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Jeb Bladine: Recording history, 1 meeting at a time

For 40-plus years, I’ve had more than a passing fascination with historic records of local activities … some might call it a mild obsession. In recent years, the city of McMinnville has become a welcome addition to my local history club.

My mania for records started when I became responsible for the archives of our community newspaper. It has been bolstered regularly by the often-quoted aphorism from philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In 1976, I started saving McMinnville building permit reports, later transferring project notes and numbers to a spreadsheet that has grown to nearly 400 entries. The earliest projects listed are Mrs. Smith’s Pies ($217,000), Bi-Mart ($275,000), Dairy Queen ($70,000) and NW Logging ($80,000).

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Construction costs obviously have increased! The current remodel/expansion of McMinnville High School recently became the largest single permit on that list at $43 million.

Before computers, we maintained 3x5 index cards with notes about prominent newspaper stories. In the 1990s we started compiling those notes, plus complete articles, into an online digital archive that now contains more than 165,000 searchable entries. For purists, we still have a small warehouse of bound newspaper copies dating back to the late 1800s.

Maintaining historic records, of course, is nothing new to the city of McMinnville. But in recent years, the city has compiled an extensive, continuously updated digital record of activities by the City Council, Planning Commission, Airport Commission, Urban Renewal Agency and assorted other public bodies.

The record — easily accessible on the city’s website — includes agendas, all related documents, meeting minutes and, when available, videos. Archived records can be filtered by public body and date range, and are keyword searchable.

There’s a natural temptation to access that record for personal references, and for better or worse, it’s all there. For example, one search produced fleeting testimony by a local blowhard accusing our newspaper of telling lies to the detriment of the community. To which I could only say, such is the result of having a complete record of city government activity.

It’s a treasure trove for any public policy wonk; it’s a hugely valuable resource for anyone who wants to understand the history and decisionmaking process related to any specific public issue; it is an exercise in transparency that reflects fittingly on today’s well-organized, forward-looking collection of professional and volunteer city leaders.

George Santayana, no doubt, is looking down at the city of McMinnville with a smile.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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