By editorial board • 

Contention, angst fester as old ways merge with new

McMinnville city government is at risk of an increasing disconnection from key elements of its constituency.

The recent dustup over the downtown Economic Improvement District was short-lived and ended peacefully, but it remains a case in point. For many, frustrations seemed rooted in feelings that both the city and the MDA had lost some of the connectivity to its constituents that has been a hallmark of McMinnville’s tradition and community culture.

We believe local government should be caring, flexible, responsive, transparent, accountable and keenly attuned to local traditions. That in serving new residents and new growth, it also should listen intently to people who have made their homes here for decades, if not generations. That it should share information as openly, widely and forthrightly as possible with its citizens and the institutions serving them. That it should make interactions with people pursuing personal hopes and dreams as clean, quick and positive as possible, and help them cut through red tape rather than wrap them in it.

The city has experienced a changing of the guard in recent years, both within its government and at the institutions that support it. McMinnville has welcomed a new wave of leaders, who in turn must engage and learn about the community whose respect, trust and support has to be earned. They are reminded of this daily, as they work in buildings, plazas, streets and parks named after their predecessors.

Yes, times change. It would be naive — perhaps even pompous — to believe the “McMinnville Way,” as it’s been traditionally known, is the only and greatest path forward. However, the speedy increase in fees, fines, restrictions, taxes, permits and public processes has created an environment where residents often discuss skipping town and entrepreneurs claim it’s too expensive to do business here.

There are several examples of recent discontent creating community rumbles:

Neglected park and airport maintenance. Sometimes onerous, over-zealous landscaping and historic preservation requirements. A rigid land use public hearing process leading people to believe the city is minimizing their earnest public input. Aggressive code enforcement on responsible elements coupled with an apparent lack of enforcement on irresponsible elements. A reluctance to freely and openly share important public safety news with the community.

When locals begin to doubt city hall is an even-handed and fair-minded arbiter, alienation begins. When that happens, people begin to think fighting city hall may well be essential to preserving what’s unique about our community heritage and character.

Growth and change should not involve loss of close communications and contact with the residential neighborhoods, elements of the business community and longtime local citizens.

Similarly, constituents should respect the work of city staff and volunteer leaders. No one is working purposely toward a demise of the city. Good communication starts with level heads on both sides.

None of this is irreversible or irreparable. But the risk is real.

Those who would lead the parade would be best advised to get out in front of it, not simply demand it alter its course. Heading in different directions can be fine, but only if others are willing to follow.

 

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