Michele Grable

Michele Grable, chair of the Umatilla County Charter Review Committee, addresses the county board of commissioners last month in Pendleton concerning the committee’s recommendation to hire a county manager.

No one familiar with the effort to review — and perhaps modify — the county’s charter can refute the value of the effort. For the past 19 months, the Umatilla Charter Review Committee studied the charter to consider how to improve it. Such efforts are useful. After all, it is worthwhile to scrutinize and consider key issues before forming legislation.

One idea that evolved out of the study was for the county to hire a professional manager to handle the administrative piece of county government and last week, two out of three county commissioners voiced support for the concept, but only one voted to put it on the ballot.

Commissioner Bill Elfering appears to agree with the idea to hire a manager for the county and he pointed out, rightly, that the commission could just go ahead and hire a manager. Yet, Elfering also correctly pointed out that, in the end, the idea should be placed before voters. He admitted, though, that as the idea stands now it isn’t ready for voter review.

Elfering’s sentiments should ring true to area voters. He conceded the idea “truly has value,” but needs to be fully “developed as to function, cost and benefit.”

Those statements show an elected leader who isn’t going to try to push the legislative cart out in front of voters.

Does the county really need to hire a manager? How will such a position help the county? How much will it cost? These are all good questions that deserve thoughtful review by elected leaders.

We are certainly not entirely convinced such a position would be beneficial for the county, but, as Elfering pointed out, the concept should not be discarded. There may, indeed, be a need for such a position.

In the end, however, such a change must be sanctioned by voters and Elfering seems to fully understand that necessity.

Commissioner John Shafer also brought up a valid point that such a position could interfere with communication between commissioners and the public. Shafer, who opposes the idea of a county manager, is right on the mark. That’s because in our rural county, face-to-face interaction between elected leaders and the body politic are essential and, to some degree, expected to be part of the governing process.

The idea of a county manager may be the right choice but it needs more work, and far more input, from area voters before it is ready for prime time.

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