Office of the First Spouse” starting March 25.

Aimee Kotek Wilson, the Oregon governor’s wife, will get a state-funded adviser this week as the governor considers establishing the “Office of the First Spouse” in a move some have linked to the departure of three top aides.

Meliah Masiba, a staffer currently with the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, will join the governor’s office as an adviser on temporary rotation starting March 25, according to Elisabeth Shepard, a spokeswoman from the governor’s office.

“This six-month rotation will be to help explore the establishment of the Office of the First Spouse, a program that has been established in many states,” Shepard said in an email to OPB Saturday. “This position would also assist and support the current first spouse in her official capacity in support of the administration.”

Willamette Week first reported of the arrangement. — Kotek’s chief of staff Andrea Cooper, deputy chief of staff Lindsey O’Brien and special adviser Abby Tibbs are all departing the office in the coming weeks. Cooper’s last day will be March 29, Kotek’s office said, while Tibbs will transition to Oregon Health & Science University two days later. O’Brien will go on leave April 5.

The changes create a leadership vacuum in the governor’s office at a time Kotek is attempting to address massive crises facing the state, from housing to addiction. The three women make up three of four senior aides Kotek’s office lists as “executive” team. The fourth, deputy chief of staff Chris Warner, will assume the role of chief of staff.

As OPB first reported Friday, sources with knowledge of the governor’s office said the shakeup was largely due to personality conflicts between staff and Kotek’s wife. None of the sources said Kotek’s wife is trying to gain financially from her role as first lady, but many said it echoed other elements of the Cylvia Hayes scandal, which led to the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber. In that case, Hayes was leveraging the office for her own financial interest. Staff urged Kitzhaber to have clearer boundaries between his work life and personal life, which he did not do.

Kotek Wilson, the governor’s wife, currently attends meetings with staff to discuss behavioral health initiatives. Kotek Wilson has professional experience as a social worker. Kotek Wilson also has her own 8 x 8 office in the governor’s office building space. “The governor makes all policy decisions on behalf of the office,” Shepard wrote. (SOURCE)

Oregon auto sales remain far below pre-pandemic levels

Consumer spending has been strong in the years after the pandemic recession. But that spending hasn’t extended to new vehicle purchases. Oregonians registered about 170,000 new vehicles in 2023. That’s little change from the prior year and down about 18% from the average in the five years before COVID-19. National data paints a similar picture for new car sales across the U.S.

Economists and auto industry officials say there are several explanations for why car sales haven’t bounded back as quickly as other sectors. They’re optimistic a rebound may finally be in the offing in Oregon and elsewhere.
Driving habits changed, too. Those working from home didn’t put as many miles on their cars. Donaca said some families realized they didn’t need a second vehicle at all when they sold an old one, or when it gave out.

According to AAA Oregon, the top destination for spring break in the state is Bend.

Some of the other top regional destinations for spring break include Portland, Seattle, Eugene and Redding.

The agency said they’re also seeing a 28% increase in cruise bookings compared to this time last year. Oregonians are getting out of town, and some are even getting out of the country.

“Hotels bookings are up 37% and international flight bookings are up 20%,” said AAA spokesperson Marie Dodds. “European cities are some of the most popular as well like Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, which are relatively easy to get to here from Oregon.”

Unfortunately, Dodds also said Oregon is seeing ‘March Madness’ for gas prices. The current average for a regular gallon of gas is $4.12, up almost 20 cents from just a week ago.

Dodds said prices are going up because of refinery maintenance, summer blend fuel and Russian involvement in a geo-political conflict, as one of the world’s major oil producers.

“One of the things to keep in mind is that crude oil is traded on the global market so that price of a barrel of crude is determined globally,” Dodds said. “Those international events have an impact.” Dodds said 2024 is shaping up to be the busiest year of travel yet.

Sherwood man arrested for alleged $700K embezzlement from junior baseball league

Police arrested a Sherwood, Oregon, man Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $700,000 from a local junior baseball league.

Terrence Haimoto, 52, served as the treasurer for Sherwood Junior Baseball Organization for more than seven years. Leaders within the SJBO reached out to law enforcement after an internal audit revealed discrepancies in the organization’s bank accounts, according to a news release issued by Sherwood Police on Friday.

Police said that, starting in 2017, Haimoto had transferred money from the league to his bank accounts, funds that were later spent at local casinos. He also served as the treasurer for the state Junior Baseball Organization. Police said detectives noticed similar suspicious transactions in that organization’s accounts.

Haimoto resigned from his position as treasurer in late 2023, according to SJBO meeting minutes. He now faces seven counts of aggravated theft in the first degree and three counts of theft in the first degree.

In a public statement, the SJBO said they have since implemented further financial controls to prevent future embezzlement or theft.

“We are deeply troubled by the actions of the individual involved in this unfortunate incident,” the statement reads. “We have implemented rigorous internal financial controls, ensured transparency by openly holding board meetings, and reaffirmed our unwavering commitment to prioritizing the kids first in everything we are doing.”

Leaders from the organization did not immediately respond to OPB’s requests for comment. (SOURCE)

Where’s My Refund? tool, video offer help for Oregon taxpayers

Salem, OR—The largest “Kicker” in Oregon history has Oregon taxpayers more excited than ever about getting their state income tax refund this year.

The $5.61 billion in surplus revenue for the 2021-23 biennium is being returned to taxpayers in the form of a “kicker” tax credit of 44.28 percent of the Oregon income tax they paid in 2022. The kicker can reduce how much taxpayers owe the state, or, increase how much they get back—a fact that has heightened refund anticipation.

Taxpayers wondering about the refund on their 2023 tax year return, can use the Oregon Department of Revenue’s Where’s My Refund? tool to check its status and a video outlining the refund timelines is also available to help taxpayers understand the process.

Through March 19, the Oregon Department of Revenue has received and processed nearly 1.1 million returns and has issued more than 916,000 refunds. That leaves a little more than half of the expected 2.2 million Oregon income tax returns to be filed in the final 26 days before the April 15 deadline.

“It looks like typical Oregon rainy spring break weather this weekend,” said Megan Denison, administrator of DOR’s Personal Tax and Compliance Division. “If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, take care of them this weekend and beat the April rush.”
Besides the high volume of returns filed at the end of tax season, there are other common things that can make it take longer for Oregonians to get their refunds.

Five common reasons refunds take longer and what to do about it.
• Filing a paper return. Paper returns take longer to process and, as a result, it takes longer to issue related refunds. File electronically instead.
• Filing electronically and requesting to receive a refund via a check takes longer. Request direct deposit instead.
• Filing more than once. Sending a duplicate paper return through the mail after e-filing will a delay a refund. Taxpayers should file just once.
• Refunds for taxpayers that are new to filing returns may be delayed so we can verify your identity. Taxpayers who receive a letter requesting identity verification are urged to respond promptly through Revenue Online to speed the processing of their return.
• Refunds can also be delayed when errors are identified on returns. Taxpayers who receive a letter requesting additional information are urged to respond promptly through Revenue Online to speed the processing of their return.

To check the status of their refund with the Where’s My Refund? tool tool on Revenue Online, taxpayers will need their:
• Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN);
• Filing status; and
• The exact refund amount shown on:
o Line 47 of their Form OR-40, or
o Line 72 of their Form OR-40-N, or
o Line 71 of their Form OR-40-P

The Department of Revenue recommends that taxpayers wait one week after they have electronically filed their return to use the Where’s My Refund tool.

Most refunds are issued within two weeks, but returns that need more review may take up to 16 weeks before a refund is issued.

Filing electronically is the fastest way for taxpayers to get their refund. On average, taxpayers who e-file their returns and request their refund via direct deposit receive their refund two weeks sooner than those who file paper returns and request paper refund checks.

All Oregon resident taxpayers preparing their own returns in 2024 can file electronically at no cost using one of the free file options that can be found on the Department of Revenue website.

Taxpayers can check the status of their federal tax refunds on the IRS website .

Spring Whale Watch Week returns to the Oregon coast for spring break 2024

OREGON COAST, Oregon— Oregon State Parks will host Spring Whale Watch Week along the Oregon Coast Saturday, March 23 through Sunday, March 31.

Trained Oregon State Park volunteers will be stationed at 15 sites along the Oregon Coast to help visitors spot whales and their calves and answer questions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily March 23-31. The sites are some of the best places to watch for whales on the Oregon Coast.

The spring event is three days longer than last year and might include better odds of seeing gray whales on their journey home from the calving lagoons in Mexico in light of today’s announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA announced the end of an Unusual Mortality Event, a significant die-off of the gray whale population, that had affected the marine mammals since 2019.

“The latest counts indicate that the gray whale population has likely turned the corner and is beginning to recover. It’s a perfect time for people to see them as they swim north with new calves to feed,” said Michael Milstein, public affairs officer with NOAA Fisheries.

Researchers counted about 412 calves last year, which was almost double the number from the year before. That helped signal an end to the Unusual Mortality Event and a likely turnaround in numbers as the species begins to rebound.

An estimated 14,500 gray whales are expected to swim past Oregon’s shores from late winter through June as part of their annual migration back to Alaska.

“Spring is a great time for whale watching because the gray whales are usually closer to shore on their return trip, typically around a mile or so out, and the weather can be better for viewing. But don’t forget your rain gear just in case,” said Park Ranger Peter McBride.

A map of volunteer-staffed sites is available online on the official event webpage:

The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23-31. Visitors to the center can enjoy interactive whale exhibits and take in the panoramic ocean views. Binoculars are provided. Rangers from Oregon State Parks will also be on hand to answer questions about the whales.

All Whale Watch Week visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, to bring binoculars and to follow beach safety guidelines such as remaining out of fenced areas, knowing the tide schedule and keeping an eye on the surf at all times. Go to for a list of safety tips.

For more information about coast parks and campgrounds, visit

Visitors are encouraged to share their photos and videos from Spring Whale Watch on social media using #OregonStateParks and #ORWhaleWatch24.

Oregon to Honor Fallen Law Enforcement Officers May 7th, 2024

Every year, the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony honors the state’s law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. This year’s ceremony will be held Tuesday, May 7 at 1 p.m. at the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem.

The annual event commemorates the more than 190 fallen officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the state of Oregon since the 1860s. This includes law enforcement, corrections, and parole and probation officers from city, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies.

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training is proud to host the ceremony in partnership with the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, Oregon Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), Oregon Fallen Badge Foundation, and various statewide law enforcement associations.

SOLVE invites volunteers to register for their annual Earth Day celebration: The Oregon Spring Cleanup

SOLVE Oregon Spring Cleanup at Cannon Beach 2023

Portland, Ore., March 12, 2024 – From April 13 to April 22, families, community members, neighborhood associations, and environmental enthusiasts are invited to engage in a signature event in SOLVE’s annual calendar: The Oregon Spring Cleanup, presented by Portland General ElectricRegistration for this environmentally conscious event series is now open.

Participants are invited to join SOLVE, event leaders, and partners from across the Pacific Northwest in a collective celebration of Earth Day. The SOLVE calendar showcases a variety of events throughout Oregon and SW Washington between April 13 and April 22, with the majority of events culminating on April 20. Diverse initiatives address specific environmental needs with opportunities ranging from beach cleanups to neighborhood and city litter pickups. Further activities include restoring natural habitats through native tree and shrub plantings, weed pulls, and mulching projects. Each project contributes to the enhancement of our shared surroundings.

With a variety of projects already online, the Oregon Spring Cleanup invites enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to a cleaner, greener, and brighter planet. Interested individuals can browse the map of projects to find events near them, learn about each opportunityand sign up for a meaningful contribution to the environment. Participating in the Oregon Spring Cleanup provides an excellent opportunity to bond with family members, coworkers, and neighbors, while collectively contributing to preserving some of Oregon’s most stunning locations.

As SOLVE anticipates another successful event, valued partner Portland General Electric, shares their commitment to the cause: ” PGE proudly supports SOLVE’s efforts to make our communities cleaner and greener. In 2023, our employees and their families volunteered with SOLVE for more than 220 hours. We’re excited to join community members again this Earth Day to help improve our beautiful state.” said Kristen Sheeran, Senior Director of Policy Planning and Sustainability, Portland General Electric.

For those inspired to host an event, SOLVE is still accepting new volunteer-led projects. The sooner projects are submitted, the faster SOLVE can care for the rest. Event leaders receive full support, including free supplies, access to project funding, disposal assistance, and help with volunteer recruitment.

For more information, please visit and be part of the collective effort to create a cleaner, greener planet.

Along with Portland General Electric, other event sponsors include Clean Water Services, AAA Oregon/Idaho, Fred Meyer, Metro, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, KOIN, The Standard, Swire Coca-Cola, Holman, Demarini-Wilson, Trimet, and PepsiCo.

About SOLVE – SOLVE is a statewide non-profit organization that brings people together to improve our environment and build a legacy of stewardship. Since 1969, the organization has grown from a small, grassroots group to a national model for volunteer action. Today, SOLVE mobilizes and trains tens of thousands of volunteers of all ages across Oregon and Southwest Washington to clean and restore our neighborhoods and natural areas and to build a legacy of stewardship for our state. Visit for more information.


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