Close up shot of young man with taped mouth with shhh text on it

We read something peculiar in the Malheur Enterprise: The board of a public development company has dictated that a family in Nyssa is forbidden to talk to the media if it wants up to $400,000 to help with an industrial road.

That’s the government saying if you want a benefit, you get gagged.

The background: The Froerers farm about 4,000 acres. The plan is to close a railroad reload center and move it to another location. That means the Froerers must truck their goods several additional miles to get them loaded. The money is from the Malheur County Development Corp. to build a new access road for the Froerers. The state department of transportation is providing funding, according to the newspaper. The gag order expires when the project is completed.

The Froerers argue they were offered an unfair choice: Accept the gag order and get the money, or no money. They signed.

It’s not clear exactly why a gag order was put in place, though one reason could be obvious. The Froerers have in the past criticized Greg Smith, the reload center project manager, director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department and a state representative. Smith said he didn’t put the gag provision in the contract. Lawyers did.

Gag orders do occur in court cases to limit publicity and attempt to protect the right to a fair trial. And parties sometimes have similar provisions in legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements in development deals. For instance, Apple Inc. has had confidentiality agreements with Crook County and Prineville officials to keep them from talking about the company’s plans there.

This seems different. State money is being spent only on condition that a family keep quiet, when the family has been outspoken in the past. Yes, the farmers are getting a benefit to compensate them for an expense they will pay because the reload center is moving. But it also looks like state dollars are being used to muzzle criticism. Is that OK with you?

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