Local oversight of the county's mental health department is about as much as Umatilla County citizens could hope for after both the state and its principal provider threatened to decertify local services.

For the county commissioners, keeping the department running was a matter of keeping 80 jobs. For the citizens, keeping the department running was a matter of quality services. If we couldn't provide first quality service with our local department, we'd take first quality from some other source.

There is much to be said for the state's "reprieve" for Umatilla Mental Health. The continuity of relationships is probably first on the list, but the independent oversight board is probably the best.

Too often local government is given charge of services, even sometimes funded to provide those services, but only anonymous people in far off bureaus have any oversight responsibility on how those services are delivered.

An agency such as Umatilla County Mental Health can go along thinking it is meeting its charge only to be surprised with a decision that knocks it out of the water.

That's far less likely when the members of the oversight board live and work right here where the services are delivered.

Like a school board, if the members really care about the services, the professionals charged with delivery will have appropriate support for implementation as well as appropriate prodding when things don't work as they should or could.

Russell Ferstandig, the county's new medical director for mental health services, and his staff have some heavy lifting to do to get their department where it needs to be. That's a much better position than trying to handle a transition to a new provider.

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