At first glance, it is a bit difficult to aptly describe the latest initiative by the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners.
Readers may recall that the commissioners plan to hold a series of private meetings with property owners regarding a controversial plan to rebuild East Airport Road in Hermiston. Some residents assert the project will mean the loss of sections of their property in the county right-of-way.
The county decided recently to spearhead a series of private one-on-one meetings with individual residents in the area to provide more information about the plan and to help alleviate concerns.
A county commissioner, an engineer, a county road employee and others will be at each meeting with each individual resident.
The meetings appear to be a good-faith effort by elected leaders to reach out to community members with concerns. They are not public meetings — exactly — but they are not expressly private either. We understand that notes will be taken during the meetings and a summary provided to the board.
As far as the idea itself, we applaud the commission for tackling a sensitive issue in a constructive manner. Any interaction between elected leaders and voters is a good thing. Democracy wins when residents believe and know they have access to the politicians that represent them.
Yet we can’t help but wonder why the individual meetings are necessary in the first place when a larger, more open public meeting would fit the bill.
Individual sessions between voters and elected leaders are — or should be — a commonplace element to our democracy. All of us — within reason — should expect to be able to walk into the courthouse after making an appointment and chat with one of the commissioners about an issue.
The East Airport Road issue is an important one, especially to the residents who live on that road and are affected by decisions concerning the road and right-of-way. But in a larger sense it is also a crucial subject for the entire community, not just those directly affected by the proposal. That’s because the problems that surround the proposal tend to crop up from time to time across the area. The road and residents will have different names and live in a different location, but the issue will arise in the future.
That’s why we believe that while the individual meeting plan shows the commissioners have their hearts in the right place, the fact is there should be larger, open public meetings on the issue. More than one if necessary.