NYSSA – Greg Smith, the director of the county economic development department, became so agitated during a question-and-answer session at a meeting last week a Malheur County Commissioner felt compelled to step in to end the exchange.
Smith erupted as Malheur Enterprise Editor and Publisher Les Zaitz began to ask Smith specific questions regarding funding during a public meeting of the board that oversees the $31 million rail reload facility north of Nyssa.
After answering several questions from Zaitz, Smith erupted and began to shout as he called Zaitz a “narcissist “and “harasser.” He shoved documents and other papers into his bag as he shouted at Zaitz.
When Zaitz asked another follow-up question, Malheur County Commissioner Don Hodge intervened and told the two men to “take it outside.”
“I think our officer of the board (Smith) got a little upset and was provoked by contentious questioning by Les. He (Smith) needs to keep his composure but it took two,” Grant Kitamura said later. Kitamura is the chair of the Malheur County Development Corp, the nonprofit firm selected by the county to oversee the rail project.
Kelly Johnson, who owns Ironhead Inc., a rock company in Vale, was at the meeting and said in a subsequent interview he felt Smith’s outburst was unbecoming.
“Greg Smith was totally unprofessional in his responses and actions to Les’s questions,” said Johnson.
Kelly Pomeroy, the owner of Kelly Pomeroy Trucking in Weiser who was also at the meeting, said he was surprised at Smith’s reaction.
“It was very unprofessional of him. I thought Greg was on the hot seat and he didn’t like it. So, it was very unprofessional. He should be open with everybody,” said Pomeroy.
Tom Vialpando, mayor of Vale, sat a few paces from Zaitz and Smith at the meeting.
“I didn’t get to hear the whole context,” said Vialpando.
Vialpando, though, said he did see Smith suddenly become “agitated.”
“I saw him lose his composure with Les. I am sure it could have been handled much differently,” said Vialpando.
As Smith left, Zaitz asked Hodge what he meant by “take it outside?”
Zaitz told Hodge he wasn’t going to take anything outside, noting “every man in America would know that means go outside and brawl.”
He said only wanted Smith to answer his questions and noted that the question-and-answer session was on the meeting agenda.
Hodge said later he did not mean Zaitz and Smith should go outside and fight.
“I said take it outside to finish the discussion, not to fight,” said Hodge.
Why Hodge wanted for the two men to finish the discussion outside – rather than at the end of the meeting as outlined by the meeting agenda – wasn’t clear.
Hodge told Zaitz he did not condone Smith’s actions.
“I don’t agree with the way Mr. Smith responds to your questions or treats you or anyone else with asking important questions,” said Hodge.
Zaitz told Hodge Smith’s actions “was a stunning failure by a public official.”
“I appreciated that you recognized the situation, but you seemed to equate my questions with his publicly insulting and unacceptable behavior,” said Zaitz.
Smith was unavailable for comment regarding the meeting.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
SUPPORT THIS LOCAL JOURNALISM – Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism.