Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

Talking the Walk

 A new city-county committee will have weekly chats about community support for local businesses, supervised by another committee, which will also be supervised 

The city of Eugene and Lane County have launched a committee dedicated to talking about supporting small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. A separate oversight committee will be tasked with ensuring it fulfills its duties. That committee will then report back to a committee on follow through, which will be supervised jointly by the city manager and county administrator. 

Beyond that, county and city bylaws aren’t clear as to where the buck stops. 

The discussion-based “Heart-to-Heart Task Force” will lament COVID’s devastation of local businesses and brainstorm ways that the community could lend hopes and prayers.

The task force will consist of all Eugene city councilors and Lane County commissioners, with an agreement to devote the final minutes (minimum three, maximum five) of one of their meetings each month to the project. 

County Commissioner Jay Bozievich tells Eugene Weekly that the idea came to him when he was daydreaming about the sexiness of capitalism and wanted to massage the infallible invisible hand of the free market. 

Each committee member is encouraged to write a letter to a favorite local business “verbally expressing their support during these trying times,” according to a press release. If the members happen to think of any suggestions to actually help businesses, they will be posted on the city’s and county’s Facebook pages. The lack of a post will indicate that the task force was unable to raise ideas before time ran out.

EW reached out to both the city and county for comment, but the spokespeople said they wanted to wait until they could put together a joint Facebook Live update. They were having technical issues as of press time.

Regarding the decision to rely on meetings as opposed to direct action, County Commissioner Pat Farr says, “I think this sort of invaluable discourse could work wonders in getting the word out.”

For the oversight committee, Mayor Lucy Vinis says the task force called on three figures from the local community who “embody the heart of Lane County.”

The committee is currently listed as follows:

Seat 1 (Chair): Elk Horn Brewery owner and anti-lawlessness advocate Steve Sheehan

Seat 2: University of Oregon President Michael Schill

Seat 3: UFC fighter and former Springfield resident Colby Covington

Within a week after each meeting, the oversight committee will need to respond to the task force’s most recent social media update with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to rate its performance. 

Four straight weeks without a Facebook post will lead to a warning “poke” from the committee, though officials have not clarified how that rule will be enforced. If the oversight committee fails to elicit comment, the follow-through committee will report to County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky or City Manager Sarah Medary. All committee members have been warned they are not allowed to “block” each other. 

Sheehan tells EW via Facebook message that he is committed “to always supporting our local businesses” and considers his work on the committee an extension of his group Eugene Wake Up.

Covington has not lived in the Lane County area since he graduated from Thurston High School, but said he is proud to represent Springfield and help rehabilitate it to the city he once loved. “We’re here to make Lane County great again,” he says, referencing his good friend Donald Trump. “And don’t forget to support the troops — that’s always relevant.”

Schill declined to comment, stating he was unaware that such a committee existed because he threw his back out while trying to throw his “O.”