By editorial board • 

County’s impact study rejection a miscarriage of public process

The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners’ Tuesday rejection of a staff farm impact study for the proposed Yamhelas Westsider Trail stands as an embarrassing piece of public legislating. 

At the direction of the board, Senior Assistant County Counsel Todd Sadlo spent months preparing the report, long sought by farmers and adjacent property owners. Why it took six years from the time the Rails to Trails plan was first incorporated into the county’s comprehensive plan is a secondary issue.

It seemed the public process was finally on the right path. But the process was stopped in its tracks by what appeared to be political grandstanding more than disagreement with the study or its findings. 

Commissioners Mary Starrett and Rick Olson took to heart concerns expressed by farmers that the study was prepared by county staff instead of a neutral third-party. We found it frustrating for them to level that claim so late in the game.

We might have been more understanding if they had accepted personal responsibility by admitting earlier oversight on their part. They might have said, “We see now that directing county staff to prepare the report might suggest doctored findings in favor of trail development.”

However, they appeared to place the blame squarely on a county staff that was simply following orders.

The scene took another strange twist when Starrett spent several minutes apparently trying to pressure Sadlo to say the findings were tainted to make the trail plan appear less impactful to farmers that it really is. This piece of subterfuge had no place in a public meeting.

Then Olson took issue with grants previously sought and accepted — grants he voted to approve at the time, with no accompanying admission of that.

Elected officials are not bound to their earlier stances. They are perfectly free to engage in changes of heart. But when they do, they need to establish some clear reasoning and accept responsibility for helping produce the result they now oppose.

Judging by the fallout from Tuesdays meeting, the procedure resulting in the farm impacts study materialized into a waste of public money and manpower. County staff and officials are left with egg on their faces.

Mistakes were made. Those responsible should take ownership of them and, in the future, act in a manner more respectful to the public process.

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