Malheur County Court considers renewing Smith’s contract

Malheur County officials expect to decide soon on renewing the annual contract with Greg Smith of Heppner for county economic development tasks. (The Enterprise/FILE PHOTO)

VALE – Malheur County officials are considering renewing the $180,000-a-year contract with Greg Smith to continue running their economic development agency and remain in charge of the struggling Treasure Valley Reload Center.

The contract with Smith, through his company Gregory Smith & Company of Heppner, expires June 30. The county has retained him since 2013 for economic development work at $9,000 a month and expanded the contract in 2017 for the Nyssa shipping project, adding in an additional $6,000 a month.

County commissioners last week tabled a decision on whether to keep Smith in place. The matter wasn’t on the agenda for the court’s meeting on Wednesday, June 15.

“We need to continue to have more discussion with Greg (Smith),” said Commissioner Ron Jacobs.

Commissioner Don Hodge and Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, agreed with Jacobs.

Smith works part-time on the Malheur County contract as he holds contracts with other government agencies and is employed full-time in Boardman. He operates a one-person office in Ontario, staffed by an aide who handles tasks for both the economic development agency and the reload center.

The reload center is designed so onion producers can truck their produce to the Nyssa site for loading onto rail cars and shipment to destinations in the Midwest and East. The bulk of the center is funded by the state with a $26 million allocation approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2017 and another $3 million in special state appropriations made in 2021.

Completion of the beleaguered rail venture is now on hold after project leaders reported last week it would take nearly all of the $26 million budgeted for the development to finish everything but the warehouse building.

Smith has repeatedly cited sources for millions needed to finish the work but he has so far failed to arrange any additional financing.

And the Enterprise reported in March that while the contract requires specific tasks from Smith, records raised questions about how much of the work was done. Smith released 16 documents in response to a public records request to show what he had done.

His work is under the charge of the county court, but Joyce, Hodge and Jacobs couldn’t answer questions about Smith’s tasks, and they didn’t think the 16 documents answered the matter either.

Joyce wasn’t sure what the documents proved.

“There should be some explanation to go with it,” he said.

Hodge said the information “doesn’t answer the question of what he’s done in the past year.”

Jacobs said, “I’m not very impressed” after he looked over the 16 documents. “We probably need to be keeping a little closer track of them.”

Joyce indicated last week the county most likely will continue its contract with Smith, though perhaps not for another year.

“My guess is it would be like a three-month extension or maybe a sixth-month extension if all the numbers fall into place,” said Joyce.

Along with Smith, the rail project is overseen by the Malheur County Development Corp., a public company created by the county court.

“We are in the middle of this stream with the Nyssa project, and my guess is we need to talk to MCDC too and then move forward,” said Joyce.

The court got advice during its meeting last week from Mike Walker, an Adrian farmer.

“You know if you go ahead with this contract extension the public perception of the integrity of this county court will take a hit. Believe me, it will take a hit. There are a lot of pissed off people out there and it will impact your ability to lead,” said Walker.

Walker pointed out that the various contracts attached to the project “have been in effect for quite some time and the objectives are pretty loose.”

“It is difficult to see what has been accomplished but what can be said is there isn’t a whole lot of business come into the county, which is surprising based on our proximity to Boise,” said Walker.

Walker said Smith is a “controversial figure” and “companies don’t like dealing with controversy.”

He said he worked in the oil industry for 40 years around the world, qualifying him to talk about project managers.

Walker then listed a series of issues with Smith’s performance.

“If you look at the object criteria for evaluating a project manager – was the project delivered on time? Was the project delivered on budget?” said Walker.

Walker said the project is significantly over budget.

“Was the project delivered as per scope? The answer is no. Track C is canceled and that wipes out all of your industrial development hopes for the rest of that. You can’t do anything. So, by every object criteria Greg has failed,” said Walker.

Walker said “no company in the world would accept that level of performance and still let the project manager remain.”

Walker said concerns by the commissioners about continuity for program leadership was misplaced.

“The fact is that the project is pretty much dead in the water. Now it is really a good time to make a fresh start,” said Walker.

Hodge and Jacobs didn’t respond in depth to Walker’s comments during the meeting. Joyce said later that Walker had interesting points but that he needed to check his comments.

“Some of the information I personally questioned, and I don’t remember what it was. What it did give me was a bunch more questions to ask,” said Joyce.

Joyce said Smith has brought jobs into the county.

“I would say there is a whole bunch of unreported jobs that have been retained in the county. For whatever reason, and I don’t know why, they are not reported,” said Joyce.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

PUBLIC MONEY, PRIVATE EMPIRE: Greg Smith serves many public masters – for a price

Smith erupts during question-and-answer session at rail meeting

Oversight of Smith unclear as reload project falters

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