The current prospects for constructive dialogue on the Grouse Mountain Ranch state park deal are hampered by the recent actions of Grant County Judge Scott Myers and a divided County Court. The harm wasnt so much from the judges flip-flop to support the park elected officials can, and probably should, change their minds on topics with new information but from his failure to communicate promptly with the citizens, pro or con, about the evolving discussion and his opinion.
Instead of reaching out to explain his change of heart to obviously interested parties, he unveiled it at the key state parks commission hearing on the park proposal. His testimony came as a surprise to some in the crowd and a source of confusion for the commission, which had just heard a letter opposed to the park, purportedly representing the courts view.
Further muddying the waters, Myers has since said his remarks referred to his personal opinion even though he clearly stated he was representing the 7,400 people of Grant County as he testified. Last week, Myers tried to deflect the confusion with the excuse that he is kind of new at this.
Thats disingenuous, coming from someone with a dozen years of experience on the county court, but in one unfortunate respect he is correct: He is new at communicating clearly with the citizenry. As a commissioner, he was known jokingly as the quiet one who said little before casting his votes. As judge, that needs to change. The public needs to know where the judge stands and how he will represent them. Theres plenty of territory to stake between the political extremes of bombast and silence, and only in that middle region is there any prospect for leadership.
At the same time, we need to debunk the contention by some park opponents that everyone in Grant County opposes the park deal. At several meetings weve heard that statement, and its just not true. The fact is there are well-meaning people at both ends of this argument and, sadly, some of the proponents say they have been berated and even threatened privately for their stands.
The threat-mongers need to knock it off. Their cowardly actions reflect poorly on the county as a whole, and tar the very people whose case they pretend to support.
All of this makes the next stage negotiating solutions with the state more difficult than ever. Myers said last week a committee will be formed to resolve a host of issues surrounding the park idea.
We can think of a handful of appointees for that panel whose participation could foster dialogue, not stifle it people like Farm Bureaus Jeff Thomas, who has been a thoughtful advocate for his constituency; Sue Newstetter, who has a broad knowledge of county and resource issues; Sue Horn, mayor of Mt. Vernon, the nearest city to the park; Assessor Lane Burton, whose perspective on taxes could be helpful; and Sally Bartlett, the countys economic development coordinator.
As for the court itself, it remains to be seen if the members of that body would be a help or a hindrance to the discussion. Given their fractured presentation last month, its possible that all three should participate in the negotiating or none at all.