By editorial board • 

Put the focus on local issues as campaigns get underway

Yamhill County came into being on July 5, 1843, more than 15 years before Oregon achieved statehood.

But the county could notch a new first in its 179-year history this coming January. It could swear in an entirely new set of commissioners to its three-member governing board.

One departure is a given. Commissioner Casey Kulla is giving up his seat to pursue another non-partisan post, state labor commissioner.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer is facing potential recall in balloting set to wrap up Tuesday. And Commissioner Mary Starrett has to survive a three-way May primary, and potentially a two-way November runoff, to hold her seat.

If Berschauer is recalled, Kulla and Starrett will be charged with selecting a replacement to serve through the end of the calendar year. In that event, voters will elect someone to fill out the remaining two years of her term in Nov. 8 balloting.

So we could end up electing three brand new commissioners this year. We could even end up electing them all in one fell swoop in November.

At a minimum, we will be deciding who occupies two of the three seats. That in itself has the potential to reverse the highly politicized course county governance has taken since Berschauer’s advent in January 2021.

So where would we like to see this year’s candidates put their focus as the campaigning gets underway?

First and foremost, not on highly charged state and national issues like masking, vaccination and gun rights, where the county lacks legal standing. Rather, local issues on which they can make a real difference, including:

Land use considerations

Our county is rife with conflict over waste disposal, gravel mining, timber cutting, pesticide spraying, endangered species protection, environmental cleanup, pot growing and processing, rural residential development and wine-related food, drink and entertainment activity. Unlike gun rights, these issues are of direct, immediate and specific importance to major sectors of the electorate.  

Groundwater depletion

While commissioners have had no compunction about crossing jurisdictional lines on hot-button social issues, they have stood idly by on a grave water resources threat, in deference to the state. This is an issue on which they would have much better prospects of winning a seat at the table if they mounted a meaningful effort.

Rural roads and bridges

The county is responsible for 400 miles of paved road, 300 miles of gravel road and 133 bridges spread across 718 square miles. The associated development and maintenance needs are growing exponentially, but seem to never get full attention. A Berschauer supporter argued last week, “the potholes in the road must take second place” when “the right to bear arms” and “freedom of religion” are at stake. To which we respond, not at the county level.

Cops, courts and crime

The county is also responsible, in partnership with the state, for operating a jail, court system and rural law enforcement network. On the side, it provide law enforcement service to several of its smaller cities under contract. That raises important fiscal, legal and operational issues that must be addressed.  

Physical and mental health

The current board majority has seemed to take a narrow view of the county’s public health commitment, which encompasses mental as well as physical health and serves as a vital safety net for lower-income segments. It has been particularly reluctant, it seems, to fully engage with public and private sector partners on our area’s festering homeless problem.  

Adequate office facilities

After spending decades converting aging homes into makeshift offices, at the expense of a venerable McMinnville neighborhood, the county is finally beginning to accept the need for modern, centralized, low-maintenance office space. We need to know which candidates embrace this change and to what extent.

Economic development

A long list of conservative Republican commissioners made rural economic development a cornerstone of their campaigns and service over past years. But the duo currently running the show has barely made it a footnote. That raises the question, where do this year’s contenders stand? 

Rural park system

The county claims 17 parks, but five of them, including the largest with the most potential, remain undeveloped for lack of funding and motivation. The other 12 suffer to varying degrees from lack of attention, the poster child being the virtually unusable Dayton Landing.

Yamhelas Westsider Trail

Finally, the elephant in the room. Our four-member editorial board sees the proposed 17-mile rail-corridor trail as a potentially game-changing asset for locals and visitors alike, and a major economic driver in our tourism-oriented economy. But it is divided over continued trail viability, particularly in the immediate future.

One element thinks a change in board direction might be sufficient in itself to revive badly damaged prospects. The other thinks a long state Land Use Board of Appeals history of legal and linguistic waffling — on gravel extraction, landfill expansion and urban growth boundary expansion as well as trail development — poses a potentially greater hurdle. And it harbors doubts about the willingness of granting agencies to step forward again when the political tide is subject to change every two years.


Tom Hammer

On YWT. The County lost 5 of 5 LUBA decisions when the BOC was a majority pro-Trail. If the BOC goes Pro-Trail again how will that help the pro-Trail advocates? It won't. If a Trail were built to harm farm revenues. How is that a major economic driver? Harm to primary industry (Farming) is multiplied three times in calculating the harm to the County overall economy. Trail advocates have had since 2012 to compute the cost to build and operate a Trail. Their latest answer to the question of costs - we don't know. The editorial board needs help understanding land use law and economics.


Why would we want to introduce a 17 mile long trail when you say yourself above that our current parks are suffering from lack of attention?


Yes, bike trails are gateways to HELL. After 30 miles, my thighs are burning with HELLFIRE.

M. Isaac

NativeOregonian asks a good question - but there is a good answer to it. The trail that went through the hearing process was only the 2.8 miles between Carlton and Yamhill. The answer to the question of maintenance cost is that Ken Wright offered to fund all of the maintenance on this 2.8 mile section of trail once it was built. While the cost of building the trail was in question, the maintenance of it was paid for - so it would not have been a burden to the general fund.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable